ONLY PROCEED IF YOU ARE UP TO DATE ON RNOLA 1-3
Algiers Point, New Orleans
A cell phone chirped, and Liza pulled hers out of the back pocket of her jeans. “Hey, hon. Are you still coming by?” After a pause, her brows drew together, and she turned her head as if trying to look out the kitchen windows. “Hang on, I’ll be right out.”
“Who is that?” Sunny piped up.
“Just Skye and…” Liza started to say but didn’t finish her sentence before she marched out of the kitchen and into the living room.
Ophelia murmured a discontent sigh. “What a mess.”
“Mess.” Sunny clicked her tongue. “Mess is the understatement of the century.”
The two women continued with their respective tasks, and curiosity compelled me to step out of the kitchen and into the living room.
Liza had slipped out of the front door, leaving only the screen door closed and allowing bits and pieces of the conversation to drift into Chloe’s ears. Through the window, she saw Brennan and Skye standing next to Brennan’s fancy, gunmetal-silver BMW, him wearing a tense expression, his long, black winter coat flapping in the wind and making him look a little like Batman. Skye also had on a black coat, but hers tapered in at the waist and flared out like a skirt that hit just past her knees, showing off her shapely legs, clad in opaque, black tights. Liza was standing off to one side watching them while she hugged herself and rubbed her arms to fend off the cold.
“Can you please just sort this out already?” I could hear Skye saying. “You’re the one turning this into a big, ugly deal out of nowhere. It’s the holidays, Brennan.”
“But, honey…baby doll,” Brennan pleaded in return, “I’m not turning anything into anything. I’m just trying—”
“Yes, you are. You started this.” She pointed at Liza. “Go fix it.”
“Sweetheart, I am in the process of fixing exactly what needs to be fixed.”
“I don’t know what your definition of fixing is, B.,” Liza cut in, “but this isn’t that.”
“And this,” he clipped, turning a slow glance at Liza, “is exactly the problem I’m trying to fix.”
Liza flipped her hand in his direction. “Since when is this a problem? This is what it’s always been, and you suddenly decided it’s a problem.”
“No, L., I’m suddenly realizing it’s a problem.” He angled himself toward Liza. “For someone who is such a believer in boundaries, you sure don’t seem to have any respect for anyone else’s.”
“Boundaries?” Liza scoffed, throwing her arms at her sides as she stomped toward him. “You are the one who set the precedent for all the boundaries when I first met you, and you didn’t have a problem with anything until last week.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her, taking a step that closed the distance between them, and then he said something I didn’t have a prayer of hearing, but it looked more than a little severe.
Another scoff exited Liza’s mouth as she canted her chin toward his face and retorted something equally inaudible and equally severe. Skye stood just beyond them, her wide, blue eyes flicking from Brennan’s face, to Liza’s, back to his, and all the while pressing her manicured fingers to her mouth.
Liza finally pivoted and started walking away, and then Brennan straight-up shouted after her, “God damn it, L., I am not doing this with you!”
His deep, razor-sharp voice echoed down the street. Nothing about his behavior that I had witnessed in the couple of weeks I’d known him indicated he was the type of man to raise his voice with a woman in such a manner; with anyone for that matter.
The whole scene outside was a train wreck that I couldn’t tear my attention away from.
Liza flinched at his words, spinning on her heels to face him, jaw clenched, chin trembling, and eyes glittering. They stared at each other like that for no longer than a second before she responded in a cracking voice, “I am not doing this with you either.”
Skye hooked her hands around Liza’s elbows and turned her away, walking her to the front of the car and motioning for her to wait there before she turned to march back to Brennan. She lowered her voice, but I managed to make out her words.
“You need to stop this, baby. I don’t know what is going on with you—”
“Oh, honey, sweetheart, I beg to differ because you are literally the only person who knows what’s going on with me.”
“Stop. Stop doing this.” Skye gripped the sides of Brennan’s face and forced him to look at her. She dropped her voice to lower than I could hear and unleashed a whole lot of words that looked pretty upset—as in, the angry type of upset.
Brennan’s shoulders sank dramatically, and he lowered his forehead to hers. They exchanged a few more words, and then he pressed a long, deep kiss to Skye’s mouth, so I diverted my eyes to Liza.
Liza was still hugging herself, rubbing her arms to fend off the cold, but she continued to wait for her friends. Both of those friends were wrapped in expensive coats, and Liza was just wearing a thin black turtleneck with dark jeans and black ballet flats. And not that I was trying to get involved in any of their personal drama—of which there appeared to be a lot—but from where I was standing, Liza was getting the shit-end of the stick. All Liza ever did was go out of her way to make sure everyone was happy and included. Through the hyper-critical, people-watching eye I’d developed through my career as a reporter, the main thing I had noticed about Liza was her unrelenting commitment to making sure their group of friends were all tight and taken care of.
And she was just standing out there shivering because her best guy friend had suddenly decided he was mad at her, but she simply continued to wait.
From another end of the sidewalk, Luke and Gabe came into view as they approached the house, Gunner trotting along next to Gabe. The two brothers paused next to the BMW to exchange a few words with Liza, and they both instantly shed their jackets, offering them to her. She took Gabe’s, mostly because it seemed to be the closer one in reach, and nerves suddenly soured my stomach. Gabe was probably about to head inside the house, and maybe this would be a good time to stop spying and get back to the safety of the kitchen.
“He’s in love with her,” came the rickety voice of Sunny at my side, snapping me out of my thoughts.
I whipped my head around to look at the elderly woman. “I beg your pardon?”
Sunny was gently bouncing Savannah as she napped against her chest, and she nodded at the window. “Brennan. He’s in love with Liza.”
“Sunny.” I blinked and jostled my head. Sunny had always been the neighborhood gossip queen when I was growing up, but she’d never said anything that scandalous before. “They’re [KLE1] both married. Like, to other people.”
“I know that.”
I looked behind me to make sure no one could hear and lowered my voice. “Are you saying Brennan and Liza are… like… having an affair?”
She tsked and gave a rusty chuckle. “No, of course not. Nothing like that.”
“But you just said—”
“I said he’s in love with Liza. That doesn’t mean anyone is having an affair.” She swayed as she patted Savannah’s bottom.
I could barely process the information. “I don’t understand. Are you saying he loves her instead of Skye, but he married Skye anyway?”
“I’m saying…” Sunny sighed deeply. “He’s just always loved Liza. He can’t exactly be subtle about something like that. He also couldn’t do anything about it because of his loyalty to Connor, so he’s just done the best he can to be a good friend to her instead. Unfortunately, a man like Brennan has a hard time controlling his…affection. And since he couldn’t pursue her romantically, they developed this bizarre friendship of theirs. Their friendship, if you ask me, isn’t entirely appropriate, but nobody asks me what I think about anything even though I see everything. He loves her. He’s loved her for a very long time, too. That wasn’t just going to stop or go away because she worked things out with Connor, and he met Skye. Feelings like that can’t. But nobody’s having any kind of an affair. Nobody’s fooling around behind anyone’s backs. Nobody’s hiding anything. Obviously.” She wheezed another light laugh. “Just look at this scene they’re making out there in broad daylight. And it all boils down to Brennan just now realizing how hard it is to ride two horses with one ass.”
It was like another slow-motion train wreck that I couldn’t stop staring at, and involuntary words spilled from my lips. “But he really seems like he’s completely in love with Skye.”
“Well, he is.” Sunny offered a half-hearted shrug, still swaying with Savannah. “That’s what I mean. Two horses, one ass. Two women, one heart. All wrapped up in a man who’s wired to pour every ounce of his time, attention, and affection into any woman he loves like that. And that’s what he’s trying to do. But that’s impossible, so he’s taking his frustration out on Liza.” She paused and looked at me. “You know how your little boy will be on his best behavior for everyone all the time, but when you’re at home in privacy, he’ll pitch a fit with you?”
“Oh.” That was scary accurate. “Yeah, he does that sometimes, but he’s always really good with everyone else.”
“That’s because he knows he’s safe with you no matter what he does,” Sunny explained. “He knows he can show you his ugly, raw, ridiculous feelings, and you’re not going to love him any less.” She nodded at the window again. “That’s what Liza’s like for him. She’s safe enough for him to throw a damn fit like a toddler with her.” She scoffed. “I’ve known him and his family since I married Elijah, and I’ve never seen him lose his composure like he has been lately.”
I stared at them out the window. Liza was still wrapped in Gabe’s oversized jacket, talking with him and Luke, visibly, but subtly crying. Every so often, Luke reached to hold the side of her arm. Liza absently rubbed behind Gunner’s ear while he sat at her feet and leaned all his weight against her. All the while, Brennan and Skye were still embracing and nuzzling each other’s faces, looking completely in love and devoted, and Sunny’s hunch seemed like a bit of a stretch.
But only a little bit of a stretch.
The friendship dynamics of this group were definitely…special.
“I don’t think a person can be in love with two people at the same time,” was all I could think of to say. “Maybe he felt that way before and then—”
“Sure they can. I hear about it happening all the time.”
I scoffed. “Where? Here?”
“No, in books.” Sunny gave a rickety chuckle. “I found these wild bodice-rippers recently where it happens all the time.”
“Sunny, that’s fiction.
“Yes, but those authors have to hear about it somewhere or they wouldn’t think to put it in a book.”
Outside, Gabe and Luke started stepping away from Liza. She slipped off Gabe’s jacket, handing it back to him. He paused as though double-checking if she wanted to keep it. She shook her head, offering a weak smile as she gave his hand a little squeeze, and then the two brothers began making their way up the steps.