Clarice, John, and Barbara stared at her with equal amounts of shock.
Elsie escaped back to her table. She sat down and looked at her salad.
I’m an idiot.
I’m a jerk.
I’m actually worse than Ambrose.
Oh my God!
She elbow-propped on the table and covered her face with her hands.
I’m so much worse than him.
I just mortified my mother.
I’ve ruined her chances to move past Dad.
A hand tapped her shoulder. “Excuse me.”
It wasn’t Clarice’s hand.
It wasn’t Clarice’s voice.
Elsie lowered her hands and glared at Barbara. “What do you want?”
Barbara pulled a chair close to Elsie and sat down.
Elsie rose to her feet.
Barbara held out her hand. “Please.”
Elsie was all set to grab her purse and leave. Then, she thought about her mother.
She dropped back into her seat.
“You just called me a slut. Why? You don’t even know me.”
Elsie scoffed. “I do know that every time I see you, you’re with a shirtless man.”
Barbara shook her head. “I don’t know why that happens.”
“Oh, please. Don’t play the bashful innocent. You were in a hotel room with Ambrose. You were alone with Hildreth and he had you on first name basis. Tell me when this doesn’t sound suspect.”
“hm. It does sound bad. But it isn’t. I ran into Ambrose’s hotel room to warn him about the police coming for him.” She shrugged. “He just happened to be shirtless.”
“What about Hildreth?”
“I came to your house looking for you. I needed your help. Hildreth was there and he happened to be shirtless.”
“Weird is more like it.” She sat back in her seat. “Seems like I’ve seen a lot of shirtless men lately. Oh. And one stark naked fey.”
Elsie stared at her, wordless. Completely wordless.
“I worry that I’m going to come to work one day and be greeted by a shirtless Sammy. That would be so awkward. I’d probably quit.”
“What kind of men do you hang out with?”
“Hm? Oh, they’re Ambrose’s friends. Two vampires and one fey and…well. There’s Missy. She used to be a fire creature. She isn’t anymore, though. They apparently fixed her.”
Elsie poked her fork into her salad. Ambrose Smith hangs out with a skeevy crowd. How unsurprising.
Barbara gave her a long, quiet look before nodding. “I get it.”
“I get why it was so hard for Ambrose to get over you.”
Elsie stopped attacking her salad.
“You are very pretty and you seem to have the kind of personality that would be hard to forget.”
“Is that last statement really a compliment?”
Elsie put the load of lettuce in her mouth and chewed slowly. Is she saying this stuff just to flatter me or does she really mean it?
She looked at Barbara.
Is she the kind of person who can say empty words like that?
Elsie swallowed. “But now he has you.”
Barbara smiled. “Now he has me. Oh, Elsie. I love him. I can’t wait to marry him.”
Elsie speared some more unsuspecting lettuce. She frowned. “He is Ambrose. Only thing he cares about is getting what he wants and fulfilling his own needs. Everyone around him can burn for all he cares.”
“He isn’t like that anymore. He’s changed. He cares about me, about what I want, about my happiness.” She almost seemed to glow. “He wants to make me happy, Elsie. He loves me.”
If she were anyone else, I’d say she’s trying to rub it in. But I don’t think she’s that kind of person. “I’m happy for you.”
Barbara looked surprised.
Almost as surprised as Elsie felt. “I mean it.”
“How are things going with you and Hildreth?”
Wait. Am I really having this kind of conversation with this girl? This girl that I’ve looked down on and despised. Is this really happening?
I called her a slut less than ten minutes ago and now we’re talking like BFF’s? How did that happen?
Who is this girl?
“Things are going good.” Her thoughts turned to Hildreth. “He is nothing like Ambrose. And I’m glad. I love who he is. I love him. His smile. His kiss. His bizarre sense of humor. The way he can pull me out of my shell. The way he can make me smile. The way he makes me feel.”
And does he ever make me feel.
“I can’t wait to marry him.”