“The experiment is a failure,but at least it’s over.” I sucked down the rest of my cranberry vodka. I’d nursed it for so long all the ice had melted and it tasted like fruity water. “Thank God.”
“Too bad.” Bridget looked disappointed. “I was looking forward to seeing Alex lose his cool.”
“He still can. The experiment isn’t over yet.” Jules wagged her finger in the air.
Unease crawled down my neck. “Yes, it is. We decided on four phases: sadness, disgust, happiness, and fear.”
“There are five phases.” Jules’s hazel eyes sparkled with mischief. “The last is jealousy, or did you forget?”
“I never agreed to that!”
We were at The Crypt, Thayer’s most popular off-campus bar, for one last hurrah before classes started Monday. Students had started trickling back, and the bar was way more packed than earlier this summer.
“But it’s the best one,” Jules argued. “Don’t—”
I stiffened at the sound of my name said in that voice. The voice that used to whisper to me at night and tell me it—he—loved me. The voice I hadn’t heard in two months, not since he showed up outside the gallery one day in July and demanded I speak with him.
I tilted my head until hazel eyes clashed with my dark brown ones.
Liam towered over me, handsome and preppy as ever in a navy-blue polo and khakis. He’d cut his hair, the blond strands no longer the mess of soft curls I’d loved running my fingers through, but shorter, closer-cropped to his skull.
My peripheral vision revealed my friends’ reactions to his unexpected appearance in one sweep: nervousness on Stella’s face, trepidation on Bridget’s, anger on Jules’s.
“What are you doing here?” I told myself I didn’t need to be scared. We were in public, sitting smack dab in the middle of a crowded bar. I was surrounded by my friends and Booth, who eyed Liam like he’d like to dropkick the guy.
I was safe.
Still, my skin tingled with unease. I thought Liam had given up his quest to win me back, but here he was, looking at me like nothing had changed. Like I hadn’t caught him with his pants down and buried inside a strange blonde the night he’d claimed to have a “fever.” I’d dropped by his apartment hoping to surprise him with chicken soup and ended up being the one surprised instead.
“Can we talk?”
“I’m busy.” I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and I wasn’t interested in talking to a sober Liam, much less a drunk one.
“She said she’s busy, asshole,” Jules snapped.
Liam glared at her. They’d never gotten along. “I don’t remember speaking to you,” he sneered.
“See if you remember when I stick my—”
“Five minutes.” I stood, my shoulders stiff.
“Are you sure—”
My friends all spoke at once.
I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be back in five, okay? If I’m not—” I glared at Liam. “You can come looking for me with torches and pitchforks.” He’d hover all night unless I spoke with him, and I’d rather get it over with.
“I have more than torches and pitchforks,” Booth growled.
I followed him outside the bar and crossed my arms over my chest. “Make it quick.”
“I want you to give me another chance.”
“I’ve already told you a thousand times—no.”
Frustration bled into his face. “Babe, it’s been months. What do you want me to do, fall to my knees and beg? Haven’t you punished me enough?”
“It’s not about punishment.” For someone who’d graduated cum laude, Liam couldn’t seem to grasp such a simple concept. “It’s about the fact that you cheated on me. I don’t care how long it’s been or how sorry you are. Cheating is unacceptable, and we are not getting back together. Ever.”
The frustration morphed into anger. “Why? You got a new man?” he growled. “You have new dick and you don’t need me anymore, is that it? I never knew you were such a slut.”
“Fuck you.” My heart pumped fast. Liam had never said such nasty things to me. Ever. “Your five minutes are up. This conversation is over.”
I tried to leave, but he grabbed my wrist and yanked me back. It was the first time he’d laid a hand on me out of anger.
My heart was racing triple-speed now, but I forced myself to remain calm. “Get your hands off me,” I hissed. “Or you’ll regret it.”
“Who is he?” Liam’s eyes were wild, and I realized with a sinking stomach that he was not only drunk but high. A dangerous combination. “Tell me!”
“There is no other guy, and even if there were, it’s none of your business!” I wished I’d brought my pepper spray. Since I hadn’t, I settled for the next best thing: kneeing him in the balls. Hard.
Liam released his hold on me and doubled over in pain. “You bitch,” he wheezed. “You—”
I didn’t wait to hear what he said next. I fled back to the safety of the bar, my pulse roaring in my ears.
I can’t believe that happened. Liam had never acted so out of control. He’d been persistent and kind of douchey, but he’d never physically hurt me.
By the time I told my friends what happened and they ran outside to confront Liam over my protests, he was gone, but my queasiness remained.
You think you know someone until something happens that proves you never really knew them at all.