“Let them,” Ethan says loudly before turning firmly to the girl at the counter. “Can I get three passes please?”
We rent our shoes quickly before heading to alley fourteen, one of the few alleys free. On one side of us is a family of six, the kids throwing the balls enthusiastically down the lane. The mother gives us a frightened look and whispers something to her husband. On the other side is a young couple. From the look of their score, they haven’t thrown the ball in some time, too happy to sit on the bench and kiss for now.
“You’re up first,” I say to Ethan, resigning myself to the ordeal.
I won’t admit it, but I discovered quickly that throwing the ball down the lane with all my might is oddly cathartic, even more so when it hits the pins with a resulting clash. Before I realize it, my shoulders have loosened and I’m throwing each bowling ball with as much enthusiasm as Ethan, turning it into a competition between the two of us.
Poor Kyle, on the other hand, is absolutely hopeless at the game, and most of his balls end up in the gutter. He laughs good-naturedly at himself, though, and admits that he’s never been very good at the game.
“No worries, man,” Ethan grins. “You can thrash me at air hockey later.”
The grin Kyle gives at this is almost frightening; he’s incredibly good at air hockey.
It’s when I’ve finally relaxed, however, that my two friends pounce, having waited for me to let down my guard. I’m reluctantly impressed.
“So?” Kyle asks casually. “What happened last night?”
I almost throw the ball wrong. I carefully line up the shot and shoot it down the alley, hitting all the pins in a clattering strike, before turning to face Kyle.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I say.
“Please,” Kyle snorts as Ethan steps up for his turn. “First, you drop that glass when Allison and Jessica enter. Then you spend the night at the bar? And when we arrived, you looked like you were happy to stay on that couch forever. Come on, I’m not fucking stupid, something happened.” He looks at me, scrutinizing my expression for any clues. “Is it because Allison’s friend’s name is Jessica?”
I almost laugh. Kyle thinks I’m upset because Allison’s friend has the same name as my ex. He’s going to flip when he finds out that Allison’s friend is my ex.
“It’s not about her name,” I say truthfully.
I wish I had shown Kyle a picture of Jessica before now. He might have recognized the woman and prevented Allison from dragging her to my bar, of all places. But Kyle knows very little about Jessica, other than the name and that we dated before breaking up three years ago. I’ve been very careful about what to say about her. Even as little as it is, Kyle and Ethan know more than anyone else.
“You can talk to us, you know that, right?” Ethan says.
“Yeah,” I say with a small smile. “Thanks.” I hesitate and then decide to just go for it. Maybe it’s about time that I speak about this. “Allison’s friend is Jessica.” They look at me blankly. “My ex.”
Kyle’s mouth falls open. Ethan blinks wildly.
“I definitely didn’t expect that,” he comments. “Are you serious?”
“As serious as can be,” I say with a nod. “Her hair’s shorter, but I still recognized her. She recognized me, too. It’s why she stayed back last night; she wanted to talk to me.”
I grimace. Though talking is the last thing we ended up doing, and she was gone this morning, so we couldn’t have a conversation then, either.
“Just talk?” Ethan asks shrewdly.
“Probably not,” I sigh. “She kissed me.”
“You pushed her away?” Kyle asks, frowning; there’s a dark look in his eyes, a fierce protectiveness that I recognize from the other month, when he was trying his hardest to protect Allison.
“Not quite,” I say with a lopsided smile.
“Fuck that,” Kyle huffs. “You should have kicked her to the curb.”
I eye Kyle curiously. I haven’t told him much about Jessica, but he’s apparently empathetic enough to pick up on the issues I was having anyway, which has resulted in the glare he’s wearing at the thought of my ex.
“Maybe,” I agree.
“What even happened between the two of you?” Ethan asks, frowning. “It must have been pretty bad for her to walk away for three years, and for you to be so bitter every time you mention her.”
I sound bitter? I guess I can’t help that.