Wicked Sexy Liar: Chapter 6


Luke

I’M ELBOWS-DEEP IN a legal brief I can barely understand when my phone buzzes on the table at my elbow.

Beeeeeeeeeers, the text from Dylan reads.

I look up at the clock. Shit, how did it get to be six already? Where?

New place, on Island and 10th.

I groan—I fucking hate going downtown during the week.

Anticipating this, Dylan adds, Most of the team is coming. Jess broke up with Cody. We’re helping him drown.

I blink a few times, staring in shock at my phone. My former water polo teammate, Cody, has been with his girlfriend, Jess, since high school. In the best of moods, Cody will drink until he’s crawling. I can’t imagine how tonight will go down.

Still, weeknight or not, I can’t say no. Cody, Dylan, Andrew, Daniel, and I have been tight since freshman year when the seniors on the team locked the five of us on the pool deck for an entire December weekend in nothing but our Speedos, with a vending machine full of food as our nourishment, though no money. You don’t get through something like that, and go on to win two national championships without sticking together.

Be there by eight, I reply, putting down my phone and packing up my desk.


THE GUYS HAVE taken over two tables as close to the dance floor as one can get and reasonably remain seated. Not five feet from where Daniel has done a complete one-eighty in his seat is a group of girls dancing suggestively, pretending they don’t notice the six-foot-eight water polo player turned fitness instructor staring at them.

“Sorry I’m late,” I say in greeting, pulling out a chair and sitting down. I’ve never been to this club—it’s new but the décor wants to fool you into thinking it’s been here since the seventies. Looking to Cody, I ask, “You good?”

He puts his empty beer glass down next to another one. “No. But don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve been a dick to her lately. I think she might be doing this to scare me straight.”

I feel my brows lift. “Well, okay then.” I can’t tell if he’s being truly honest with himself, or if he’s in complete denial. Even if he’s wrong, and Jess is actually done, I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to stay in a hopeful place a little longer. He’s been with her for nearly six years.

Six years . . . it’s such a huge portion of our lives, and still, it’s shorter than the decade I spent feeling like I belonged to Mia. We grew up together in nearly every way possible. From eleven to nineteen she was mine.

The first time I was with someone else it felt like a distraction. Two weeks after we’d broken up, and I didn’t want to think too much about how I felt. I hadn’t needed to dig deep to understand why I was constantly nauseous and wanted to sleep half the time: I was fucking heartbroken.

But then I got drunk, and kissed Ali Stirling. She took off her shirt, then mine. One foot in front of the other: I got hard. That night, I fucked her three times in her aunt’s condo in Pacific Beach. Turns out, sex was still fun.

Until the next morning when I visited Mia at her dorm and broke down. We weren’t even technically together anymore but there I was, confessing, because that’s what we did. All of the air left the room the second the words “I slept with Ali last night” came out of my mouth.

Mia had stuttered out a quiet “Wow,” and we both felt it end, like the crack of a gunshot. We were sitting on her bed and had gone completely still, like a photo of us ripped in half straight down the middle. We’d agreed to break up, but I knew neither of us had felt it yet. Until that moment we didn’t really even know what broken up looked like. No one had ever touched me besides Mia, and suddenly that wasn’t true anymore. I wasn’t the guy who had one love. I wasn’t the Luke half of the one-word phrase, Luke-and-Mia. I was the guy with an ex-girlfriend. I was the guy who had sex with other people now. I moved on from our first love with a hard shove.

I shiver, blinking back into the present, asking, “Remind me why we came all the way downtown for after-work drinks when none of us work downtown?”

“I do,” Cody says.

Silence rings out at the table before Andrew finally can’t take it anymore. “Cody, you work part-time at Starbucks.”

“Yeah,” Cody says. “Starbucks downtown.”

“Actually . . . I work downtown,” Dylan says quietly and we all turn to look at him, confused. Dylan has a way of carrying on three lives, two of which remain completely unknown to us. I’ve known him since we were freshmen, but if you asked me what he does all day, I would guess he reads, surfs, goes for long walks, and gets lost.

“Wait, what?” I say. “Since when do you have a job?”

He shrugs. “Since, like, Sept—”

“We came here tonight,” Andrew begins, interrupting us, “because you, Luke, banged the bartender where I wanted to go, and—”

“Wait, hold up,” Daniel says, finally turning back to the table. “Luke banged the bartender at Mighty Brew?”

I groan. “She wasn’t the bartender. She was a—”

Dylan cuts me off. “I think Andrew means that you slept with the bartender at Fred’s,” he says, more quietly. I can hear the question embedded there: Did you fuck London, Luke?

Andrew shakes his head, confused. “Luke banged the new bartender at Fred’s? I was talking about the redhead at Stone at Liberty Station.”

Dylan gets up with a huff and heads toward the bathroom. Cody groans, saying, “Pretty soon we won’t be able to go anywhere without someone crying in the bathroom over Luke.”

“Jesus Christ.” I rest my head in my hands and Andrew slides a half-finished beer into my line of sight.

“Here. Drink this.”

“Can I get you guys anything else?” a voice asks at the far end of the table.

“Two more of these,” Andrew says, and then points to me, saying loud enough for our server to hear, “Luke, you’re not allowed to bang this waitress. They serve Ruination here and I’ll be pissed if we can’t come back.”

“Okay,” I mumble, closing my eyes and keeping my head down. Is this a conversation that would have made me laugh a week ago? Right now it makes me feel faintly sleazy.

“She’s hot,” Daniel says a few seconds later, “in that single-­serving kind of way.”

“Dan—” Dylan starts, having returned surprisingly quickly.

I hold up my hand for him to wait, leaning in so I can hear Daniel better, repeating, “That ‘single-serving’ kind of way?” What the fuck is he talking about?

“You guys,” Dylan says with more intent.

But Daniel continues, turning and planting his elbows on the table. “That thing you have, a little treat, that fills you up but you forget it pretty quickly. A Twinkie, a bag of chips. An energy drink. Cute girl, nice body . . . single serving.”

In spite of myself I laugh at this shit—Daniel can be such a dick—finally lifting my head and taking a sip of my beer. But straight across from me stands Dylan, hunched over the table, wearing a shut the fuck up expression. He looks at my face and then widens his eyes when he looks over my shoulder, meaningfully.

I turn, and see that the waitress is right behind me, her back to us as she writes something down on her pad. Her wheat-colored ponytail brushes her shoulder when she straightens, takes a deep breath, and sticks her pen behind her ear. When she turns to us, smile plastered on her face, my heart immediately bottoms out.

“Two Ruinations. Anything else?” she asks, her dimple poking into her cheek as she swallows.

The table falls silent, but my heart is now somewhere under my chair.

London.

London is our waitress.

Her eyes meet mine, and I can’t tell. I just can’t tell at all if she heard, and if so, how much. Did she hear the part about my apparent penchant for female bartenders? Did she hear what Daniel said? And, oh shit, did she hear me laugh?

“We’re good,” Daniel croaks.

With a little nod and smile, London turns and walks back to the bar.

Daniel bursts out laughing and makes a wry face. “Oops!”

“Dude,” Dylan hisses, shaking his head at me. “If she heard you assholes I’m going to be pissed. London is a nice person, and you guys are dicks.”

“Fuck,” I whisper. “Fuuuck.”

Dylan nods at me, disappointment making his normally happy face more somber before he turns and heads toward the bathroom in earnest this time. I feel like a complete ass.

Andrew shrugs and immediately moves on, saying something about the U.S. Men’s Water Polo team, the Olympics, whether we’re all going together to Tokyo to watch them, but I can’t do much more than stare into my beer.

We came here tonight because you, Luke, banged the bartender where I wanted to go.

Luke banged the new bartender at Fred’s? I was talking about the redhead at Stone at Liberty Station.

She’s hot, in that single-serving kind of way.

Pretty soon we won’t be able to go anywhere without someone crying in the bathroom over Luke.

In the movies this type of moment-of-clarity turns into a montage of all the moments leading up to it. Maybe the music swells above the dialogue. And it’s true that the sound of voices falls away and my heart seems to have returned to my body and is pounding directly against my eardrum. But it’s the anxiety I didn’t expect. The panic that she may have heard, that I may have hurt her feelings. The fear that I just confirmed everything she suspected about me.

The problem is, it’s all true.

Dylan returns to his seat, and looks up at the bar behind me—presumably watching London—his brows pulled down in concerned frustration. Right as he seems to decide to go talk to her, pushing back again from the table, I bolt up, gesturing to him that I’ll take care of it and wiping my palms on my thighs as I walk toward the bar.

It’s a Tuesday and still pretty early; except for the five of us and a few groups standing over near the DJ stand, the club is mostly dead. London seems lost in thought as she opens two beers and sets them on a tray for another waitress, and so she doesn’t notice my approach until I’m right in front of her, rapping my knuckles against the wood.

Startled, she looks up. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I slide one hand in my pocket, trying to seem less like I’m coming over here to defend my indefensible actions and more like I just wanted to say hi. “Having a good night?”

London lifts one shoulder as she dries off a glass. “Sure. You?”

“Pretty good.” I smile but she’s not watching, and the words vanish from my head. It’s awkward, and she knows it’s awkward, and in perfect London fashion, she’s not coming to my rescue. “I didn’t know you worked here.”

She nods as she sets the glass down and lifts another. “Just started.”

“Ah.”

I’m just going to say it: girls are hard to read. Is she pissed? Preoccupied? Does she want to kiss me so bad she can’t even look at me?

“Did you quit Fred’s?”

“No, just wanted some more hours.” London turns, setting a tray of glasses down on the other side of the bar, and begins putting them away on a small shelf.

“So, London—”

“Did you want a drink?” she asks me over her shoulder.

“No, I . . .”

I what?

I have no idea what comes next.

She turns back around and looks at me, waiting patiently. Do I ask her if she heard? Do I tell her that I didn’t ­really think what Daniel said was funny? The problem is that I didn’t think it was funny but I also didn’t think it was that big a deal, either . . . until I realized he was talking about London, and—worse—that she’d heard. Would I be here talking to her if she had been across the bar, out of hearing range when he’d said it?

This is the kind of thing she would ask me, and this is what I would be unable to answer.

“I just wanted to say hi,” I say, smiling.

Her eyes flicker to my mouth and then she looks evenly back up. “Hi.”

“Do you want to come over later?” It comes out so bare; there’s no buildup, no easing in. My voice even cracks on the last word.

London’s eyes go tight before she slumps a little, giving me a tiny smile. It’s a genuine one: sweet, all-American, dimpled. “Your boys seem to prefer when you don’t bang the waitress, remember?”

Fuck. “London—”

“Luke,” she cuts in gently, as if wanting to be careful with my feelings still, after all of it. “I think I’m not doing that anymore.”

KEYS IN HAND, I’m halfway across the dimly lit parking lot when I hear Dylan call my name.

“You’re leaving,” he says, jogging to catch up. “You just got here.”

Scratching my neck, I look past him into the cone of light directly over my car. “I have some things I need to take care of before work tomorrow.”

“Look,” he says, leaning to the side so I’ll look over at him. His shoulders slump a little as he repeats, “Look, man. I don’t know how well you know her, but London isn’t like that.” He looks straight into my eyes. “She’s really cool.”

London isn’t like that, meaning: she’s not a girl you can just bang without looking back. I should tell him I figured that out almost immediately, but already this is too much drama for me.

“It’s cool, Dyl, I just talked to her.”

“I hope she turned you down,” he says, and his smile tells me that he means it, but feels bad for saying it.

“She did.” I look back toward the club. “How do you know her, anyway?”

“She’s a friend of a friend.” This is exactly the kind of information Dylan gives. Usually I drop it without thought, but tonight it takes Herculean effort for me to not ask more questions.

“All right,” I say. “I’ll see you later.”

“Later.”

I don’t feel like going home, to the dark empty house, the bright empty fridge. I climb in my car, turn up the music, and drive without thinking back on any of this to my sister’s apartment, letting myself in with my key.

It’s almost ten, so I know Margot is either asleep or in the lab, and her roommate is most likely staying over at her girlfriend’s house. The apartment is blessedly silent, the fridge is blessedly full.

I’m almost done making an epic turkey sandwich when I hear footsteps pad down the hall.

“Pa,” Margot stage-whispers behind me. “There’s a bear getting into our food box.”

I dig in the pantry for some chips. “You have better snacks than I do.”

My sister comes around the counter, and leans back against it. “Because I don’t wait until tumbleweeds are rolling across the barren shelves of my refrigerator before I hit the grocery store.”

I let out a grunt and turn with an armful of food toward the living room.

She follows me out of the kitchen. I can feel her right on my heels and know that if I wanted to give up conscious thought in favor of food and television, this is the last place I should have gone. I can’t help but spill my guts to my sister; it’s like a reflex.

“What are you doing here, though?” she asks. “Did you have a bad day at work?”

I settle on the couch and flip on the TV. “It was fine.”

“Did something happen with the team? I heard about Cody and Jess.”

“Yeah, but he seems to think they’ll be okay.”

She sits and pulls her leg up on the couch so she can face me. I feel the pinpricks of her stare on the side of my face. “Then what has you stress-eating junk food?”

“Hunger.”

“Luke.”

I sigh, taking a bite of sandwich and chewing it slowly while I think. Swallowing, I tell her, “I think I fucked up with a girl I like.”

Margot jerks upright, shaking her head quickly. “Sorry, what?” She laughs awkwardly. “Funniest thing, it sounded like you said something about liking a girl.”

I rip open the bag of chips and reach for the remote. “Never mind.”

“Are you serious right now?” she asks, sitting next to me. “A girl has you eating chips by the fistful?”

“I’m just hungry, Margot. Lay off.”

I turn to Jimmy Fallon and Margot does, in fact, lay off. She digs her hands into the bag of chips, joining me in my late-night emotional munchies. But I can almost hear the interest build in her until she’s sitting upright again, hands clenched in fists at her side, just waiting for the commercial break.

When it comes, she releases a tight breath. “Tell me about her.”

There’s no avoiding this, there really isn’t. And maybe I came over because I actually wanted to talk. Who the fuck knows, but I’m here now, so I may as well let it all out. “Her name is London.”

“I don’t know a London. Is she from here?”

“She went to UCSD, studied art. I didn’t meet her there, though.” I scratch the back of my neck. “She works at Fred’s.”

“Sexy cocktail waitress?”

I throw her a wary glance. “Sexy bartender.” I ignore her amused snort. “Anyway, our entire first night together I called her Logan and she didn’t bother to correct me. I don’t know if she ever would have. Dylan said her name when we saw her next and I was horrified, but she didn’t care.” For some reason, this detail feels important. It says so much about her, and about the “us” that has existed for the measly two weeks.

Margot snorts. “I like this girl.”

“Yeah, well, she likes you, too.” When I look at her, I see her eyebrows raised in a silent question, so I add, “I told her about your abusive role as my supervisor in Doll Salon.”

My sister smiles proudly.

“We hooked up a few times, and—”

“In one night, I assume?”

“No, asshole. Over a few different days.”

“Wow.” She rolls her eyes. “Long-term then.”

I take a sip of my water and set it back down on the table. “You wonder why I don’t like talking to you.”

“Oh, please. I’m the only one you like talking to because I don’t stroke your enormous ego.” Punching my shoulder, she urges, “Go on.”

“She’s wary of guys. Her long-term boyfriend cheated, and I get the feeling there’s been a long line of assholes in her life. The thing is, there’s attraction there, but I’m not sure she actually likes me. Said I was a cliché, a manwhore, douchebag, whatever.”

“I mean, I really like this girl,” Margot says, digging in the bag and taking another handful of chips.

“But she’s smart and funny and pretty and . . .” I’m so out of practice talking about girls and feelings in the same conversation that I flounder a little, settling on “there was something there. Between us, I mean.” But then I tell Margot about what Daniel said tonight, and about the guys teasing me about sleeping with every hot female bartender in town.

It’s a few seconds before Margot says anything, but when she does, she puts her hand on mine first, to soften the blow. “They’re not wrong.”

“Margot,” I say, turning to face her. “That’s not helping.”

She can tell in my voice that not only am I not in the mood but I really am feeling like complete shit.

“Sorry. I just want to be honest.”

“I know you do,” I tell her. “It’s just that, for the first time in a really long time I feel sort of weird about how I’ve been with girls. I always justified it like they were only after one thing, too, and maybe some of them were. But I know that wasn’t always true. And Cody made some crack about not being able to go anywhere where a woman wouldn’t be crying over Luke and . . . Jesus. Am I that bad?”

“You’re asking your sister if you’re as bad a player as your guy friends who are actually out at bars with you say you are?”

“I mean, does it seem like I’m that bad?”

She adjusts how she’s sitting on the couch so that her knee rests on my thigh. “Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“Kind of. I mean, sometimes we’ll be out for drinks and your phone will be buzzing constantly. You don’t even notice it anymore. Or, we’ll be having a nice dinner and some girl will walk up and start talking to you and I can see you struggling to remember her name. It’s . . . I mean, I’m used to it now but, yeah. It’s sort of shady.”

I lean my head back against the couch, disengaging from the conversation and tuning back into the TV and whatever game Fallon is playing with David Beckham.

“I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” she whispers. I know this conversation is making her anxious. Margot has a constant struggle with frankness and guilt when it comes to busting my balls.

“You didn’t.”

“It’s just . . .” she starts, fidgeting with her pajama top, “you went from Mia—and only Mia—to everyone. There was no in-between.”

“I haven’t wanted anyone the way I wanted Mia,” I argue.

“But someday you will,” she says. “Maybe it will be London. And you said she’s wary of guys, and then she sees you tonight at the bar? No wonder she keeps you at arm’s length. Would you trust you?”

A sour weight settles in my stomach. “I know.”

“Look, I’m not saying you need to go through the AA of players or anything, but maybe look at what you’re doing and who you are. Your life is this perfect combination of luck and ambition, but you treat women like gym equipment.”

I choke on a sip of water. “Margot. That’s horrible.”

She raises her eyebrows as if to say, Well?

“Just learn to treat a girl the way you want to be treated,” she says. “And I don’t mean by playing with their private parts.”

I snort. “‘Private parts.’”

Rolling her eyes, she says, “You were a really good boyfriend to Mia.”

This rattles me somehow. It’s easier to remember the end, when I was lonely and she was broken and we didn’t ever seem to get each other right. I turn to look over at her. “Yeah?”

Smiling, she says, “Yeah. You were. You were perfect. Every­one envied her.”

“Well,” I say, turning back to the television, “obviously I wasn’t perfect or she wouldn’t have stopped needing me.”

Margot goes still before she reaches for the remote control on my lap and mutes the show. “ ‘Needing’ you?” Her voice is sharp. “She shouldn’t ever have needed you. Wanted you, sure. Enjoyed being with you, sure. Desired you—gross—sure.”

Groaning, I make a grab for the remote but she holds it out of my reach.

“You know what I mean,” I say.

“I don’t think I do. Mia lost every one of her dreams in a single, horrible afternoon. It changed her, and that affected your relationship. That doesn’t mean that you fucked up somehow.”

“At the end of the day,” I say, sliding my plate onto the coffee table, “what we had wasn’t strong enough to weather what she was going through. End of story.”

Margot gives me a one-shouldered shrug. “True.”

I growl at this, wishing she had argued with me. This is why I hate talking about Mia. It just sucked. The whole thing sucked, there was no rhyme or reason to any of it—her accident, her distance, my heartbreak, our breakup—so it still feels like a raw wound. I hate uncovering it. But it was just a breakup. They happen every day.

“Luke, you were nineteen!” Margot says, raising her voice. “Sure, you said some shitty things to her because you were hurt, and she was terrible at talking about her feelings, but you guys grew apart.”

“I know. I just never saw it coming,” I tell her, leaning across her lap to reach for the remote.

“Do we ever see the big things coming, though? A predictable life never changed anyone.”

I turn on the sound, and turn up the volume to let her know we’re done talking, about Mia, about London, about me.


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