“I think you’re going to like them,” Lawrence said for the third time during the hour and a half drive. Abigail sat in the passenger seat with a slowly cooling green bean casserole in her lap. Lawrence had turned the heat up a little too high again, and she wished that she’d taken her coat off before getting in the car. She leaned over to nudge it down.
“What does Sarah’s husband do again?” Abigail asked. Sarah Tenet, Lawrence’s ex-girlfriend turned best friend lived in Providence, RI, a place Abigail had never willingly gone in her life.
“Freelance web design. He had a company awhile back but he sold it.”
“Seems like everyone’s doing that these days,” Abigail said, plucking at the rubber band that held the tinfoil on the casserole dish.
“He did pretty well from what I hear,” Lawrence said, glancing over at her.
“Then why do they live in Providence?” Abigail asked.
“I told you, Sarah works for a non-profit. They’re in schools all over Rhode Island. It’s pretty cool.” He picked up her free hand and squeezed it. “She’s going to love you.” Abigail nodded.
“It’s cool that you guys could stay friends. I’ve never been able to do that,” she said.
“We’ve been best friends since high school. We tried dating for maybe two months, six years ago, but it just didn’t make sense for us. We wanted really different things. She worked a million hours a day and volunteered the rest. She was too passionate. I have never been able to care about anything as much as she cares about what sandwich she orders.” He grinned. “And that’s probably a good thing, anyway.” Abigail smiled back at him.
“I don’t know, I think she needed someone who was as busy as she was. But she’s an amazing friend. I wanted someone a little bit more laid back,” he grinned at her, “like you.”
“Oh, that’s me,” Abigail said. “Laid back.” Lawrence laughed. “I promise you, it will be fine tonight. It won’t be weird, and if it is, if you are at all uncomfortable, just say the word and we’ll leave.”
As far as Abigail was concerned, five months into a relationship was too soon to be having dinner with someone’s ex. Although, Lawrence had moved quickly through all the stages of their relationship so far. They’d met at one of the frequent parties the owners threw for the staff of Cooper Brown; he was on the sales team and she was in the new social media division that the company had established. She noticed him first. He was shorter than she usually went for, maybe 5’7, but he held himself like he was 6’0. His suit was perfectly cut, the light lavender of his shirt standing out against the sea of ubiquitous business shirts worn by everyone else. He was telling a story to a large group of people which must have been hilarious because the group burst into laughter and some even applauded. Abigail liked the way he included everyone that he was talking to. She liked his hands. Abigail had hunted her friend Jay down at the buffet table to ask about him.
“He’s great,” Jay had said, scooping pigs in a blanket onto her napkin. “His name is Lawrence Appleton and he’s one of the team leads upstairs.” Abigail picked out a shrimp cocktail and she and Jay went to stand at one of the little round high top tables set up on the edge of the room. “So he’s a good guy?” Abigail asked. “Because after the last one, I promised myself only good guys.”
“After the last one, every guy is a better guy.” Jay said. “Introduce yourself. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Abigail had spent the rest of the night building up her courage to approach Lawrence. There was something about his face that she found appealing. Towards the end of the night, she went to the bar to order a drink.
“Dirty martini,” she said.
“You know the open bar closed at nine, right? Its cash bar only now,” the bartender said, frazzled. He’d clearly had this conversation one too many times.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” said a friendly voice. Abigail turned around to find Lawrence standing next to her. She felt a frisson of electricity race through her spine. Up close, he was even better looking. In her heels, they were about the same height, so she could fully appreciate his wide handsome mouth and his bright blue eyes up close.
“Lawrence,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Abigail,” she said, taking it. “I know,” he responded. She cocked her head to one side questioningly.
“I make it a habit to always know the names of the women I see checking me out. Especially if they’re pretty.” Lawrence said, then he flushed a deep red. “God, I’m so sorry. That was a ridiculous line, wasn’t it? It sounded so much better in my head. It’s just that, I noticed you noticing me, and I’ve seen you in the elevator before, and always wanted to say hello…”
“Dirty martini,” said the bartender, placing the drink between them. Lawrence pulled out his wallet and dropped a few dollars on the bar. Abigail noticed that he tipped well. She picked up the drink and sipped it, trying to get a handle on her fluttering heart. He was so nice. She didn’t know how to handle nice.
“Let’s try this again,” Lawrence said when she put her drink down. “Hi, I’m Lawrence, and I never ever use bad pick up lines.” Abigail laughed and shook his hand again, and this time he didn’t let go.
He told her he loved her after one month. She was shocked, and said it back more out of surprise than anything. It was the first relationship she’d ever had where everything was easy, where her boyfriend felt like a partner and not an adversary whose every move she had to watch and analyze. Lawrence was just himself, unfailingly. He said what he thought and he didn’t hold anything back from her. It worried her sometimes that everything felt so simple, as if, without the kind of drama she’d had in her past relationships, somehow this one might just fade away.
Having Abigail meet Sarah felt like their first big test as a couple, despite all of Lawrence’s reassurance otherwise.
When they pulled off the highway, and began to make twists and turns down side roads, Abigail pulled down the passenger side mirror and checked her hair and makeup again.
“You look great,” Lawrence said reassuringly. “I think we’re almost there.” A few minutes later, the GPS dinged and he turned into the driveway of a stately stucco and brown tudor-style house with an immaculately manicured lawn. “Her husband must have done well for himself,” Abigail said, unbuckling her seat belt. “Also, things are cheaper in Providence,” Lawrence added, pulling the bottle of chianti out of the backseat. “We could have something like this someday, if you wanted,” he smiled at her and took her hand, tucking it into his coat pocket. “You need to buy gloves,” he said, “You’re hands are freezing.”
“I’d just lose them,” she answered, digging her hand further into his pocket.
They walked up the cobble stone path and Abigail waited nervously while Lawrence rang the doorbell. A few moments later, the door flew open to reveal an impossibly beautiful tall woman with perfectly coifed hair and a giant smile. She wore a white cashmere sweater, tan corduroy pants and a pair of yellow diamond drop earrings that Abigail recognized. They were the same pair she had seen at the Natick Nordstroms and been coveting for six months.
“Lawrence!” The goddess squealed, pulling him to her. “And you must be Abigail,” Sarah chirped, releasing him and turning to embrace her. “She’s just as pretty as you said Lawrence. And you brought something, that’s so sweet! Come in, come in! Michael is in the back. If you don’t mind taking your shoes off… we’re trying not to track that horrible road salt into the house.” She bustled them in before Abigail had time to react. The foyer was beautiful, with bamboo plants sitting on either side of an enormous lushly carpeted staircase. “Your house is lovely,” Abigail managed.
“You brought chianti, you sly dog!” Sarah interrupted, snatching the bottle out of Lawrence’s hands.
“Of course I did,” he said, “Do you think I’d forget? It’s not an Appleton-Tenet get together if there’s no chianti.”
“Well, it hasn’t been Tenet for three years anyway.” Sarah said. “Come on, into the kitchen, I’ll hang the coats.” Lawrence sat to remove his shoes, and Abigail walked down the hall, and entered the kitchen, taking in the warm scent of roasting apples and braised meat. A man stood at the counter chopping something. When she entered he turned around smiling, and Abigail’s stomach dropped.
“Holy shit,” he said, dropping the knife in his hand. It clattered on the floor
“Michael,” Abigail said softly. “Oh my god.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Michael demanded, taking a step away from her, his hands up as if in surrender. Abigail just shook her head, not sure how to respond.
Lawrence walked into the kitchen next, putting his hand on the small of Abigail’s back. She twitched involuntarily. “Michael, I see you’ve met my girlfriend Abigail,” Lawrence said proudly, not seeming to notice the panic on Abigail’s face.
Michael’s tension faded a little, “Hello. Of course. Welcome. Sarah’s talked about nothing but having you two here for weeks.” Abigail heard Sarah walking down the hall and felt her heart pounding in her throat. How long had it been since she’d last seen Michael? Eight months ago? The day that she’d found out Michael was married, had been married for the entire year of their relationship? The day she’d lost faith in her instincts. What were the fucking odds? She just had to get through dinner.
Everyone else was still at the table when Abigail excused herself and carried her plate into the kitchen. She couldn’t stand seeing Michael so casually rub his wife’s shoulders, the way he had with her. Despite everything, she found herself like Sarah, who was a little over the top, but also earnest about everything. Liking her made everything seem worse. Abigail stood at the sink, leaning against the counter. The marble countertop was cool under her hands. She could hear Lawrence and Sarah laughing from the dining room. She splashed water on her face and was reaching for the kitchen towel to dry off when Michael grabbed her hand and spun her around.
“Did you know?” He whispered, gripping her arm hard.
“I had no idea, I swear, I never would have come here if I’d known you were her husband.” She tugged her arm out of his grip.
“Keep your voice down, they’ll hear you.” It was hard for Abigail to look at him. She’d thought she was in love with him once, had looked forward everyday to the time when he would call. He reached out to touch her again, this time gently. He cupped her chin in his hand and tilted her face up to him.
“Well, you look good.” He said, as a flush ran over her whole body. He placed his other hand on her shoulder. “I miss you,” he whispered. “I messed everything up, but if I’d met you first…” She pulled away from him as she heard a small cough from the doorway. Lawrence was standing there holding a stack of plates. “Sarah’s just setting up the coffee,” he said, walking past them to the sink. Abigail looked at him pleadingly, wanting him to know that she’d done nothing wrong.
Lawrence cut the rest of the evening short, claiming he had an early morning meeting he had forgotten about, despite Sarah’s protests. They’d all hugged goodbye, although the touch of Michael’s hands made Abigail’s skin crawl.
Lawrence was quiet for most of the drive back. Abigail clutched the empty casserole dish to her and wished that he would say something. They had turned into her street when he finally spoke.
“About eight months ago, Sarah called me sobbing because she thought Michael was cheating on her.” He paused. “I couldn’t believe it. I told her there was no way that he could cheat on someone so great.” He glanced at her, “But he did, didn’t he?”
“I didn’t know. Honestly.” Abigail said thickly. “I mean, in retrospect, I should have known, he called me during the day from work, we met up during lunch, he never wanted to stay over…”
Lawrence nodded grimly. “And it’s over?” he asked, his voice cracking slightly.
“Of course! I never would have done it in the first place if I’d known. And I would never do that to you…” He reached over and stroked her hair, which only made her cry harder.
“I know,” he said, “I just needed to hear it. The way you looked at him…” He trailed off. “How did you find out?”
“I found his wedding ring in his wallet. We ordered pizza and he told me he had cash and I grabbed it before he could. And he got so mad at me… Like it was my fault, you know?” She started to cry.
“Are you going to tell her?” She asked.
“I think so, Abi. Wouldn’t you want to know?” She nodded once, then twice. He pulled the car up in front of her apartment, cut the engine and turned to her, cupping her face in his hands.
“I want you to know,” he said, stroking her temples with his thumbs, “I will never ever do that to you.” She smiled at him weakly. “I love you,” he said softly, kissing her on the forehead.
“I love you too,” she said back, and realized that, for the first time, she really meant it. He pulled her to him, and held her until she began to feel whole again.