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Don’t Date Your Brother’s Best Friend
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I smiled at my brother, a little like how you’d smile at a puppy trying to catch its own tail.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Stop worrying. I’ve got this.”
“I wish I could help more. It’s not like you’re used to running Dad’s lumberyard. Two weeks ago, you were planting flowers and crap,” he said.
“Actually, I was working on a botany project for my graduate program… but that’s, you know, flowers and crap,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“You know what I mean,” he said with a shrug. “I’ll get some groceries and go by Dad’s later, have supper with him. You can take a break. I don’t think you’ve been out of that house unless you were here.”
“Ryan, I wouldn’t have come home if I didn’t know I could do what needs to be done. I’ll take you up on the help, though. I wouldn’t mind catching up with my friends tonight, thanks.”
“Anytime, little sister. Unless I’ve got to meet with the lawyer again. I had no idea Whitney was so crazy when I married her,” he shook his head, defeated.
I hated seeing him like that.
“I hate to say I told you so…”
“I know, that was so supportive, by the way. I never thanked you for that. Telling me at the rehearsal dinner that you thought my fiancé was batshit crazy.”
“Hey, in my defense, I didn’t object during the actual wedding, and you’re wrong. I didn’t say I think she’s nuts. I said I stood there during the bridesmaid dress fitting and listened to her rip into Bea Walters, who was hemming the gowns, and I knew for a fact she was batshit insane. Who in their right mind yells at Bea?”
“Someone who wants their ass jabbed with a straight pin. She did my suit for the wedding, and I swear to God, she jammed a pin in my side when I argued with her about the length of the pants.”
“Ah, so you and Whitney were made for each other then. Both dumb enough to argue with a woman who has a mouthful of straight pins and isn’t afraid to use them.”
He skillfully ignored me and cocked a crooked grin. “So, Luke was asking me when you’d come back to town,” Ryan said.
I busied myself with some shipping forms on the desk, so I didn’t have to meet his gaze. Luke Maddox has been my brother Ryan’s best friend for as long as I could remember, which made him a close family friend. I wished that was all he was. But with Luke, it was complicated. It always had been for me.
“So, how is he doing?” I said, trying so hard to sound casual. Please say he’s bald and has poor personal hygiene now—anything to make me want him less than I always have, I thought.
“He’s with the fire department now, and he still helps out at Cecil’s when he’s off duty.”
“Oh, okay,” I said as if that answered any questions I might have had.
“Have you even seen him since my wedding?”
“He was there, I guess. I forgot about that,” I said.
Forgot was a euphemism for ‘was drunk at that reception.’ I had only hazy recollections of my brother’s unfortunate and over the top wedding to the annoying Whitney. I had spent serious time trying to reconstruct what happened because I knew I would have enjoyed thinking about a few things I was pretty sure took place. But I had spent some quality time with the open bar that night. Partly because I didn’t care for my new sister-in-law, and partly because Luke had brought a date, a pretty redhead whom I’d instantly despised. So I was three vodka cranberries in when Luke had asked me to dance. Things got fuzzy shortly after that, but I remembered his hands sliding from my waist down to the curve of my ass. I wished wholeheartedly that I recalled the rest of that scene. Instead, I shuffled papers while my brother looked off into the middle distance a little pathetically.
“I remember dancing with Whitney at that reception, and I thought, man, this is forever. I had my wife. I had a plan. I was gonna get promoted, we’d buy a little house, have a couple of babies. God, I can’t believe this is how it all turned out. This is ridiculous. I can’t believe she did this to me, Sarah Jo,” he said sadly.
I nodded as sympathetically as I could. He was really torn up over the divorce. Anyone could’ve seen it coming a mile away—he worked all the time or hung out with his friends. He was never home, and she found ways to amuse herself. One of those ways was the newest deputy on the police force, who was famously six-feet-two of solid muscle. I hated seeing my brother so miserable. A tiny part of me wanted to say, well, Ryan, What the hell did you think was gonna happen? You didn’t pay attention to her because you’re so wrapped up in yourself like always. I didn’t say it aloud, because I didn’t want to hurt him. I’m sure he could stand there and rattle off my faults and failures with no trouble at all. So instead I listened, and I was nice, and thanked him again for keeping Dad company tonight.