Ch. 12 Too Hot on the Inside

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*** Beth ***

Friends? What? Backpedal, backpedal! He doesn't want to kiss you!

Beth popped her eyes open and adjusted her mouth into a big grin. "Friends?" she asked. Talk about mixed signals, he still had his hands in her hair. Pretty friendly for a friend. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I'm trying to apologize. What I said about you and Brian."

Beth shook her head, confused. Too many emotions had gone through her since he had talked about Brian.

"You didn't see what an asshat he is?"

Right. Beth was accustomed to questions that set her up to be knocked down. Her mother asked these kinds of questions all the time. Brian had also started doing it later in the marriage, but he had been subtler. Beth had not recognized his remarks for what they truly were. For example: he was wondering if it was a good time to ask for a raise, since she just got an award for her coverage on tulips, so was she going to talk to Jerry soon? He had an important dinner coming up and he hoped she would look her best, did she want to go shopping for something slinky to wear? That sort of thing. He would praise her or offer her something in order to direct her where he wanted her to go. Nothing was said without a hidden agenda.

When Russell asked if she had seen Brian's true self, she knew he didn't have an agenda; he simply did not understand what she had seen in Brian. Friends was better than coworkers, at least.

She wiped at her wet cheeks and nodded. "Friends."

"Your mom's place is not your only option for a living arrangement, you know," Russell said.

She blinked up at him. Was he offering to have her hole up with him in his bachelor pad, complete with a round bed and mirrors on the ceiling? Dared she hope for such a thing? "Really? Where else...what are you suggesting?"

"You know Mike and Charlie have a five bedroom place, I bet they'd rent you a room."

"Mike and Charlie? From work?" Well, that was disappointing. "How do you know that?"

"Well, I don't know that they would rent you a room for sure, but they invited me over not so long ago....It's actually a funny story. I let slip a couple of weeks ago that I'm not with anybody these days, and for some reason, they thought I must be a closet gay. They invited me over for dinner, me naively thinking it was an office party or a get to know you. When I showed up Mike and Charlie ushered me inside; there was candlelight, a fire burning, wine and flowers on the table, a cheese platter, Vivaldi playing, the works. Plus one other guy in fitted suede pants and a pink sweater. Don't get me wrong-I have a pink polo shirt, myself, but the tight suede pants should have tipped me off."

"What happened?"

"I didn't realize they were playing match-makers until they introduced me and instead of shaking my hand, he kissed it. Turns out, he works in construction as a brick layer, and he was really nice. Just not my type. Wrong chromosomes, that sort of thing. We had a nice evening and I went home single and alone."

"Bet that made for an interesting conversation."

"It was a little stilted for a while there, but the food was amazing, I have to hand it to Mike and Charlie. You could do worse than renting one of their rooms." She smiled and he paused to study her face. "Are you all right now if we drive some more? Good, then let's go." Russell signaled and pulled back onto the road.

Beth found some tissues in her toiletries bag and blew her nose. Ever since Brian left her she usually cried once or twice a day. She patted her face dry and exhaled; she was done for the day. She wouldn't cry again for at least twenty four hours.

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