Alice weaved through the bustling bistro toward their usual table.
“Here you are!” Rising, Paul opened his arms for an embrace. Alice hugged him, her cheek brushing his satin shirt. She dumped her weighty purse to the terracotta tiles as he settled back into his seat. Perching herself on the lip of the cushioned wire rimmed chair after tucking in her peach and sage flower print skirt, Alice took a swift swig of iced water.
“Bad day?” asked Meredith.
Alice held up both hands and inhaled deeply before destroying the folded bird of a napkin by laying it upon her lap.
“Alice,” said Meredith as if her rushed entrance had not occurred, “this is my cousin Gail.”
Alice felt her cheeks warm and match the floor. “I’m so sorry.” She smiled at the wide eyed young woman to her left. “It’s so nice to meet you.”
“You too,” said Gail, managing a weak smile surrounded by feathered blonde locks.
“You’re staying with Meredith right?” Gail nodded. “How long will you be in town?”
“She’s thinking of moving here,” provided Meredith. Gail gave her cousin a steadier smile as if divulging the idea had taken a weight off her shoulders. “I’m trying to give her a taste of the big city so she can decide.”
“You should see the schedule she has this poor girl running,” said Paul.
“It’s been great actually,” said Gail. She quieted as the waitress drew near.
“The usual?” she asked although her pencil poised over a folded over wad of jotting paper.
“You know what I like,” said Paul, handing over his closed menu with a wink and beginning the circular round of orders.
“Please,” said Meredith.
“You, Ms?” The waitress made some ticks on the paper without looking down.
“The bruschetta with a side Ceaser salad?” asked Gail as if the waitress might say no.
“Excellent combination,” noted Paul, toasting Gail with his glass. Gail’s blush contrasted with her beige blouse as the waitress scribbled.
Alice sighed and scanned down the menu as her turn arrived. “The ravioli, please.” The waitress made a note while the table fell quiet. “And a chardonnay.”
“A glass?” asked the waitress.
“A bottle,” said Alice, flipping the menu closed with a clack of metal corners.
“Right away,” said the waitress, harvesting the rest of the menus and making her way to the next table.
“What is going on?” asked Meredith. “You haven’t drunk at noon since college, let alone ordered something soaked in butter and stuffed with ricotta.”
Alice ran her finger along the drops of perspiration on her water glass. “I’m sure Gail doesn’t need to hear my sob story.”
“Allie,” said Paul, grabbing her manicured hand in his. “It’s time to share.”
Alice squeezed his hand and received a supportive press of his fingers in return. “I broke up with…this guy.”
“I knew you had something going on.” Paul tossed back her hand as if annoyed at being kept in the dark and leaned in his chair expectantly.
“Do we know him?” asked Meredith, angling over her bread dish.
Alice winced and nodded.
“Let me guess.” Paul held up a silencing hand. “Joshua Baker.”
“From the show?” Alice blinked thoughtfully then shook her head, tossing Josh’s crisp country looks out of her thoughts.
“Vern Days?” suggested Meredith.
“Oh, is it?” asked Paul. “He’s dreamy.”
“No.” Alice shook her head and reached for her water as if to wash her lips clean before speaking his name. “It was Tyler.”
“The Tyler Reynolds?”
Alice nodded and began playing with her fork as the table fell into stunned silence.
“Who’s Tyler Reynolds?” Alice looked up to find Gail’s cheeks flushed again with embarrassment but her eyes flittering around for an answer like a hungry hummingbird.
“He’s an actor,” said Meredith.
“He’s THE actor for the moment,” added Paul.
“Oh,” said Gail, “I saw him in an interview, once.” Her curious gaze fell onto Alice’s face. “He seemed nice. Why did you break up?”
“I like her,” said Paul, leaning over the table and giving Gail a wink. “She gets right to the point.”
Alice blew out another long breath and twirled her glass. “I just couldn’t remember why I liked him so much.”
“Well he is gorgeous,” said Paul.
“And he’s rolling in it,” added Meredith.
“Isn’t he married?”
“I thought he was separated?”
“Oh that’s right, from that twiggy girl with the frizzy hair.”
Alice ran her fingers around her glass as Paul and Meredith worked out their gossip.
“How did you meet?” asked Gail below the back and forth. Meredith and Paul quieted in order to listen.
“At work.” Alice rubbed at her temple to order her thoughts as the young woman frowned. “I’m a make-up artist. I work for a lot of the productions on the strip and we…made things more serious at a party for the end of the Shew’s run.”
“Oh,” said Gail.
“Master bath, actually,” said Alice, correcting Paul and Meredith, then cooling her blush with a sip of ice water.
“Is he really different when he’s not on stage?” asked Gail.
“No,” said Alice as she set her glass down like a weighted brick, “I think that’s what bothered me so much. He’s always some character rather than being a real person. I felt like I wasn’t with a guy but a bunch of masks.”
“Ouch,” said Paul. “So how did you do it?”
“I told him this morning, over breakfast at my place. You know, at least caffeinate them before you shove them out the door.” She motioned her fork like a shovel before gazing around the table. “Do you think I did the right thing?”
“Sounds like it,” said Paul. Meredith nodded her agreement.
Alice took another gulp of water then glanced over the bistro in search for her chardonnay. “I bet I was just a rebound for him anyway.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“What?” asked Alice, staring at a bemused Meredith.
“Hmmm,” said Paul. “The Shrew ended what, about three months ago?”
“I guess so,” said Alice, thinking back. She remembered wearing a low cut knit sweater and pleated slacks that helped hide ten pounds, both perfect for late winter.
Meredith rolled her eyes as Paul chuckled.
The waitress arrived with their drinks and Alice poured herself a glass. “I won’t offer to share unless you tell me what you’re snickering about.”
“November 14th,” said Paul and Meredith waved her hand like a circus master starting a show.
“You don’t think me hooking up with Reynolds has to do with that?”
“I think it has everything to do with that,” countered Meredith.
Alice stared down into her honey colored beverage.
“To do with what?” asked Gail.
“That’s when a certain someone’s getting married,” said Paul with a feigned whisper.
“Oh,” said Gail, clearing not quite grasping the insinuation.
“Alice’s old flame’s getting hitched,” provided Meredith.
“Oh,” said Gail again.
“This isn’t about Jake,” said Alice, gathering the courage to meet the other eyes at the table.
“If you say so.” Meredith and Paul shared a conspiratorial glance. “By the way, I got my invitation for the bridal shower today,” continued Meredith as if flowing on with an entirely different conversation.
“He…She sent you one?”
“Yeah, I checked my mail before I left for lunch. Beautifully embossed. Same stationary as the invitation. My guess is her new colors are peach and sage.”
“That’s nice…” said Alice, taking a slight sip on her drink.
“Did you get one?” asked Gail.
“She’s definitely a keeper,” murmured Paul to Meredith.
“I don’t know,” said Alice. “With everything this morning, I guess I didn’t check my box.”
“Well,” said Paul, leaning back to allow the returned waitress the room to place his large Ceaser, “we’ll have to see what happens after lunch then won’t we?”