A round of drinks was ordered. Baskets of buffalo wings, fries and nachos were placed at each table. Toasts were made, many of them the off-color kind that wouldn’t have been appropriate at last night’s rehearsal dinner. Jake joined Ethan, Nate, Josh, and Matt in a round of whiskey shots. Then he ordered another.
Mindful of his duties as Best Man and designated driver, he nursed the second drink, sitting quietly while the conversations around him became increasingly loud and boisterous. Matt was the life of the party, as usual, and he had everyone roaring at his jokes. The initial gathering of twenty men grew larger in number as the evening progressed. Drinks flowed as freely as the laughter. Country music blared from the jukebox, and a few couples danced on the small parquet floor in the main room of the bar.
As generally happened when men gathered at events such as this, the talk centered around that vital topic they enjoyed discussing when women weren’t in the immediate vicinity: women. Jake eventually found himself lured into the conversation when Josh asked Nate who he was bringing to the wedding.
“Her name’s Mimi,” Ethan replied before Nate could open his mouth. “She’s a redhead.”
All the guys hovering around their table gave Nate an envious look. He looked pleased with himself. “Not only is she a gorgeous redhead, she also happens to be very smart. She’s studying to be a nurse.”
“Oh,” Josh said, sounding less interested. “You’d better be careful then. It’s the smart ones who trap you.”
Nate looked as though he wouldn’t mind being ensnared by Mimi.
Josh turned to Jake. “You bringing Darlene Wilson?”
Nate shook his head with disbelief. “I just can’t picture the two of you together. She’s pretty, but I remember her being kind of a snob back when I was dating her sister.”
“She isn’t a snob,” Jake answered quietly. “She’s actually very shy.”
“Is it true what Matt said the other night?” Nate wanted to know. “That you’re engaged to her?”
“I said practically engaged,” Matt corrected wryly. “And I nearly got my nose broken for saying it.”
“Why did you say it then?” Ethan asked.
Jake gave his brother a warning look, but Matt was already two beers and a whisky deep in the early stages of inebriation. “To see how Annie would react. Did you see how white her face got?”
“She spilled her glass of wine,” Ethan observed coldly.
Nate glowered at Matt. “Why would you want to hurt our sister when she’s hurting already? Anyone can see she’s upset because her fiancé didn’t come with her.”
“Man, are you dense,” his brother rebuked. “Didn’t you see she’s not wearing an engagement ring anymore? I’m pretty sure they’ve broken up. And just in time, because I was ready to go to New York to break that man’s nose and drag my little sister home.” He narrowed his gaze on Jake. “Do you know anything about what happened?”
Jake felt the blood draining from his face. His hands balled into fists. “No,” he bit out. “She didn’t say anything to me about a broken engagement.”
In fact, she’d given him the impression that she and Maxwell were still very much together. If she’d been lying to him…
“You okay, Jake?” Josh asked. “You look like you want to tear the bar down.”
“You should be happy she’s not marrying him,” Ethan continued mercilessly.
“You don’t know that for sure,” Jake seethed, ready to explode out of his chair and wipe that accusatory look off of Ethan’s face. Why did it seem everyone was acting as if he were to blame for Annie’s current state?
“I’m her brother. I’ve been worrying about her ever since I saw her at my wedding.” Then Ethan sighed audibly, lifting his hand in a conciliatory gesture. “I know she hurt you, Jake. But I think you’ve been blinded by your own stubborn misery to see what’s really going on.”
Josh looked from Jake to Ethan and back again. “You and Annie McAllister, huh? That makes sense. The two of you always were pretty tight.”
“We used to be,” Jake said unwillingly. He tossed back the last of his whiskey, drawing on the remnants of his control to not order another.
“So, what happened?” Josh wanted to know, seemingly oblivious to the tension hanging over the table.
“She was fine two years ago when we all went to New York for her graduation,” Nate reflected. “I remember her telling me that she’d finally sold one of her pieces. She was excited about working in an art gallery.” He made a grimace. “None of us knew that it was Maxwell’s gallery.”
“She always said that she’d come home right after graduation,” Ethan added. “That’s probably when things started heading south. Right, Jake?”
A promise broken, Jake thought. The first of many.
An excerpt from Annie and Jake
Copyright © 2018 Margaret Desmond
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt: Broken