The One Real Thing Page 50

“Two fingers of Macallan on the rocks,” Andrew said before anyone else could speak. “And a glass of your best red.”

He’d ordered for me.

I wasn’t surprised.

Bailey, however, looked like she wanted to slap him.

Tom choked back laughter as he ordered. “Beer, Lil.”

“Bailey?” Lily said.

My friend shook herself. “Long Island. And cancel the red wine.” She turned to me pointedly. “What would you like to drink, Jessica?”

Now it was my turn to struggle with holding in laughter. I turned to Lily, avoiding Andrew’s gaze. “I’ll have a Long Island, too.”

I had a feeling I was going to need it.

“Sure thing. Oh”—she dipped her head down to me—“I wanted to thank you. Cooper said it was you who told him to talk to me about what’s been going on . . . I should have spoken to him earlier. Anyway, thanks. I really need this job.”

Warmth spread through me. “You’re welcome. I hope everything is okay.”

“It will be. Helps I have an awesome boss.” She grinned and trotted away.

My gaze moved past her to Cooper. He was laughing with Old Archie about something and my belly flipped. I loved his crooked smile.

I loved that he had taken my advice and made whatever was going on in Lily’s life better for her.

“Are you alright?” Andrew said, drawing my attention back to him.

“Dr. Jess!”

I jumped at the shout that had everyone turning in the bar to look at Old Archie. “Yes?” I called back, a little worried about what he was going to say, considering he’d just been talking to Cooper.

“My old lady, Anita, she’s got a problem with her neck. I said I’d ask you to have a look at it. And while you’re at it, will you give her something for that damn flu she’s got? She keeps trying to work through it.”

Everyone turned to stare at me, waiting for a response. “Um . . . doesn’t Anita have a doctor here?”

“Ah, she hates going to the doc. Hates waiting in that creepy waiting room place, you know. I said how nice you were and she finally said she’d get it checked.”

I sensed concern in Old Archie and so I found myself saying, “Tell her to pop by the inn tomorrow morning.”

“She works. Eight a.m. okay for you?”

“Sure.”

“Great. I’d buy you a drink, but I’ve only got enough on me for four more beers.”

Amused, I grinned. “That’s quite alright.”

I turned back to find Andrew frowning at me.

“What?” I shrugged.

“House calls? Really?”

Lily arrived and put our drinks on the table. I picked up my Long Island and said, “He’s a friend.”

“You’ve certainly made a lot of those here,” he said stiffly.

“Yes. I have.”

There were other tourists in the bar, at Bailey’s inn, at Emery’s, at Antonio’s, and although they were treated with cordiality, they were not treated by the business owners like friends.

The real truth, I suddenly realized, was that the people here recognized something I was too stubborn to admit. They recognized the connection that I had made to their town.

And that made me something more than a tourist to them.

That made me connected to them.

I slid out of the booth, no longer able to pretend the situation was any different from what it was. “Come outside,” I said to Andrew. “We need to talk.”

“We just got our drinks,” he argued.

I didn’t argue back. Instead I turned on my heel and strode out, knowing he would follow because he hated to make a scene.

The waves crashed onto the beach, the surf lit up under the moonlight, and I leaned against the boardwalk railing, knowing in that moment that I was about to do the exact right thing. Maybe the first right thing I’d done in a long time.

“What the hell is going on?” Andrew said behind me.

I slowly turned to face him, not nervous, not uneasy. Calm. And resolute. “I need to be honest. I don’t want to be in a relationship with you, Andrew. I’m sorry.”

He raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“I never had a chance to.”

“Well.” He laughed shortly. “This is preposterous. It’s this place. The people. That woman”—he jerked his thumb over his shoulder—“so aggressive. You’ll feel differently when you’re away from her and at home.”

I bristled. “No, I won’t . . . because I’m not going back to Wilmington. I’m staying here.”

Relief moved through me as soon as I said the words out loud.

“Are you insane?” he snapped, striding toward me. “Seriously?”

“I’m not happy, Andrew. I haven’t been happy . . . well, I can’t remember the last time I was happy,” I admitted sadly.

He scoffed at that. “And you think you’ll be happy here? You’ve been here all of five minutes.”

“I know. And maybe I won’t be happy here, either, but I know for damn sure that I am not happy working in that prison—”

“I’ve been telling you that for two years!”

I ignored his interruption. “I’m not happy in my empty apartment and I’m not happy with a fuck buddy anymore.”

“Which is exactly why I’m changing our situation to a relationship,” he insisted, taking hold of my upper arms.

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