Just a Bit

By: Alessandra Hazard

“Dad isn’t forcing me into anything,” James said. “He’s not as bad as you think.”

The expression on Ryan’s face remained hard and unimpressed. “Sure,” he said. “He’s just fed you bullshit about duty to the family since you were a kid.”

“I like Megan,” James said. It wasn’t a lie. He didn’t like her any less than any other girl. James grinned. “And she doesn’t act silly around you, which is nice for a change. I don’t know what they all see in your ugly mug.”

Ryan was supposed to grin and fall back into their usual, easy banter.

But Ryan didn’t. His expression didn’t change. “You deserve better than an arranged marriage to a girl you ‘like.’”

“My parents’ marriage was arranged by my grandparents, too.”

Ryan chuckled harshly. “I wouldn’t exactly call your parents’ marriage happy.”

James glared at him.

Ryan’s eyes softened. “Sorry,” he said, squeezing James’s nape lightly. “It was a low blow.”

James looked down at the table. “They used to be happy.” Okay, maybe that was a stretch. “At least I remember them getting along when I was a kid. But then something happened. I don’t know what. But my point is, the arranged marriage isn’t the reason they are like that now. I like Megan well enough. Don’t you like her?”

Making a frustrated noise, Ryan tapped James’s neck, another silent order to look at him, and James did.

Ryan said, “You know I hate that Arthur is pressuring you into this—it’s none of his business when and who you marry—but you sure as hell don’t need my approval, either. You shouldn’t give a shit about it as long as you want her. Arthur ’s opinion doesn’t matter, but neither does mine, you tosser.”

“Of course your opinion matters,” James said with a laugh. “It would be awkward if you hate her, because you’ll be around all the time.” He hated how the last part of the sentence sounded more like a question. Ryan, who knew him better than anyone, didn’t miss it, of course.

Ryan’s eyes narrowed.

Shit. Sloppy. He was getting sloppy.


“Here you two are!” a familiar voice interrupted whatever Ryan was going to say.

Partly relieved, partly annoyed by the interruption— intrusion, his inner voice couldn’t help but whisper—James turned to Ryan’s girlfriend. Ryan let go of his neck.

Hannah was smiling as she took the seat on the other side of Ryan. She really was a lovely girl: blond, pale and pretty serene—not the type Ryan usually went for. “Hey, babe,” she said, leaning in to kiss the corner of Ryan’s mouth. “Miss me?”

“I dropped you off half an hour ago,” Ryan said, but he was pulling her close to kiss her properly. It was a public place, but that never stopped Ryan.

James wrapped his hands around his cup of tea and stared down at the dark surface of the liquid.

“Dad wasn’t in,” Hannah explained after eleven seconds, sounding a little out of breath. “So I figured I’d join you. You don’t mind, James, do you? I’d hate to be the sort of girlfriend who doesn’t let her boyfriend spend time with his friends.”

James smiled politely, still looking at his tea. It was cold already. Maybe he should get another.

“No, I don’t mind.” As if he could say anything else. He glanced at the couple. Hannah was snuggled up against Ryan, her head on his shoulder, her slim hand on his chest.

James smiled again and stood up. “I was leaving, anyway.”

Ryan dragged his eyes from his girlfriend long enough to frown at him. “You’re leaving already? But I just got here.”

“My lunch break is almost over,” James said. Because I drove for forty fucking minutes to meet you for lunch. And you were late, because making out with her was more important to you, and now she’s taking you away again. He bit his tongue, hating this bitterness he couldn’t help but feel. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t.

“That’s a shame,” Hannah said, looking at Ryan with hearts in her eyes.

But Ryan was looking at James, an unhappy set to his mouth. “Don’t think our conversation is over.”

James rolled his eyes with a smile and a sigh. “Let it go, mate. Seriously, you’re like a dog with a bone. It’s not an attractive personality trait. Hannah, tell him.”

“James is right,” she said, taking Ryan’s hand. “Sometimes you can be too pushy. If someone doesn’t want to talk about something, you should respect that.”

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