Jesse checked his watch while sitting down at the end of the table. He was ready for this to be over. He tried not to wear his discontent on his face. He even flashed a smile at his wife on the other end of the table and offered a courteous ‘thank-you’ to Erin as she handed him the platter of salmon. But every once of civility leaked from his pores at the sight of their faces. The people flanking the table were the last humans on planet earth that he wanted to be with. He rather tap dance with El Chapo then be breaking bread with them.
“Are you glad to be back at Klein & Smith?” Mallory inquired, slicing her the baked fish into biteable pieces.
“I am.” Matthew nodded angling his body toward her. The action birthed a rumble at the base of Jesse’s throat. He tried to play it off by lifting his glass of tea to his lip but Jayla still gave him a curious glance. But the twins stayed cued into their conversation, “I got a lot of experience working with partners, and taking on some high-profile cases—”
“And winning some,” Kazan added before pushing a forkful of risotto in his mouth.
Matthew grinned, his pride setting his face aglow, “That too but I missed home.” He shrugged setting his eyes back on Mallory. “I missed family.”
“You didn’t miss me?” Jayla sat back in her chair swirling the red wine in her cup. The faint shine in her eyes hinted that she was a few miles from approaching inebriation. “That hurts.”
“Of course, I missed you, Jay.” He patted her arm, their sight locking and linger just a little too long for Kazan producing a scowl that he didn’t try to hide. “How’s the private practice, Mall?”
Mallory dabbed the corners of her mouth, “Well. I really can’t complain but the only downside of building up relationships with your patients is running into that at the store.” She draped the napkin over her lap eager to have safe ears to spill the salacious happening. “I saw a pregnant patient of mine kissing a man that wasn’t her husband.”
Jesse’s interest was peaked as he finally lifted his eyes off his plate, “Do you know if the baby is the husbands?”
“No, I didn’t do a paternity test. Didn’t think I had too.”
“That’s a messy situation.” Matthew shook his head, grabbing the hot sauce in the middle of the table. “Stay out of it.”
“She knows what to do, Matt.” Jesse snide before lowering his eyes back to his plate.
The heated glance Matthew shot Jesse’s way made Mallory took another sip of her wine hoping they trod lightly around each other.
“Poor man…” Jayla said. “He’s in a fool’s paradise.”
“Speaking of work…” Kazan pointed his fork Jesse’s way. “How are the brats, Professor?”
Jesse’s fingers tightened around the eating utensil, “My students aren’t brats and don’t call me Professor.”
“I don’t understand why you would trade a high paying professorial position…” Kazan shook his head disapprovingly. “…to be a low paid community college teacher.”
“Keep it classy, Zan.” Jayla snarled at him but her snark never could urge him to clean up his way.
He only grinned at her then continued, “Come on. Don’t act like that’s not something we all want to know.” He turned to Mallory and patted her hand. “Maybe you might know but then again husbands can keep secrets.”
“Drop it, Kazan.” Mallory swiped her hand away from his to lock eyes with her husband trying to nonverbally calm him down. “That’ none of your business. You should stay in your lane.”
“No, I want to address it.” Jesse dropped his fork with a clack. “This might be hard for you to understand Kazan but I like teaching. Seeing the faces of my students when they finally understand the coursework or how proud and motivated they are when they rise that ‘c’ to an ‘a’. Life’s not measured by the money you make but the good deeds you accomplish.
Mallory winked at him happy that he stood up for himself.
Snickers echoed around the table but it was the one at Kazan’s side that irritated him the most. “What’s funny?”
“It’s about time…” Erin kept tossing the food around the plate as if she was searching for something. “…someone put you in your place.”
“My place?” He turned towards her. “And what’s my place?”
“Some people work for passion. The entire world isn’t money-hungry.”
“Yeah.” Kazan grinned. “And some work for pills.”
“Okay! That’s enough.” Mallory had to put a stop to this. “It’s probably time for dessert.”
Erin glared at him with daggers behind her pupils ready to slice his throat. “Screw you! You know what. I don’t need this.” She jumped up.
“You don’t need those pills but you still take ’em.” Kazan couldn’t help himself. He had to have the last word.
“Let it go!” Matthew ordered, bass fueling his tone.
“That’s why I can’t stand coming around here. I can’t stand being around ya’ll.” Erin sternly pointed at every one of them making her way toward Kazan. “You don’t know me so don’t pretend you know what I do. Fuck you, Kazan.” She raced out of the room before he could toss back a rebuttal.
“You’re a jackass.” Jayla pushed her plate back, appetite completely gone.
“Why did you do that?” Matthew asked.
“You had to play that card,” Mallory spoke. “I knew it was going there, that why I told you to stop.”
Jesse shook his head gather his plate and Erin’s not at all upset that the dinner came to an abrupt end.
“Play that card.” Kazan held his chest, taken aback. “You want me to just sit here and see her like that. A therapist is not supposed to take more drugs than their patients. She has changed and someone needed to call her out.”
Mallory smacked her palms on the table, rattling the wine glasses. “We all changed. That accident changed all our lives. Jesse had to leave the university. Matthew just came back. I had to leave the hospital and Jayla has turned into a full-time workaholic. We all can’t be like you. We’re humans. We. Have. Emotions.”
Jayla tsked folding her arms, “Thanks for ruining the rest of the night.”
“I didn’t ruin the night.” Kazan glowered at her. “That happened two years ago.”
Was it right of Kazan to accuse Erin of medicating herself?
Why do you think Jesse doesn’t like Matthew?