Separation Anxiety
© 2014 Lisa Suzanne

We all get one true love in our lives, and it’s up to us to find it. Fate will act and try to push us together, but ultimately it’s up to us to recognize who that one person is when he’s standing in front of us.
Maybe other people don’t believe that, but that’s what I believed. And I thought that Richard was that for me. I truly believed that while we were dating and when we got engaged.
But then we got married.
Is it strange that I considered us separated from almost the moment we had gotten married?
Now that we actually were separated, I was starting to wonder when one of us would finally make the first move toward the inevitable incision that would sever the ties of our marriage.
And as I sat there thinking about the very thing that had weighed heavy on my mind for a year, I wondered if I should be the one to finally make that first move. 
I never thought it would be us, at least not when we’d been dating or after we’d gotten engaged. I’d always heard about those stupid Hollywood couples citing “irreconcilable differences,” and I always thought it was a really clever way to say that they couldn’t solve their own problems. Well, guess what?
Richard and I couldn’t solve our own problems.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. For my part, at least, I had done everything that I could.
I suggested counseling the moment I saw that we were growing apart. Richard made it to one session before giving up. One.
I tried talking to him, but it was like talking to a wall. I asked him what I could do to fix things, but how do you fix something that’s irreparable?
Those damn irreconcilable differences came back to haunt me. Our lives had grown separate ways, and in the end, that was what tore us apart. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have it in me to try to make something work that just wasn’t working anymore.
“Veronica, is there anything you’d like to add?” Bill’s voice intruded on my thoughts.
I really needed to focus. I was sitting in a meeting with the parents and teachers of one of my students. Jacob’s parents were concerned with his behavior and grades, and our assistant principal, Bill Robinson, had pulled together a meeting and scheduled it for the end of the day on a Friday.
Nothing pissed a group of teachers off more than scheduling a meeting on a Friday after school.
But there I was, dwelling once again on my personal issues that had plagued me for over a year while I was supposed to be focusing on the meeting I was sitting in.
I smiled warmly at the people sitting across from me. “I think that covers it,” I said, hoping that I didn’t miss a beat somewhere. I’d already given my feedback earlier. He was a good kid who got bored easily, and honestly, after five years as an English teacher, it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it. I found ways to keep him entertained so he didn’t become a behavior issue for me.
“Thank you for your time,” Bill said. “Teachers, you are dismissed.”
Thank God.
I walked at my normal brisk pace back to my classroom, grabbed my purse out of my desk, and headed out the door.
I hadn’t told anybody about the separation, and neither had Richard. Instead, he slept in the guest bedroom and we avoided each other as much as possible. We avoided our friends who were couples while we both postponed the inevitable. But, honestly, we both knew that there was no hope, and I wasn’t sure anymore what we were holding onto.
Maybe it was easier just to stay married and live separately, but I was starting to think that was stupid. I was ready to be done with my life with Richard, and I was ready to be done with the lie we’d been living for the past year.
I thought about the things that helped me to know that it was over. When I got home from somewhere and saw his car in the garage, I felt my heart drop as the heavy weight that had disappeared when we were apart bore back down on my shoulders. I didn’t miss him when we were apart, and I didn’t feel those same urges to reach out to squeeze his hand or to lean in for a random hug. We’d lost the affectionate side of our relationship a long time ago, and we both knew that there was no getting it back. And affection was something I craved. I didn’t need to always be on top of my significant other; but I missed those sweet glances from across the room, or the knowing smile, or the way we had found reasons to touch each other when we had first gotten together.
Our initial attraction had been instant. As silly as it sounds, we met on a blind date. A friend from work, Quinn, was dating Paul. Paul had a single friend and Quinn had me, and the four of us went to dinner and a movie one night. The instant attraction crackled through the air between us.
My jaw dropped when I had first seen him; he had dark hair that he pushed back when it fell across his forehead, and his green eyes were piercing and locked onto my brown eyes. Even sitting in a chair as he was when I first spotted him, I could tell that he was strong and powerful. When he gracefully unfolded himself from the chair and walked toward me, arm outstretched to shake my hand, I felt an instant connection when his skin touched mine.
Three years later we were married in a quaint ceremony with two hundred of our closest friends and family. And now, another two years later, we were on the brink of divorce.
Thank God we hadn’t had kids yet, because this was hard enough without considering the little lives we’d be tearing apart with our separation.
So what had happened from that magical night of our blind date to the present?
In one word, plenty.
I thought back to our courtship with really fond memories. We had taken things slowly mostly at my request. He had been ready to sleep with me the first night he had met me, he’d revealed to me after the first time we’d had sex. But I made him wait a month. I wasn’t sure why, but I just felt like rushing things was going to be a mistake. Who knew five years later that even taking things slowly would still be a mistake?
We were in our early twenties when we first met, and now we were in our late twenties. We’d grown together before we’d grown apart, and I wasn’t sure exactly who I was on my own anymore. I was so used to being part of a couple, to being the other half, that I wasn’t sure how to strike out and just be me anymore. Veronica Thomas had once been Veronica Freemont before she married Richard Thomas. So how did I go back to who I was before I’d met him?
The answer was difficult as it stared me right in the face: I couldn’t go back to the girl I was before him. For better or worse, we’d changed each other, just like any person has the ability to change another person, and I could never be who I was before him again. So the task ahead of me was to figure out who I was – on my own – now.
As I got into my car after my parent meeting that Friday afternoon, I glanced at my text messages. I had one from Quinn.
You coming to happy hour? her text asked. I was late because of the damn parent meeting.
I replied, On my way now. Then I started my car and headed to the bar.
I met Quinn when I started teaching at Central Valley High School five years earlier. It had been within the first month of school that she had set me up with Richard. Now Paul was long out of the picture, and Quinn was happily living the single life, hopping from bar to bar on the weekends and bed to bed where necessary. I’d always been a little jealous of her single life. I guess even from the start, Richard had made me feel tied down, like a prisoner in my own home. Okay, that was a bit dramatic, even if it was kind of true. But I was so damn blinded by those green eyes and the money and promises that Richard had made that I let some of the little stuff slide.
I was lost in thought as I pulled into the parking lot of our weekly happy hour haunt, and then I felt that little fluttery feeling when I spotted Jesse’s truck in the lot.
Richard hadn’t been unfaithful, and neither had I. But I had never been blind, either. Jesse Drake was gorgeous. He had these mysterious, dark brown eyes and this perfect silky and thick, dark hair that was always manscaped in that beautiful way that looked at once like he didn’t bother and like he ran his hands through it a million times a day. He had that look of a healthy, lean athlete. He was one of our school counselors, and he was the kind of good looking that encouraged the teenage girls to literally make up problems so that they could get out of class to go talk to him. He was the kind of good looking that caused me to take the long route to the office copiers just so I could swing by his office and catch a glance. He was the kind of good looking that made my heart skip a beat when I saw his big black truck in the school parking lot when I pulled into my space each morning. And he was the kind of good looking that set the flutters on fire in my belly when I saw that he was at the bar for our weekly happy hour.
Jesse and I became friends when I had started working at Central. He had been there for a few years before me, and he filled me in on who to avoid and where to go to get all of my questions answered. He’d become a mentor my first year, and over the years, we’d grown closer as friends. I’d always held an attraction to him, but I was with Richard. Not only was I in a relationship, but Jesse was so far out of my league that we weren’t even playing the same game.
We exchanged numbers so that he could help me anytime I needed it, and now, five years later, we were text buddies. His tended toward funny picture texts, and I always tried my best to respond with something equally witty so we’d have a little inside joke together. He was a great colleague and an even better counselor. He loved his job and he loved working with high school kids, and, from what I knew about him, he loved women. He was single, a pretty well-known player, and he was an expert with the flirty banter. He occasionally told me about his conquests, building his reputation as a sexy bad boy, and I shared stories mostly about my classroom. For some reason, I just didn’t want to talk to Jesse about my relationship.
So maybe I had nursed a little crush on him, but I knew that even thinking about hooking up with him was all kinds of bad, not that he would even want me. For one thing, I depended on him for a lot of help since I was the senior English team lead and he was the head senior counselor. And for another thing, I was still married in the eyes of God and the law, and I knew I was in no way even close to being ready to jump into something new.
Even separated, I was still married. I had to keep reminding myself of that fact as I stared at Jesse Drake’s truck for a moment. I took a deep breath.
Those little flutters low in my tummy just weren’t going away, and as I found myself walking toward the door to enter the bar, they started battling against the inside of my stomach as my heart joined in and started pounding in my chest. I forced another deep breath into my lungs, wondering why I suddenly had nerves. I’d always been attracted to Jesse, but my body had never reacted quite like that before just in anticipation of seeing him.
I glanced around and found my group in the usual spot. About half of the English department showed up to happy hour, as did about half of the Social Studies teachers, so we had a group of over ten teachers. My heart stopped its loud pounding and those flutters went away when I saw that Jesse wasn’t at the table. I snuck a quick scan of the entire bar, but I didn’t see him anywhere.
“Veronica!” my happy hour friends exclaimed as I approached the table. Our ritual was to yell out the name of each person upon arrival.
I grinned, feeling disappointed that he wasn’t there as I took one of the two open seats at the table, wondering why his truck was there but he wasn’t. The bar was at the end of a strip mall, so maybe he was visiting one of the other shops in the area. I silently berated myself, picking up a menu as Quinn’s eyes met mine across the table. She grinned and I smiled back as I thought about how adorable she always was. Her naturally curly blonde hair and her bright blue eyes and her high cheekbones and her perfect figure always tended to draw the attention of men.
“Good meeting?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Who the fuck schedules a meeting on a Friday afternoon?” I complained.
“Bill!” everyone in hearing distance exclaimed. He was notorious for doing that, and we all hated it.
“What can I get for you, sweetie?” the waitress asked, pen poised over her pad of paper.
“Double vodka seven,” I replied. “And potato skins,” I added on second thought. Shit, I was separated and a little depressed, and it wasn’t like anyone was around who was going to judge my eating habits. I might as well enjoy some fucking potato skins.
“On your own check?” she asked, and I nodded.
The moment she stepped away, something in the air changed. I felt an electric undercurrent, and instinctively I knew that he was there. Then he appeared, pulling out the chair next to me and sitting down.
Those annoying little flutters immediately reignited in my belly.
This crush of mine was starting to get out of control.
“You know they don’t pay for overtime, right?” Jesse asked, his eyes meeting mine. I noticed for the first time the half-drank beer that had been sitting on the table, and no one had yelled out his name when he sat down, so apparently he had been here for awhile. If I had to guess, I figured he’d either gone to the restroom or he’d gone to the bar to chat up some of the ladies seated there, but my quick scan when I’d walked in hadn’t spotted him, so I figured it was the former. And I was glad, because I didn’t like the thought of him flirting with other women. I wanted him flirting with me.
I had to stop these thoughts. This was wrong on multiple levels.
I started a repetitive chant in my head: “Stop it! He’s not for you! Stop it! He’s not for you!”
“Yep,” I said, trying to catch my breath as his dark eyes bored into mine. God damn, he was hot. And just like that, those eyes of his made the chanting stop. In fact, it was replaced with a new chant: “Holy fuck! He’s so hot! Holy fuck! He’s so hot!”
“What was the holdup?”
“Parent meeting.”
“Fucking Bill,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair as I chuckled.
The waitress was on the other side of the table, and Jesse held up his glass and tapped the side, the universal signal meaning, “I’ll have another.”
She nodded, and I swore I saw her blush a little, and then she scampered off to put in our orders.
“How did that lesson on satire go?” Quinn yelled from across the table, interrupting what was sure to be the start of some flirty banter between Jesse and me.
“Fine,” I said. She had helped me plan a killer lesson, and I was using it first with my honors kids. She was going to try it the following week with her on-level students. “They came up with some really great examples.”
I had thought about telling Quinn that Richard and I were over about a million times, but I still hadn’t. She had become my very best friend over the past five years. We had a great time together, laughing at lunch until we both had tears streaming down our faces at the most ridiculously immature things, and we gave each other solid advice and could have lengthy, deep talks. But something about the fact that she was the one who helped me find Richard made me pause when telling her. I literally had told not a single soul about the separation. I just wasn’t ready for the assured looks of sympathy I’d receive and the advice about how to fix a marriage. It was too broken to recover. We weren’t just bent; we were broken beyond repair, and the bigger issue was that neither of us wanted to fix it anymore. We’d given it the old college try for two years, and sometimes things just don’t work out.
I had always believed that marriage was once and forever, but suddenly I found myself about to become another statistic. That thought saddened me, but it wasn’t the end of the world; it was just the end of Richard and me. I knew I had to start telling people eventually, but really nothing had changed from the outside. Things still looked fine, and I’d tell people when I was ready. I’d tell people once we made it official. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was really silly to sit around waiting for something to happen.
I finally made the decision that I was going to file the paperwork for divorce. The sooner we could end things, the sooner we’d both be able to move on.
“Earth to Veronica,” I heard Jesse’s deep, raspy voice next to me, close to my ear.
I snapped out of my thoughts. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“Where did you go just now?” he asked.
“Just a lot on my mind,” I said, skirting the question.
“Care to share?” he asked, a look of concern washing over his warm brown eyes.
I shrugged. “Maybe later,” I said, looking away before I lost myself in those eyes.
I felt his hand on my arm. It was warm and rough and electrical and perfect. I felt all of the blood in my body rushing to that one spot where he touched me, and then I felt my neck warm and my face heat up as a blush spread across my cheeks. I knew I was being ridiculous. This was my friend. This was my Jesse, my trusted colleague. Wait. Not “my” Jesse. Just Jesse.
I was still married, I reminded myself once again. But a little corner of my mind was also justifying that I was separated and there was no hope left for my marriage.
“Irreconcilable differences” meant no fault. If I acted on these feelings that I was developing, we wouldn’t be able to claim “no fault” anymore. If I cheated, I would be at fault. And right now, things were going to end fairly amicably. We’d already pretty much divided our things, and we had been in talks about selling the house and splitting the profits. So I had to maintain the steady line until things were fully over between us, until the judge declared that in the eyes of the law, we were officially divorced.
All of that ran through my head in the split second his hand touched my arm. I glanced down at his fingers, and I noticed not for the first time how beautiful his hands were. Seriously, he could be a hand model or something. His fingers were long with trim, neat fingernails. I could tell that he spent time working out, because his hands looked strong and powerful. I suddenly wondered what his naked chest looked like, or what his abdominal muscles looked like under that shirt and tie he wore every day except Friday, when he wore a polo shirt with CVHS emblazoned over the top left pocket and well worn jeans that made his ass look incredible.
Okay, so maybe I’d spent some time checking him out in the past.
“V, you know you can talk to me,” he said, his voice low and intense, that wonderful hand still artfully placed over my skin.
I loved when he called me “V.” Something about it was sweet and intimate and intense all at once, and I suddenly felt like it was only the two of us sitting at that table, even though we were surrounded by friends and colleagues.
I did know that I could talk to him. He was a counselor, after all. If there was anybody that I trusted to keep my confessions to himself, and if there was anybody who could give me sound advice, Jesse was it.
I nodded, suddenly unable to speak around the lump that had formed in my throat. I felt those tiny pricks behind my eyes, and then the waitress appeared with my drink and I grabbed it from her gratefully, gulping half of it down with one long pull. I felt the cold liquid slide down my throat. I needed it to clear the threat of tears caused by the man sitting beside me who wanted to comfort me, and I needed it to cool down after the heat that I’d felt rush through me at the skin to skin contact. While it helped with the threat of tears, the vodka had the opposite effect on me than I had intended, causing my body to heat even more rather than cool down.
“Jesus. Slow down,” Jesse said with a laugh, finishing off his beer and handing the waitress the empty glass as she handed him a fresh one. His voice was no longer low and intimate, close to my ear, and his hand was no longer on my arm. A brief chill prickled my skin where his hand had just been.
Quinn giggled from across the table. She knew that I thought Jesse was hot, but she had no idea what was really going on in my head.
“Long week,” I said weakly, trying to come up with some excuse as to why I’d just chugged down half of my vodka drink.
He nodded. “I get it. Every week in February tends to be long,” he said.
“How’s counseling seniors going this time of year?” I asked, changing the subject to something safer.
“Good. I’ve already contacted all of the parents of seniors in danger of failing, so hopefully they’ll get their asses in gear. How are your seniors?”
“Good. I don’t have any failing, and we’ve just been preparing like crazy for the AP test in May.”
“Do you think they’ll be ready?” he asked, taking a long sip of his drink.
“Fucking better be,” I grinned.
“They’ve got the best teacher in your department, so they’ll be fine.”
I blushed from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes.
“Stop,” I chided, and he grinned.
“I’m serious, V,” he said, his voice low and sexy again as he ran his hand through his hair. “You know how awesome you are, don’t you?”
I didn’t, not anymore. I had for a long time. I’d always been confident, but my relationship with Richard had taken that from me.
The waitress came back with my order of potato skins, so I was saved from having to answer his question. I watched him watch the waitress walk away, and I was reminded of his sexual tendencies. He glanced at my potato skins, covered in bacon and cheese and greasy goodness, and then he glanced up at me, a smirk curling his beautifully sculpted lips.
“You sharing those?” he asked.
I nodded. “Help yourself,” I said, even though I knew I could put the entire plate down myself.
He grinned, and I melted a little. I gulped down some more vodka.
“So that waitress?” he said, grabbing a potato skin and gesturing with it toward the woman who had just placed my food in front of me. I looked over at him and raised my eyebrows. “She likes it rough.”
I choked on some potato. Guess what I did to clear the blockage from my throat? Yep. Gulped down some more vodka.
He chuckled as he patted me on the back, and I was hyperaware of his hands on me again.
It wasn’t unusual to hear Jesse talk about sex, but hearing him talk about sex when I was realizing how serious my crush on him had become was a little too much for me. I suddenly wanted to know what rough with him was like. It wasn’t like I hadn’t imagined it before, but I had been on a sexual hiatus for over a year, and the last time I’d had sex with Richard wasn’t exactly pleasurable.
It had been our one year anniversary. You know how people say that once you get married, you never have sex again? Most married couples I knew weren’t like that at all. But once Richard and I got married, sex became a monthly chore. Before the wedding, it had always been great. Our first time together had been romantic and sweet, and each time after was always pleasurable. But with getting married came buying a house, working harder to make ends meet, and the stress that went along with all of those things. Most nights we were both simply too tired to do it, but we agreed that we needed a date night at least once a month. Our last “date night” was our first wedding anniversary. We’d both drank too much in anticipation of our monthly chore, and he passed out while he was still inside of me. I had to push him off of me and then the dramatic tears that come with too much drinking came, and I cried myself to sleep.
Something told me that with Jesse, I’d never cry myself to sleep.
I’d always go to sleep with a smile on my face.
My drink was empty, so I reluctantly called over the waitress who had been lucky enough to fuck the man sitting next to me.
“I’ll have another,” I announced when she came back. Her nametag said “Tami.”
“Another double?” she asked, and I shook my head.
“Single is fine,” I said, knowing I should slow down a little.
She scampered away after holding eyes a little too long with Jesse.
“That was a double?” Jesse asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. You got a problem with that?” I teased.
“Someone’s going to need to drive your drunk ass home.”
He was right. Another drink would put me in the unsafe driving zone, but I’d deal with it when it was time to leave. Quinn would take me home, and I’d figure out a way to get my car the next day. No big deal, I thought, even though I realized that it was kind of a big deal because it’s not like I’d be able to rely on my husband to help me pick up my car.
“So how’s the man with two first names?” Jesse asked, changing the subject again.
He always called Richard that since his name was Richard Thomas. It annoyed me at first because it had been my husband that he was making fun of, but now I just found it funny.
“You know, that means I have two first names, too,” I said.
“Yeah, but your last name is a guy name, so it’s okay.”
I giggled. Actually giggled, like a stupid kid with a crush on the hot guy. Which was accurate, except I wasn’t a kid.
“You have two first names, too,” I countered, realizing for the first time that he actually did. I think I’d been too mesmerized by those dark, mysterious eyes to register that fact all of the times he’d teased me about my husband’s name before.
“I suppose I do,” he grinned. We smiled at each other for a beat. “So he’s good?” he pressed, and I sensed that he knew something was up.
I shrugged. “Sure. He’s fine.”
“What’s going on, V?” His voice was low and intense and an image of him hovering over me inappropriately flashed through my mind.
“Nothing,” I said, shoving a potato skin covered with sour cream into my mouth. Not a smart move, but I wasn’t prepared to talk about it. Plus, I was already feeling the first effects of the vodka, and vodka, as everyone knows, is truth serum. The last thing I needed was to make a drunken confession about the state of my marriage to my crush.
I chewed like a horse on my food, my mouth stuffed full. Jesse grinned over at me, and then he brought his finger to my mouth, wiping a little excess sour cream from the side of my lip. I briefly closed my eyes and sighed through my food, and then I saw him lick the sour cream off of his fingers. It was far more intimate a moment than should have been shared between two friends, and I felt myself melt a little further into my chair as my eyes widened. I glanced across the table and saw Quinn, her mouth hanging open at the exchange.
I finished chewing my food and swallowed, and then I followed it with a giant gulp of my drink.
Before I knew it, my potato skins were gone and my drink was empty. Suddenly I had the strong urge to pee.
“Excuse me,” I said, leaving my purse and my phone at the table. Quinn got up and followed me.
“What’s going on?” she asked once we were in the safety of the restroom behind closed doors. I checked under the stalls to be sure we were alone.
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently, and then I headed into a stall to do my business while Quinn took the empty stall next to me.
“With you and Delicious Drake?”
“Nothing’s going on, Quinn. I’m married for Christ’s sake.”
“How is the old ball and chain? You haven’t talked about Racy Richard in forever.”
Quinn never made it a secret when she thought someone was hot, my nearly ex-husband apparently included.
“He’s fine.”
“What’s he up to on this fine Friday?”
“Hell if I know,” I muttered. I finished up and flushed, and I heard her flush a few seconds later. We met at the sink.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“I don’t know what he’s up to. I just know I’m here at happy hour and having fun. What are your plans after this?”
“Meeting Caleb,” she said, grinning. Caleb was her current fuck buddy (“and nothing more,” so she claimed).
“No nickname for Caleb yet?” I asked.
She grinned. “Cock-a-licious?”
“Nice,” I said with a smirk. “More info than I needed. But you kids have fun.”
“You and Richard have big plans for the weekend?”
I thought about that. I doubt she meant filing for divorce, but that had suddenly become my weekend plan. To answer her question, I shook my head, inspecting my face in the mirror and wiping away a tiny smudge of eyeliner.
“Nope,” I said. “Grading papers, maybe.”
“That sounds like a lame ass weekend.”
“Tell me about it,” I said with a sigh.
We headed back out, and my heart did a little flip flop and my breath got stuck somewhere in my esophagus when I saw Jesse stretch in his chair, the hem of his shirt rising up just a little to reveal the bottom of what looked like a perfect washboard stomach. I thought I spotted some ink, too, but it was hard to tell from my quick glance. But a tattoo? On Jesse Drake? Yes please.
I was in serious trouble.
“Jesus Christ,” Quinn said, apparently having spotted the same sight as me. She sighed. “Too bad I don’t sleep where I work, or I’d have to give that a try,” she said. Funny how the one limit she set was the one thing I was suddenly obsessing over.
I settled back into my chair. Jesse draped his arm across the back of my chair and leaned in toward me. “I ordered you another,” he said, that sexy edge to his low voice back in full force. His scent invaded my senses. He wore a hint of some sort of masculine cologne that was fresh and reminded me of Christmas at the same time. It smelled like winter and pine and sex.
“Thanks,” I managed, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear as I spotted a fresh drink in front of me. I took a sip. “Single or double?”
“Double,” he said, a scandalous smile spreading across his features.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” I asked, pressing the boundaries just a little further than I probably should have and definitely a little further than I would have if I was sober.
“Sure. Why not? Then I’ll take you home to that two first name husband of yours.”
It was strange that he suddenly mentioned my husband in the midst of the air thick with sexual tension between us, and all it served to do was snap me back to reality. While I was enjoying my time with Jesse, I was aware that it would never go past flirting. Even if he was a player, he seemed like a good guy. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would hook up with a married woman, even if I suddenly wanted it like I wanted the next sip of my vodka drink.
Reese, one of the English teachers, asked Tami for her bill, and a few others followed suit. The first few teachers left, and it was down to the typical core group who always stayed latest: Quinn, Avery, and me from the English department, Kevin and Dane from Social Studies, and Jesse. Avery and Kevin had been flirting back and forth for as long as I had known them, and I knew someday they would eventually hook up (if they hadn’t already… Avery had a bit of a reputation). Dane and Quinn had co-taught lessons before, so they had plenty to talk about. That left Jesse’s attention on me.
Everyone was too wrapped up in their own conversations to notice what we were talking about. I chanced a glance over at Quinn to make sure just as she threw her head back and laughed at something Dane had said.
“So, Mrs. Thomas, what are you up to this weekend?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Probably grading essays,” I said.
“That sounds so exciting.”
“It’s February. We’ve got three months of school left. I have to do it sometime.”
“Do you have plans for the summer?” he asked.
I shrugged. I did; I was planning to pack my shit and find a new place to live, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that over happy hour drinks.
I took another gulp of my drink. “Not sure yet,” I said after I swallowed. “You?”
“I only get June off, really, and then I’m back to the grind with scheduling. But every summer I take a road trip.”
“Where are you off to this year?” I asked.
“I’m heading down to Mexico for a couple weeks, and then I’m going to drive up through California wine country.”
“Sounds romantic. Taking someone special?” I asked, suddenly jealous both of him for going on what sounded like an amazing adventure and of whatever slut of the month he was taking with him.
He shook his head. “Actually, I usually travel alone. Good way to decompress after a long school year. I’ll probably check in with some friends in California, and I have a buddy meeting me in Mexico for a few days, but otherwise, I’m heading out alone.”
Something sparked inside of me at that thought. I liked that he wasn’t taking a romantic trip with someone else even though it wasn’t my place to feel that way.
Tami came by, and Jesse and I each ordered another. And then Quinn, Kevin, Avery, and Dane all asked for their checks.
I guess that meant Jesse and I would be alone for our last drinks.
It suddenly felt like a date, and I didn’t mind one bit.
“You need a ride?” Quinn asked from across the table.
“I can take her,” Jesse jumped in before I could answer.
Quinn raised her eyebrows at me, and I nodded my consent. Of course it was fine if he took me home. Obviously I wasn’t driving home, not after four vodka drinks.
“Thanks for the offer,” I said to Quinn, and she came over and gave me a hug before leaving.
And then there were two.

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