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Runaway Rose

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“This is all off the record.”

Patrick turned his eyes from his freakishly large menu to look at David’s face. The man took a glance from his own menu but quickly flittered them down. “I mean I might as well protect myself and tell you that anything I say from here on out is off record.”

“Sounds good to me.” Patrick said easily. He returned his gaze to the menu. How could any place keep this much food? There looked to be over a hundred food items. The sheer volume was ridiculous. The woman who had sold Patrick the muffin earlier, a kind waitress named Twyla, had already taken their drink orders and had left them alone. It was the ideal time to make another attempt at a civil conversation.

“Dare we try the deep fried mozzarella stick platter?”

“Hmm, if you’re a fan of freezer burn,” David said before giving a chagrined expression and tried to burrow deeper into his menu. Clearly there were some things he couldn’t help but comment on. Patrick felt himself smile at David’s slight fluster.

By the time drinks were brought and food was ordered without David so much as acknowledging his presence, Patrick was ready to resign himself to a silent lunch when David spoke.

“Why are you here?”

Patrick focused on David’s face. Considering the weighted question, he selected his words carefully.

“I have a wrong that I need to right. I didn’t let myself or the public get the whole picture of your situation and this my attempt at rectifying it. But only with your permission.”

David stared at him with a tentative expression. Then he gave a quick hum and began spinning one of several silver bands on his right hand. Since the response wasn’t openly hostile, Patrick decided to lean in to the conversation.

“I hear congratulations are in order.”

David gave a mildly confused look and Patrick motioned towards his left hand where a pale ring sat. “On the engagement.”

“Oh that,” David said quickly. “Yeah, Jake’s great.”

Patrick pressed on. “That’s a unique looking ring. What’s it made of?”

After some tugging and twisting, David removed the ring and slid it across the table. “It’s actually made of mahogany. Jake’s a wood...cutter? Or wood worker? Whatever, he works with lumber and makes furniture with it.”

Patrick nodded along as he looked at the smooth circle. “Impressive craftsmanship.” He slid the ring back. “Must be stressful to be trying to open a new business and plan a wedding at the same time.”

“The lease for the old general store only became available a few days after Jake proposed, and we’re fine with an extended engagement, so any wedding planning is currently on the back burner.”

“It’s nice that he supports the business. What is your business exactly, David? Alexis and Stevie weren’t very forthcoming with the details.”

David perked up and Patrick gave himself a mental pat on the back for the topic choice.

“Well, um it’s a general store, but it’s also a very specific store.” David’s hand gestures began to ramp up as he spoke. “And it’s not just a store it’s also like a place where people can come and get coffee or drinks. But it’s not a coffee shop nor is it a bar.”

“Oookay,” Patrick said smiling. “So we’re pretty clear on what it’s not.”

“Yeah it’s an environment. And yes we will be selling things, but it’s more like...more like a branded immersive experience.”

“Right, I love the buzzwords David but that doesn’t really answer what your business is.” Patrick let out an involuntary chuckle.

David’s face closed off. “Okay you couldn’t use anything I just said?” Patrick sensed that he was dangerously close to setting off a landmine, yet he couldn’t get rid of his smile. David’s rambles were just too amusing. And oddly charming.

Thankfully their food arrived and conversation dwindled so he didn’t have to think about David’s antics for a few minutes. Or how endearing they were.

Patrick’s mind was scrambling for another potential subject, when David surprisingly saved him the trouble.

“So you talked to Stevie? Or I guess interviewed.” There was clear disdain in the final word.

“I did. She clarified a lot about what happened between you two. She seems really upset about how you got the brunt of the blame.”

David let out an exasperated sigh. “She keeps blaming herself even after I told her none of it was her fault. We both realized just in time that we were better as friends. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“You’re right in that regard. But she mentioned feeling guilty about lying to your sister about your whereabouts and the fallout it caused.”

David gave a weighted pause as he eyed Patrick. “I’m not upset about that. I was never upset about that. I shut off my phone after texting Stevie. I knew my family would try my number and I just...” He resumed his spinning on one of his silver rings before speaking almost sadly. “I wasn’t ready to give them another disappointment.”

“Why would it be a disappointment?” Patrick asked without thinking. David’s incredulous look made him want to hide in his tuna melt. It was shockingly easy to forget who he was talking to.

“You of all people know the long string of bad luck that is my love life. I don't know what kind of carnage I inflicted in my past life to deserve it. I must have been Dracula, or a spin instructor or something.” He proceeded to stab at his lunch with abandon.

Patrick gave a slight chuckle before clearing his throat. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he started tentatively. “Why didn’t you tell the town the truth?”

David was silent at first, picking at the remains of his food. “When Stevie and I first talked about whether or not we wanted to keep up the engagement after that initial group text was sent, I was the one that was leaning towards going through with it.”

“Did you want to marry her?”

“More like, I knew I always wanted her in my life. Maybe not in a spouse capacity per se, but I couldn’t picture any future without her. I still can’t.” He paused and looked away for a moment before continuing.

“My point is, I convinced her everything was going to be okay when she had doubts. And then I still backed out. Why shouldn’t I take the blame?”

“I don’t think she sees it that way,” Patrick insisted. “You texted her that day, after she had decided to leave, wanting to talk. You must’ve known everything wasn’t okay. If anything she sees it as a choice you both made and only you’re getting blamed for.” He had to squash the instinct to place his hand on David’s. All he knew was that he wanted some way to comfort the other man. He settled for leaning in, but firmly kept his hands in his lap.

“My name’s been through a lot. I can take it,” David said pointedly. “I’m used to being raked through the mud. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy my past getting dragged out without my permission.”

Patrick reeled back. Clearly he still wasn’t completely forgiven. Another mountain to climb.

“Tell you what David, how about I go pay for our lunches and go see how Alexis is doing on getting me a room?” Patrick pulled out his wallet and removed a business card. “This is my card and if you want to talk to me about anything at you can call me. Even if it’s just a clearer idea of what you want to do with your business.”

“Okay. I do have a clear idea.”

Suddenly a chime sounded on David’s phone and he quickly pulled it out to check. In the midst of his reading, two more chimes sounded and David let out a vindictive laugh. “Oh this is perfect.”

“What?”

David gave a smug smile. “Seems that Alexis tried to get you a room at the motel only for the last one to get booked just before she got there. So, for the duration of your stay, she has arranged for you to rent a room from one Ray Butani. Local real estate agent and wannabe closet organizer.”