Best Friends Before
“Worst luck ever. We finally get a reservation and I hear that the head chef quit,” Maxie says, as she tears off a bit of focaccia. It melts in her mouth. “I hope the rest of the meal is as good as this bread.”
“Pretty sure the head chef doesn’t bake bread,” Niki says. She eyes the bread, wondering what a sliver of focaccia would do to her. If he could tell she’d eaten carbs.
Maxie rolls her eyes. “Just eat it already. It’s the best bread I’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot. You know I like my bread.”
Niki gives in, savors the focaccia. Yes, the best bread.
“Look, udon noodles are a special. How weird is that?” Maxie asks. “However, it comes with kale, miso, shrimp, chiles.”
Niki shakes her head. “You and your carbs.”
“Life’s too short to knock out the best food group. Speaking of knocking things out.”
“Max, we don’t really—”
“Yes, we do. We rarely see each other because of him. So, we will talk about him.”
“Actually, I’d just like to enjoy this meal without thinking or talking about him.”
Maxie takes a sip of her pomegranate martini and is glad she’d asked for gin rather than vodka. She just wishes it were straight gin because she needs liquid courage to pursue this. “It’s telling that you don’t want to talk about this, er, wonderful man you’re about to marry who has specifically asked you not to include me in the wedding party. Me. Your best friend since we were three.”
There’s a reason why people broach difficult subjects in restaurants. A captive audience who can’t yell or throw things. Although they can walk out, which is what Maxie thinks Niki is about to do when she wipes her lips on her napkin and shifts. But she doesn’t toss the napkin aside or stand up. She just smiles sadly.
“I’m stuck, Max.”
“Stuck? You are not stuck. Stuck how?”
Niki takes a large gulp of chardonnay, the cheapest on the menu because he said she could only spend so much on tonight’s meal. Always counting her pennies as if he’d actually earned them rather than her. “He told me last night that he didn’t know if he could live without me, that if I ever left him, he’d die. But there was something about the way he said it . . .”
Niki squeezes her eyes shut, fearful of the possibility of tears making an unwelcome appearance. She never used to be weak, but that’s exactly how she’s felt for the past 10 months since Donny Boy entered her life. Initially charming, suave, everything she thought she wanted. Now, he’s manipulative, controlling, a liar, but worse, she’s scared.
“I think there was a threat in it.”
“You mean like he’d harm you?”
Niki closes her eyes, nods.
Maxie reaches across the table and takes Niki’s hand. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
The adjacent chair scrapes across the floor. Maxie and Niki look at their uninvited guests with entirely different expressions. Niki’s fear. Maxie’s hate.
Donny Boy grabs the focaccia and eats it. “Miss me, love?” he asks Niki.