10. Three’s Company
Chad was standing at a deserted beach in a tuxedo. “What the hell man?” he mumbled to self. “What’s with the tux?” He felt his shoulders shrug. The beach was very bright, like a sunny day, yet there hung dark foreboding rain clouds above the waters like any minute, he was going to be drenched.
“Chad, this way!” he heard Setal all the way from somewhere up the dunes. He turned, eyeing the edge of the sand and the beginning of grass. There she was, standing in a peculiar shade of white that almost glowed. He narrowed his eyes as she gestured him to her. Was that a wedding dress? Had she finally said yes?
Despite his queries he followed, up the dune, where a small gathering of family and friends had assembled. His dad and his sister Jo were there too. Jo was pregnant. He hadn’t known Jo was pregnant. Not that he talked to his family much since his break up. Why hadn’t she said anything? Jo smiled and mouthed, ‘It’s a boy.’ Chad felt his lips curve up in a smile. He looked around and noticed some of Setal’s family. Terry too, but she was busy on the phone with someone. As he passed her, he could hear ‘What do you mean you don’t have a story yet, Chad?’ That made him snap his head up and stare at his editor.
“Terry, I’m right here,” he said, but Terry continued, angry, telling him she demands a story over the phone, pronto.
“Chad, come on!” Setal coaxed again and when he looked in her direction, she was standing beneath an arch of red roses with a priest. He joined her.
The priest began whatever was going on. Chad simply assumed it was a wedding. His wedding. Not that he understood all the words spoken.
“Does anyone object to these two getting married?” Chad heard and stared at the man in cloth. That was a rather blunt question. But the man was too busy scanning the crowd, which caused Chad to scan the crowd too. What were they waiting for? Someone to object to the marriage? Really? How clichéd.
Suddenly, someone from the back row rose to their feet. Chad’s heart leapt to his mouth, thundering. What was she doing here?
June simply looked at the pair and turned. Eventually walking out towards the beach through a floating door that had suddenly appeared. She closed the door behind her and was gone. Chad wanted to stop her, at least that’s what he thought he wanted, but the door was closed, and she was gone. The vision blurred and morphed into darkness.
“Who are you?” he heard Setal’s voice from a distance.
“June!” the unmistakable husky undertone of June’s voice floated in through the darkness.
Suddenly, Chad’s eyes opened. He was under the covers in his bed, stark naked. There was a sickly sweet scent lingering in the pillows and he suddenly jumped up like a cat thrown to water. He lunged for his clothes. He had to put a stop to it. Stop to Setal interrogating June. He could hear the two talking curtly somewhere near the stairs he assumed. What the hell was he thinking, sleeping with his ex? He scrambled for the floor, almost tripping on his shoebox-turned-med-box. That’s when he remembered he had been dosed up with sleeping pills when Setal had arrived. His last memory was of falling asleep with Setal wrapped around him. No good. Not good at all.
Shit, shit, shit! He didn’t know why he suddenly felt so embarrassed. It’s not like this was the first time someone had interrupted his post-coital, albeit sleeping pill induced nap. Something about June abruptly meeting Setal unsettled him, especially after his morning misadventure with June. Chad tore down the corridor as fast as he could and only slowed down when he was on top of the stairs. He could see Setal, few steps up on the stairs. A bottle of wine and two glasses tucked in her hands.
“You live here?” she asked incredulously. “Since when?”
Chad could only but see June’s legs standing a distance from the stairs. Awkwardly, June replied. “Couple of months.”
Chad thought, What now? He needed to make a breezy entry, something that told June it was only a moment, a lapse in good judgement due to the history they shared. But how? How could he barge in on the girls without seeming like he was purposefully trying to break up their conversation.
“And you are?” June cautiously asked the question as Chad’s feet came into view.
“Chad didn’t tell you about me?” Setal’s brows rose, scandalised. Chad froze where he was and Setal eyed him, then threw laser darts at June. The look may as well have said, You’re dead! At least that’s what he supposed Setal could be thinking.
“I’m guessing you’re the heartless ex!” June said matter-of-factly, which Chad could see really ticked his ‘ex’ off. Setal recoiled slightly from the statement.
Chad couldn’t let this odd territorial stunt from Setal go on any longer. At least not with June. There was no threat from June! Wait, what? He thought suddenly. Were you considering June? No! Okay then. He needed to break up the scene.
“I see you two have met!” he finally stepped closer to the pair. I see you two have met? Nice one, Chad! He cleared his suddenly lumped up throat. His gaze floated to June as Setal began climbing the stairs to get closer to him. She leaned her body closer to him till they touched, making him go rigid with anxiety.
“You left without a word this morning.” He stated, his gaze locked on June’s face till her head turned away ever so slightly when Setal cradled the bottle and flutes in one hand and slid the other around his hip, and into the back of his pants.
He cleared his throat again, and quickly scuttled down the stairs. “I was worried,” he continued in an effort to connect with June. He needed to know what was going through her mind. She was obviously the only sane person in the house at that given moment.
“I had classes,” she flatly said, making a beeline for the stairs. She gladly stared at Setal in her half-dressed form, from head to toe, and then scurried up the stairs, past the woman as if there was nothing more to it.
“Coffee?” Chad yelled from the kitchen soon after, as he needed to get away from Setal’s out of character clinginess. Please say yes, he thought, hoping that allowing him to take coffee to June, alone, might help him feel less awkward.
“No thanks!” June yelled back. “You two have it. I’m going out soon.”
Where? The thought barged in, making him wonder why it mattered to him.
“I’ll have coffee,” Setal walked into the kitchen as Chad hovered at the counter indecisive. “Or we could have this!” she invited with a smile, holding up the wine bottle. “I found it in the study,” she winked.
“What were you doing in my study?” there was annoyance in his voice. Setal had always had a need to snoop. A habit he absolutely despised. He didn’t want her anywhere near his new work. He absolutely didn’t want her discovering it. Worse yet, reading it.
Setal shrugged. “You were asleep and I was bored. Thought maybe I could get a head start on your new book.”
Any other time, he would have been quite flattered. In fact, his last two books were perhaps the fastest he’d delivered his work because of Setal’s eagerness to read every word as he wrote them. It had given him purpose and drive. “I don’t like you snooping!”
“I wasn’t,” she dismissed it with a wave of her hands. “It’s not like I found it. What’s it about anyway?”
“None of your business.”
“Odd title.” She glared at him. “All this is because of her, isn’t it?
Chad turned his back to her, and busied himself setting a fresh brew. He could feel her gaze drilling a hole on the back of his neck, but he didn’t care to look. He kind of felt a strange giddiness that perhaps somewhere deep inside, there was a chance she was jealous. Good. Very good.
“Are you two sleeping together?” the question was fired, filled with poison. It made him smile involuntarily.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!” He felt bold. He really did in that very moment. June’s dismissal of Setal had somehow given him power for once. Power to torture Setal, even if it was her own doing, over thinking things.
He poured himself a mug of coffee and calmly strode past her and into the lounge. “Besides, I hardly think this,” he turned, pointing to the two of them, “was anything more than a booty call.”
“Not a courtroom hun, just the facts!” He dropped on the sofa and sipped his brew. “You broke up with me, remember, not the other way around.”
Setal was about to say something when they were interrupted by June clambering down the stairs in a cute little dress and a long coat. “I’m off,” she grabbed an apple from the fruit basket in the kitchen, and hurried from the door. “Don’t wait up!”
“Looks like somebody has a date tonight!” Setal slithered across on the room and dropped herself on the single seater, sitting with one leg dangling off the armrest, provocative.
“You don’t know that,” his eyes were still staring at the front door, hoping June would come back in. With June gone, his power, his swagger was fading. He felt every bit as vulnerable as when Setal had stood at the doorway in the afternoon.
“There’s no way she’d be sleeping with you!” Setal laughed carelessly. “I mean look at her. A young thing, and she barely even looked at you on her way out.”
Chad could feel heat rising up his neck. He wasn’t going to engage her in the futile argument where she was looking to belittle him. “Why can’t you be a lit bit more like Zachary Eve once, like the yummy heroes in your books.”
Chad stewed for a moment, knowing that June may have run away fast because of Setal’s presence. He couldn’t help but wonder what they’d be doing if Setal wasn’t here. “It’s not like you’re going to say yes to the question I asked two months ago. So why do you care?”
“Oh!” Setal pulled one of those pouts of the lips that looked absolutely ridiculous on her. But Chad had never had the heart to tell her so. “You weren’t going to ask again, were you Chaddy?”
Chad smirked. He couldn’t help it. What an audacious woman! he thought bitterly. “I sold the ring and helped June move in with the money.” He paid careful attention to Setal’s changing facial expression. The pout deflated into a contemptuous frown, giving Chad some power back again. “Spent it on a worthier cause, rather than letting it gather dust, wouldn’t you say?”
Chad felt rather high watching Setal wither uncomfortably. Her legs got back to being demur. So this was what it felt like to be desired? He quickly shook his head, he knew better. Setal, for whatever reason hadn’t really come to take him back. He knew that for sure. After all she’d clearly told him they had no future together, and he was certain now, that he definitely didn’t want to get back with her. That chemistry they had, which has inspired his last book, was gone. Vanished.
What he couldn’t figure out was why she was back, and why so suddenly? He took a sip of his already cold coffee and wondered how much he stood to lose this time. The whole day had been inappropriately unhealthy as far as he could tell, and it had all started with Setal’s text at three in the morning making him miss his coupleness.
Setal rose to her feet. “Mind if I take a shower?”
Chad shrugged, staring at the space where the TV used to be. He really should get a TV for exactly these sorts of moments, not that he planned on making this a habit with Setal.
‘A Million Smiles for June’ is my latest work-in-progress novel. It’s a romantic look at the chance meeting of people who suddenly become an important part of life. As a WIP, I’d love to get some feedback on this work. This is the first time I’m writing a book where the main character is a male. How does he come across?
Hope you enjoy the read.