Following the maître d’, Fay dabbed at her eyes, and then checked her fingertips for tear-smeared mascara. Her polished tips remained clean, and she gave the passing tables with their curious patrons, a forced grin, proving to them, and to herself, she was all right.
With a sharp pivot, the maitre d’ gestured to their usual table.
Sitting across the ironed tablecloth, Amber beamed, her cheeks flush with the spring afternoon and the half-drunk glass of chardonnay she swirled between her fingers.
“So?” She beckoned with her left hand.
Fay gave the maitre d’ an appreciative nod, as he pulled out her chair. “Thank you,” she said.
Ignoring his bobbing head and departure, Fay focused on unfolding her pleated napkin.
“Come on,” said Amber, drumming her index finger on the table, “let’s see it.”
“Stop it, Amber.”
Amber puckered her heart-shaped mouth, and even Botox couldn’t prevent the wrinkles on her forehead. After a moment’s silence, her frown disappeared, and the remains of her plucked brows reached for her tinted bangs. “I don’t believe it.”
“Good afternoon, ladies. What are we starting with today?”
Fay blinked away a resurging sniffle, and tipped her face to the attending waiter. “Martini, dry.”
“Excellent,” he said, swiveling to Amber. “Anything more for you?”
“Not at the moment,” said Amber, her gaze never moving from Fay.
“Then I’ll be right back with that martini.”
Once they were alone again, Amber leaned forward. “He didn’t, did he?”
Seizing the water carafe, Fay filled her glass, and took a long, disappointing pull. She set the glass down, and watched the drips wind their way along the crystal. “No, he didn’t.”
“The complete opposite of what was supposed to happen.” Taking a deep breath, she met Amber’s expectant gaze. “We’re through.”
“Oh, Fay.” Amber reached across the table, clasping Fay’s other hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m just so stupid.” She squeezed Amber’s fingers, and then wrapped her grip around the goblet’s stem. “I should have seen it coming, known it was coming. Sean just wanted the connections, not me.”
Shaking her head, Fay took another sip.
“Here we are.” The waiter plopped down the martini, complete with stabbed olive. “Are we ready to order?”
Fay put her lips to the drink, and motioned for Amber to take command. She requested their usual salads with appropriate modifications, and then a towering frosted brownie. The waiter gave a sympathetic sigh, and Fay restrained herself from kicking him in the shins.
“If anything else comes up, just wave me down.”
As he departed, Fay closed her eyes and savored the burn in her throat.
“Oh my,” said Amber. “Don’t look now.”
“Huh?” Fay followed Amber’s stare toward the door, her gaze fighting her the whole way as her stomach sank to the tiles.
Sean stood silhouetted in the afternoon light filtering through the restaurant’s entrance, broad shoulders beneath a trim suit coat, hair slicked into stylish spikes.
Cringing, Fay swung back to her martini, and bottomed the drink. “Where’s he going?”
“The patio.” Amber’s chair groaned as she strained backwards. “Some brunette in,” she gasped with distaste, “a pastel print, and some guy in khakis.”
“Receding hair and wearing sunglasses?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Director Ablos and his secretary,” said Fay, adding air quotes around the title. “I introduced them last week at Mike’s after show party.”
She shot Amber a warning glare. “I bet he’s got luncheon dates all over town now.”
“Well, the three of them look pretty stupid sitting there at a table for four.”
“Not as stupid as me on the kitchen floor with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.”
Amber’s mouth fell open. “You didn’t.”
Fay snorted, and waved her empty glass at the waiter. He winked from his post by the bar.
Sagging back onto the table, Fay cupped her chin in her hand and raked her finger around her bread dish. “What am I going to do?”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” said Amber. Snatching the plate, she shoved a filled water glass into Fay’s hand. “What if he saw you here, slouching like this?”
Fay glanced up, and Amber’s glare helped straighten her spine. “You’re right,” she said, sipping on the water.
“Of course I am.” Amber finished off her chardonnay. “Now we’re going to have a wonderful lunch, complete with girlie stories, laugher and flirting with our waiter.”
“Just smile,” said Amber, covering an added giggle.
Fay jumped as the waiter deposited their salads along with her second martini.
“Can I get you anything else?”
Snatching her glass, Fay quirked her mouth into an encouraging grin. “Just keep these coming,”
“Happy to,” said the waiter with another wink.
As he withdrew, Amber let out an ear catching chuckle. “See? Better already.”
“Yeah,” said Fay, holding the angular glass in her hand.
Over the rim, she spied across the restaurant where Sean glanced over the tables while Albos received a whispered message from his secretary. The pair stood a moment later, and their apologetic body language indicating some hurried excuses. Sean froze half way between sitting and standing, his mouth gaping as they briskly exited. Nearby tables mumbled with recognition, and then traced the well-known pair’s route back to their evacuated table. Finally plopping into his chair, Sean snatched his beer, and rubbed at his temple. Whispers rippled through the room, paired with interested gazes, and he responded to each with his scowl.
Fay stiffened when she met his eyes.
“Just smile,” whispered Amber.
The quiet nudge only added to the sly curve warping Fay’s mouth into a dazzling exposure of her pearly whites. Lifting her martini, she gave Sean’s shocked expression a silent toast, laughed, and swiveled back to her table before victoriously digging into her salad.