Evelyn sat there, hand on Mark’s forearm as she turned the stem of the wineglass. Her nails stroked along the white starched cuff of his shirt as she continued to recollect her day.
‘So, I’ve been working on this article, like ten things to say to a guy that you’ve swiped left on -‘
Dinner had been pleasant enough, although he had decided that this evening was not going any further. She was gorgeous. She knew it, though, and it had allowed her to disqualify guys enough that she had gotten cruel with it.
He smiled politely and with his phone out under the table, thumbed for an Uber and considered his exit strategy. There was nothing personal in it. He had debated sex with her but she would give him sharp, testy glances that it would not be without consequence.
She finished talking, excused herself to use the restroom.
When she came back, two fifties beneath his empty tumbler and the words ALL THE BEST, YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE SOMEONE V. HAPPY written on one of them. The notification pinging as she stood there, fighting back shock and indignation.
Her forearm ached from signing, the muscles in her face throbbed with the effort of smiling. She held out her hand without looking and the paperback was gently placed in her hand.
He had grown a beard and her eyes glanced to the ring on his left hand. A different cologne, some weight loss around the jawline and at the throat and better product on his hair than before. She glanced around but the bookstore clerks were ringing up purchases with the focus of insects. A stab of surprise closed her throat, made the smile feel like a rictus on a corpse.
She forced it out, taking the book from him and opened it to the title page, unable to meet his gaze. He gave a polite cough and she looked up.
‘You look good, Mark.’
The corners of his mouth lifted and his eyes sparked with a heat that made her thighs flutter. He ran his tongue over his lips and she tried to make the signature but her hands shook too much to even make the shape work right. He grunted and kept his eyes fixed on hers.
‘No, don’t sign there, please. Would you sign on page 26?’
She frowned and glanced to Greg, vowing that if he did not look over right the fuck now, he was fired. Into space, such was the vehemence with which she needed him to come rescue her. Four years of silence, and not so much as a word of comment, not an appearance and now. Here.
‘Page 26, sure. Look, I – ‘
He shook his head, his lips condensed into a hard line.
‘I don’t want to hold up the line, Miss Donovan.’
His voice was impersonal, badly written lines delivered without enthusiasm and she opened the book. In the paperback edition, they had put the chapter titles onto their own pages, lots of space because the publisher had done market research and lots of space made the book look lighter to read. Easier to absorb and digest.
Sweetening the pill, it came to her, when she saw that page 26 was such a marker.
He had written something, in his own hand there.
Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated.
She touched the words, the indentations of the pen against the page as she fought back thwarted, angry tears. Beneath the page something had been placed and she turned it to see two fifty dollar bills. Written on one, in the same hand, more writing. She shot up a look, ready to say something cutting. She had a stock amount of such lines, honed from talk show appearances and tweets alike, cutting a man’s balls off in 140 characters had probably done more for sales than the advertising campaigns had.
He was gone, and she looked at the blousy, smiling young man, doughy from late night carbohydrates and pale from too little sunlight, a copy of her book in his hands. She glanced down and turned the fifty with her fingertips, looking at the nails and seeing the french tips, struck with the vicious impulse to snap them off and toss them away.
I GUESS THAT IT WAS YOU.
She shut the book, and reached for the hardback, blinking away the tumult of feelings and in a voice that was as bright and shallow as aluminium who she should make it out to.