Chapter 16 - It's a Deal

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Mia kept her head down and still, her body slouched between the cushions of the red dining booth. Flicking her wrist aimlessly, she slid each strip of bacon across her plate, letting the oil smother the porcelain. Nothing could make her eat, not even the sultry temptations of pork fat.

"I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong," Richard said softly, as if his voice could shatter glass if he spoke too loud. "And I don't even know where to start if you're going to make me figure it out myself. Come on, Mia. What happened?"

The restlessness of the diner buzzed through her ears in waves. Wave one was the chatter — the laughter right behind her, the conversations in the distance. Even the waitresses consumed the silent with each order, and the cooks responded in their harsh tones. Wave two was the porcelain — the cheap, cheap plates covered in destructive piles of only the most irresistible American food; the silverware drenched in layers of grease, clinging against each other; the chairs and tables creaking and screeching against the tiled floor as overused rags were run across the sleek surfaces. And then there was wave three, the hardest to hear, the toughest to locate.

Wave three was Richard's worrisome voice, the huskiness of each word muffled behind the waves previous. It jogged into Mia's ears slowly, but weakly, and the inexistent door that closed the drum with each sentence also increased the amount of impatience polluting the atmosphere. There was an opposing barrier, and Richard didn't know how to tear it down.

He made another promising attempt. "Amelia Louise Cunningham, please."

Mia's eyes felt tight around the skin where her tears had completely dried, creating an uncomfortable layer of crust that she ignored and chose not to wipe off. She gently placed her fork down on the table napkin next to her plate. A soaking mess encountered her hand as she noticed the glass of her iced coffee reach condensation, so she wiped her palm against her thigh, wetting the denim of her jeans with a dark blue streak. She looked up at Richard.

His stare pressured her. An eyebrow was slightly raised as he chewed his food carefully, making sure he didn't choke out of suspense. He wiped his mouth clean afterward and sipped on his own coffee, positioning the handle of white mug snug in the crook of his thumb and forefinger. He never broke his gaze.

"Do you remember the story about you being a third party between me and Brett?"

Richard inched forward. "You're gonna have to speak louder, love. Do I remember the what?"

Mia cleared her throat and raised her chin. She leaned nearer towards the center of the table. "Do you remember that story, rumor rather, of me cheating on Brett with you?"

He nodded, and began to feel nervous. Perhaps there was something that had made her more upset than before, which was why she was bringing it up. "Yes, of course. What about it?"

"I–I think I know who made that story up," she stuttered. There was a sensation in her stomach that was much more painful than a mere cloud of butterflies. Hunger had caught up with her, but she casted it aside. Her speech faltered in trembles as she continued. "I know the source."

Richard threw his hand over his shoulder and rubbed the back of his neck where the muscle had stiffened. A part of him hoped that she was kidding, only because he didn't want to talk about the issue anymore, but he encouraged her on. "The source? Like, the website? There's more than one, unfortunately."

She shook her head and placed her hands flat atop the table. Her heavy breathing waned. "No, Richard. Listen, and please don't lose your temper so quickly."

"I don't usually do, but go on. Tell me."

She sighed. "I think Brett made that story up and sold it to the press."

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