DateSalon.com hadn't worked out as well for her as Alex had hoped, especially after she'd learned about Wes's case, but it hadn't derailed her determination to get back into the dating scene. Even though she'd done a better job than Wes of moving on, she could admit to herself that she had her own moments of nostalgic hope that something would magically fix all of their problems and he'd come home one day, everything back to the way it had been once. Intellectually, she knew that ship had long sailed, though, and so she dedicated herself to living the life of a single, successful woman, even if the shoes didn't quite fit her yet.
She had counted herself incredibly lucky when her friend Tracey introduced her to Ethan, a friend of a friend who had recently moved to LA from the East Coast. Single, 35 and a successful doctor, he turned out to look as good in person as he had on paper and Alex had found him charming, interesting and easy to talk to. It helped that he in no way reminded her of Wes, with his dark hair and eyes, with his easy laugh and teasing manner. The first date had been great, and so had the second and third. The fourth continued in similar fashion and, before she knew it, Alex had been seeing Ethan almost two months, enjoying every minute of it.
That day, they were heading to some all-day music festival that Ethan had heard about, some local event where a park was overtaken by musicians and vendors, a perfect way to waste a beautiful Saturday afternoon. They had only just arrived when the smells of the greasy festival food had called Alex's name and Ethan had good-naturedly bypassed the main attractions to help her choose between corn dogs and nachos or whether to skip the savory options and go straight to the Elephant Ears. They were still pondering their options when Alex noticed an entirely too-familiar blond head in the crowd near the corn dog stand. She blinked to make sure he wasn't some kind of vision brought on by too much sun and too little food.
"Alex?" Ethan asked, touching her arm when he noticed the look on her face. "Everything all right?
"Oh, fine," she said. "I just thought I saw someone I knew."
Ethan followed her line of vision. "Who?"
"No one important," she assured him. "Never mind."
Alex didn't see another glimpse of him as they passed the corn dog stand on their way to nachos, so she breathed a sigh of relief, chalking the Wes sighting up to her imagination. While Ethan knew all about Wes, she wasn't sure their relationship was really ready for a meet and greet, especially since she had so little idea of how Wes would react.
By the time they had their nachos and had settled at a picnic table near one of the folk acts to eat them as they listened to the faint strains of the music, Alex had almost forgotten about thinking she'd seen Wes.
That was, of course, until she saw him again -- and this time there was no mistaking that it was him. Long and lean, incongruously casual in jeans and a Henley that didn't even look like it should be belong to him, Wes had his shades on, blocking view of his eyes as he stood among the shifting throng of people, looking as disgruntled as he always did when he felt put upon by the universe.
Given his expression, Alex wondered why he was even there and the first reason she came to was unkind, if not exactly implausible. She hadn't seen Wes but once in the months since she'd started dating Ethan and she thought it had been a sign of progress, but she knew his nature well enough to know that it wasn't outside of the realm of possibility that he had followed her there. If he'd been in his usual slacks and button-down she might've thought a case had brought him there, but his clothes screamed "off-duty" in a way that tended to make him uncomfortable even when he was off-duty.
It was just one of the many reasons they hadn't worked.
The picture resolved itself even further a second later when Alex saw Travis cutting through the crowd toward Wes, arms full of food. When he reached Wes, he immediately began shoving some of it at Wes, until his spoils were equally distributed between them, each with a soda, two corndogs and a fist full of crumpled napkins.
Alex was too far away to hear what they were saying but their relaxed demeanors told her definitively that it wasn't a case that had brought them out. She still had her suspicions -- perhaps paranoia? -- that Wes had followed her to the festival but, if he had, he wasn't doing a very good job of staying undercover.
She was still watching as Travis gestured around at the park with one of his corndogs before he took a bite of it, an action that allowed Wes a chance to reply in earnest to whatever Travis had said. Then, much to her horror, Travis's eyes cut in the direction of the picnic tables and landed squarely on her and Ethan. She could tell from the snap-sudden straightening of his spine that he had not only seen her but recognized that she'd seen them, too. Alex purposefully looked away, only catching a bit out of the corner of her eye as Travis leaned in close to Wes, probably to tell him that they'd been seen.
It shouldn't have surprised her when she looked up a second later to see them bearing down on her location. She sighed.
"Nachos not good?" Ethan asked in polite sympathy. "I could get you something else."
"No, they're fine," Alex said, taking a bite of a cheese-covered chip to corroborate her words. "It's just..."
She never had a chance to come up with an excuse because the real reason was suddenly there, Travis grinning down at them like he and Wes weren't the last people she wanted to run into while with Ethan. "Hey, Alex," Travis said, taking the lead where Wes hung back a little, obviously uncomfortable. "Fancy meeting you here."
"Likewise," she said with faint sarcasm as she let her eyes linger on Wes for a moment. "It's not the kind of place you...two...usually frequent."
Travis still had one uneaten corndog in his hand, along with his soda. He shrugged. "Got to change it every once in a while, right, Wes?"
"Yeah," Wes said. "Or be dragged along against your will. However you want to explain it."
Despite the tension in the air, Alex couldn't stop herself from smiling a little at that. "Wes sounds happy to be here, as usual."
Travis waved around his corndog. "You know him, Mr. Sunshine."
Even Wes snorted at that, somehow managing to glare at Travis from behind his sunglasses. Travis just grinned back at him before he swung around, eyeing Ethan. "Who's your friend?"
Alex steeled herself for the awkwardness to come. "This is Ethan," she said. "Ethan, this is Travis and Wes."
Ethan's eyebrows rose a little at the second mention of Wes's name. "You mean...?"
She nodded. "This is my ex-husband and his partner."
Ethan, ever one to find the humor in a situation, laughed. "No wonder it's so surprising."
"You have no idea," she said.
"So," Travis said, drawing their attention back to him and Wes. "Do you guys mind if we share your table for a minute? Mr. Uptight here hasn't mastered the high level skill of eating on his feet."
"I just don't want to end up wearing it," Wes protested.
"Sure, have a seat," Ethan said with a welcoming slash of his arm. He shot her a look that begged for her forgiveness even as he made the offer. "Room enough for everyone, right, Alex?"
"Sure," she said with cheerfulness she didn't feel. "Join us."
Travis and Wes settled beside each other on the bench across her and Ethan, and Wes took the chance to start working on the two corndogs he still clutched in his hand. Travis, on the other hand, ignored his own to zero his interest on Alex and Ethan. "So how long have you two been seeing each other?" he asked. "If you don't mind my asking," he added when Wes not-so-subtly elbowed him in the side.
"It's fine," Alex said, eyes on Wes. "About two months."
Travis nodded his head like he approved. "You didn't meet him on DateSalon did you?"
Wes choked on his corn dog and washed it down with a gulp of his soda. Alex shook her head. "No, we met through a mutual acquaintance. My friend, Tracey."
"How's she doing?" Wes asked, the first thing he had really contributed to the conversation. "She still into that Paleo diet thing she was doing?"
"Actually, yes, she is," Alex said, wondering why she was surprised that Wes remembered. Even though it had been over a year since he'd probably seen Tracey, he had always been courteous and respectful of her friends, of their various personalities and lives. "She's turned into quite the disciple. She gets going every time someone orders a bagel at brunch."
Wes almost smiled at that. "I can imagine."
"I really am surprised to see you two out here," Alex said. "It's not really the kind of thing you like."
Wes lifted a shoulder to kind nudge the air in Travis's direction. "I'm here under duress," he assured her. "It was Travis's idea."
She turned to Travis. "Really?"
He nodded, pulling a napkin from his pocket to wipe at his mouth. "Yeah," he said. "One of my foster sisters plays in one of the groups that are playing. I promised we'd come out and see her, so here we are."
"First couples therapy and now outdoor music festivals that aren't focused on jazz?" Alex teased. "I hardly recognize you, Wes."
He shrugged, ducking his head a little. "Apparently, broadening my horizons for the good of the relationship is a step forward in my emotional maturity."
Alex really couldn't help it; she laughed, guiltily covering her mouth when it came out. "Sorry," she said.
"No, feel free to mock," Wes said. "That's about how I feel about it, too."
"Which group is your foster sister with?" Alex heard Ethan ask Travis and the two of them started chatting about the different kinds of music represented at the festival. Wes, again, concentrated on eating his corndogs, consuming them in small, neat bites while Alex pushed her aside the last vestige of her suspicions. Wes had been nothing but respectful of the distance she had asked for after the case involving DateSalon and Travis's explanation sounded plausible, except for the fact that Wes actually agreed to come. Maybe they were making progress in their couples' therapy.
Alex ignored the little nudge of resentment that came with the thought, the same nudge she'd felt when Wes had admitted that he and his partner were going to the therapy in the first place. As much as she would've been willing to try it, she also knew that Wes had been right in that they had always known what the problems were between them; when they had both refused to yield, there had been little left to do.
She didn't know how much of the conversation she had actually missed, but when Alex focused her attention on the men around her, she realized that Wes had finished his food and his soda, and Ethan was collecting the debris their own meal had left scattered on the table. Travis, for his part, thrust his ball of trash at Wes who sighed but took it, stuffing it all down inside his empty soda cup. Brushing his hands against the thighs of his jeans as if to remove the last bit of grease from them, Travis stood. "We were going to check out my sister's group," he said. "You guys can join us if you want?"
Alex wasn't sure why she agreed to Travis's invitation but she did and soon she and Ethan were following Travis and Wes through the crowds. Ethan looped an arm around her shoulders, bearing some of the brunt of the crowd as they pushed their way through.
"Your ex seems fine," he said softly, mouth close to her ear. "Quiet but nice."
"He can be otherwise," she said. "But he's behaving himself today."
"Probably doesn't want his partner to put him in his place," Ethan said with a laugh. "He's definitely the one who does the talking in that relationship. Nice guy, though."
"Yeah, I've always liked Travis," Alex admitted.
Ethan looked intrigued. "You knew him before?"
"Yes, they met several years before we split up," she said. "He used to bring him around, before."
"And you don't ever wonder about it?" Ethan asked.
"No?" she answered, a little confused. "Why would I?"
He shrugged. "I guess there's no point anyway," he admitted. "Everything has worked out, it seems."
Alex was a little confused but the sounds of music had steadily grown as they had moved through the park and the heavy beat of bass made it almost impossible to think, let alone talk. She could see that it didn't stop Wes from trying, though, since she could see his lips moving as he leaned into Travis, his mouth as close to Travis's ear as Ethan's had been to hers in an attempt to be heard over the music. Whatever he said caused Travis to lift a hand and settle in over the back of Wes's neck for a moment, before giving it a squeeze and letting it drop away.
Then he turned back to look for them, as if he'd just remembered they were following. "I think I see her over there," he said, pointing. "Come on."
Their little caravan finally came to a stop when they reached a blanket-covered patch of green where three women played acoustic guitars and harmonized in the vein of Tori Amos. It wasn't exactly Alex's preferred musical genre but the chords were sharp and powerful and their voices twined together beautifully. Travis was grinning from ear to ear as they gathered around to listen, and Ethan seemed to appreciate the artistry of the notes and the depth of the lyrics if his murmured commentary was anything to go by. They listened attentively to two more full songs before the trio called it a set and announced they were taking a break. Once the guitars were set aside, one of the women jumped and rushed toward. "Travis!"
She didn't look anything like Alex might've expected, although it wasn't like she expected any hereditary resemblance. Travis's foster sister had bright red hair and pale, freckled skin, and when Travis swept her into a big bear hug, it was easy for him to lift her clear off the ground with the differences in their heights. The only thing they shared were their big smiles as they started talking over each other in their exuberant haste.
"You came!" she gushed. "I'm so glad! What did you think?"
"Oh, man, Nikki, you guys were great, I can't even tell you," Travis said. "And we wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Nikki pulled away, bouncing over to where Wes stood quietly, hands in his pocket. "Don't think I didn't see you there, Wes," she said, before she threw her arms around him, too. Wes looked startled but relaxed after the first second of shock, returning the hug for a moment before Nikki let go.
Travis nodded in their direction. "Nik, these are some friends of ours, Alex and Ethan."
Nikki shook their hands and thanked them profusely for coming along with Travis and Wes. After she pointed them in the direction of her group's email sign-up list, she linked arms with both Wes and Travis, then dragged them all over to the little bit of shade her group had claimed as its own.
"Are you guys coming to Mom's for July 4th?" Alex heard Nikki ask them. "Diane will be so disappointed if you don't since she missed you guys at Memorial Day."
"We'll try but we've got a few stops to make," Travis said. "I've got at least four other moms who all want to feed Wes until he fattens up."
"Like I need that," Wes groused, and Nikki laughed.
"Mr. and Mr. Popular," Nikki said. "I get it. But if I promise to protect you from Mom's forced feedings, maybe I can persuade you."
"Best offer I've heard so far," Wes told her. "We'll definitely stop by."
Alex couldn't put her finger on it but something about the entire exchange struck her as...very un-Wes-like. It wasn't that her ex-husband was anti-social or hadn't enjoyed a chance to hang out with his friends when they'd been married, but he'd always had a reticence about him, especially in places where he didn't quite feel like he fit in. He was always nervous around Alex's family, never feeling like one of them, and he'd felt the same about her friends, even though he had never been anything less than polite to them. It struck her as strange that he'd be so familiar with any of Travis's large, extended foster families but, from the beginning of their time working together, Travis had been good about ignoring Wes's sense of boundaries. It looked like he had succeeded in knocking down another since Alex had last spent any time with them.
Alex made polite small talk with Nikki and her band mates for a little while but she finally decided it was time to break off from her ex-husband and his partner so that she and Ethan could actually enjoy themselves. She quickly bid them good-bye and then the two of them set out as they had originally planned, making a thorough turn of the park with all its attractions. As the day went on, Alex got her much-hoped-for Elephant Ear and breathed a sigh of relief when they passed by several jazz groups without slowing. Ethan did, however, cajole her into some terrible dancing when they stood around to listen to a country-western act and they watched a group of even more shameless adults dance the hokey-pokey to the tune of an accordion. The day was just as much fun as Alex had hoped and Ethan heartily agreed, launching into stories about his own sad turn at rock-star-dom as a teenager that had Alex in stitches.
Given the fun they had as the afternoon had run its course, it wasn't until evening was starting to darken the horizon and they had begun the trek out of the park, along with much of the crowd, when Wes and Travis even crossed her mind again and then it was only because Ethan brought them up.
"It's been quite the day, hasn't it?" he said, arm still draped around her.
"I'll say," she said. She was exhausted and probably sunburned on her shoulders and across her nose, but it had been a great outing, made all that much better with Ethan at her side.
"Full of surprises, too," Ethan said. "This was not how I had expected to meet your ex."
Alex said. "Believe me, it wasn't anything I had expected either."
He gave her shoulders a squeeze, careful to avoid the pinkest spots. "You've been holding out on me," he said, his smile a sign that he was teasing. "When you said that your husband had went through a radical lifestyle change, that wasn't exactly was I was expecting."
"What do you mean?" Alex said, confused. When she had told Ethan about her break-up, she had been deliberately vague over it, both for her own sake and Wes's. She knew that some of her friends hadn't agreed with her decision to leave him over his career change but it had been more than that, something intangible that the change in career had been a sign of. Even after a year of divorce, it wasn't something she wanted to talk to anyone about, let alone her new boyfriend.
"Him and Travis," Ethan explained, and Alex realized that she had automatically introduced them as partners, though she had never mentioned the "police" part.
"Oh, Ethan," she said, humoring coloring her voice as she bit back a laugh, figuring out what conclusion Ethan must've jumped to in light of no other evidence. "I think I gave you the wrong idea about the two of them before."
"Oh?" he asked, only half-listening.
"Yes," she said. "When I said they were partners, I meant..."
She didn't get a chance to finish her explanation, because Ethan cut her off when he raised his free arm to point at something on the edge of the park. "Speaking of the devil, there they are," he said. "Want to tell them goodbye before we leave?"
When Alex followed the line of his pointing finger, she had to ask herself if her eyes were deceiving her for the second time that day because what she saw didn't really make sense, at least not in her world.
She saw Travis and Wes, as Ethan had said, and they were standing in the shade of a tree, maybe even the one where they had stood and chatted with Nikki several hours before. They stood very close together, pressed together even, and Travis looked to have a finger curled in the unused belt loop of Wes's jeans, for all the lack of space between them. Their heads were bent together and, from that distance, Alex couldn't tell if they were speaking or just sharing air, but she could tell when Travis's lips grazed the line of Wes's jaw before they smiled against his skin. Wes jumped at the contact but he was laughing as he pulled back a little, his hands coming up to push against Travis's chest. Instead of actually pushing, though, they just settled there for a moment, more like a caress as Wes dragged his palms over the soft fabric of Travis's T-shirt before he let them drop back to his side.
Alex couldn't believe what she had seen but she knew she had seen it. That didn't mean, however, that it made any sense.
She didn't even realize she had stumbled a little until she felt Ethan's arm tighten around her waist. "Hey, careful there," he said. "You all right?"
Alex forced herself to look away from the strange tableau that Travis and Wes made, back into the worried dark eyes that watched her. "I think I just had a little too much sun," she said. "Or maybe a little too much sugar while in the sun."
Ethan kept his arm around her waist and she was glad for his steadying presence. "Then let's get you somewhere you can rest, then."
Alex nodded, risking one last glance over her shoulder before she pushed it all out of her mind for the moment. "I think some rest is exactly what I need," she said aloud, although she knew she needed more than that.
What she needed was answers and a chance to deal with the heavy, icy feeling that had settled in her stomach, a creeping sense of dread she hadn't felt in a very long time.
But, in that particular moment, she knew what she needed most was to get away from the sight -- and the men -- that had caused it, so she let Ethan drag her away, none the wiser that her world had been turned upside down by that one, careless moment.
For the first time in the history of her ownership of her house, Alex rose bright and early Sunday morning and watered the lawn.
The irony of the action wasn't lost on her as she followed the steps she had learned from Wes during all those years, the soothing monotony of watching the water droplets catch and fracture the early morning light as they fell to the green grass, the act so mindless and instinctive that Alex could get lost in her thoughts. Not that her thoughts were any place she wanted to be at the moment but she knew from long experience that ignoring a situation didn't make it better. She'd still have to deal with what she had seen yesterday if she did it today or next week or next month, and it seemed ridiculous to ignore it when there was nothing wrong. At least, nothing she could explain anyway.
Once the ground was thoroughly soaked, she sat on the front porch with her morning coffee and stared at the wet glades of grass as she tried to sort out everything that had happened the day before. First, she and Ethan had had a great time. Second, their unexpected meeting with Wes and Travis had gone as well as anyone could hope when it came to the first meeting of a new boyfriend with an ex-husband. And, third, of course, was that she had been introduced to evidence that seemed to suggest that Wes was involved with Travis in a way that went far beyond their professional relationship.
Alex hadn't been lying when she'd said that she had always liked Travis, even when he had become a symbol of the changes she hadn't been able to stop, the new life Wes had come to love that didn't include her. It wasn't surprising -- Travis was very likable, although his charm had always seemed a bit lost on Wes, even when they had been getting along fine. Wes had always had a list of things about Travis that he disapproved of, starting with the way he dressed and ending with the way he shamelessly flirted with every woman they worked with. Alex couldn't help but wonder what had changed to lead to the point where the one Travis was flirting with was Wes.
Even though she could rationally understand what she had seen, it still didn't make sense. Wes and Travis? They had always been good partners, although prone to quippy arguments, but Alex would've never guessed anything more than that, even if she had been aware that either of them included men in their dating repertoire -- a fact she doubted other ex-wives would've taken as well as she had thus far. Ethan had been impressed by it when she hadn't understood why and, now that she did, she truly didn't know how she felt about that part, either. Theoretically, she had no issues with gay or bisexual men but it wasn't as easy to swallow when it caused her to re-examine her entire marriage through the lens of this new knowledge.
She didn't know how long she sat there, mulling everything over, hoping her concentration on them could polish her thoughts into something gleaming and comprehensible. They didn't, though, because she seemed stuck in a feedback loop, always coming back to the same bare facts she didn't know how to interpret. Wes and Travis, and the ache it left in her heart.
But she wanted to know; she wanted to understand. So she did the only thing left she knew that might help. With dogged determination, she trudged back into the house and picked up her cell, hitting the speed dial she hadn't yet changed, even after a year.
"Hello?" Despite the early hour, Wes sounded alert if confused. "Alex?"
"Wes," she said, nerves suddenly fluttering in her chest. She pressed a hand over her heart. "I wanted to talk to you about yesterday. Any chance you can swing by?"
There was a long pause before he answered. "Sure," he said. "Right now?"
"That would be great," she told her. "See you in a little bit."
During the twenty minutes she waited for Wes, Alex paced the living room, then busied herself making sure there was still hot coffee in the coffee maker. With nothing else left to do after she was assured there was, she went back to pacing. She knew it wasn't her finest moment, but she wanted to have worked past most of her nerves before Wes arrived.
Even though she was expecting him, she was still surprised at the sound of the doorbell, though she hurried to answer it. There she found Wes waiting, dressed like always, badge clipped to his belt. "Hi."
She opened the door and stepped aside. "Come on in."
Alex felt a little better seeing that she wasn't the only one who looked nervous. Wes radiated with tension, his usual sharp movements even more jerky and uncoordinated as he followed her through the living room and into the kitchen. "Coffee?" she asked when she reached the counter.
"No, thanks," he said, forever polite. "Alex..." he trailed off."Look, I want to apologize about yesterday. Travis said he saw you looking at us and he said that it would look way worse for us to walk off without saying hello. I should've known not to listen to him."
Alex held up a hand to stop him from continuing. "I'm not mad, Wes," she told him. "But yesterday...was a surprise."
"I really didn't know you were going to be there," Wes said. "I wasn't there to spy on you or anything. It's just that I promised Travis and Nik that I'd be there."
"I heard," she said with a little wince. That ice-sharp pain was back, that clutch in her gut. She frowned down at the coffee mug she held between her hands. "That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about." She took a deep breath, sternly reminding herself that she was a capable lawyer who knew how to just say what needed to be said. "I saw you and Travis, later," she revealed. Another deep breath. "You were...close. Very close. As in...intimately affectionate."
She watched closely for Wes's reaction to her declaration and she wasn't disappointed. He blanched, then furious color began to crawl up his neck. "You did?" he asked and his voice cracked.
He pressed a hand against the back of his neck as he avoided her eyes and it reminded her of Travis laying his hand in the same spot the day before. "That wasn't how I wanted you to find out," he finally said.
She clutched her mug a tighter. "So there is something to find out?"
Something in her tone must've sounded right because he didn't deflect or get defensive; instead, he nodded slowly. "Yeah," he told her. "It's....new. And probably going to blow up in our faces. But...apparently it's where we've been headed for awhile."
Alex remembered the soft way Travis had looked at Wes, the way they had been so relaxed in the stolen moment she'd seen between them, then about the way Wes had been at ease with Nikki the way he'd never been with her family. "Maybe it won't."
"Neither one of us have the best track record," he pointed out. Then he finally met her eyes. "This doesn't weird you out?"
"Well, maybe a little," she said. "I mean, I still don't understand it but...what can I say? It's your life."
"True," Wes said. "I know it took me a while to catch the hint but I've been trying. To remember that. My life versus your life."
"I know," Alex told him. "I've appreciated it. Really, I have."
"But...?" Wes asked. "You say that like you aren't anymore."
"No, no, I am," she said. "I have Ethan and it's great, you know? But...after yesterday..."
Even as she searched for the words to explain the ache she felt, she thought about what had actually happened the day before. She and Wes had spent the day together with their new partners and it had been -- fine. There had been no resentment or jealousy, no recriminations or animosity. It had been awkward but nothing that really ruined the day. It had been a meeting between people who were clearly exes and who had both clearly moved on.
And, she realized, was where the ache had come from.
Even as she had pushed for the divorce, held her ground, Alex had -- she was adult enough to admit that deep, in her heart of hearts, she had hoped that one day Wes would see the light. That he'd come back to law and leave that life -- Travis -- behind him and come back to her to live the life they had always planned. And while she hadn't been able to cling to that delusion strongly enough to miss the chances she'd had to rebuild her life, Wes had been. He had carried the torch of their dying relationship, protecting the embers from every strong wind she threw at it. As long as he had remained attached, the hope had stayed alive in her heart.
But he wasn't doing that any more. Like her, Wes had found someone -- or, at least, discovered someone in the form of Travis -- that had let him finally let go, which meant there really was nothing left.
"It's really over," she finally said. "I have Ethan, you have Travis and...it's really all gone. You know?"
Wes smiled sadly, making his expression even more pained. "I do, Alex," he reassured her. "I do."
It was a little like signing the divorce papers, she thought. That was what the small pain was, the breathless ache. It was the last connection between them finally snapping, the bond broken. Somewhere deep inside, she was finally mourning the loss of her marriage.
When she didn't say anything, Wes shifted his weight from foot to foot before he coughed. "So Ethan," he said. "He seems...nice."
"He is," Alex admitted. "He's a doctor. Funny, too. He's from back East." She paused. "He thought you were nice, too."
"Well, it's not like I have to tell you about Travis," Wes said and she knew him well enough to know that there was humor beneath the serious tone. "And he keeps telling me he should've picked you instead of me in the divorce, so there's that."
Alex actually laughed, even as her eyes grew soft and distant as she, again, remembered the way Travis had looked at Wes, so obvious now that she knew what to look for. "Somehow I don't think he means it."
"I'm glad you and Ethan are working," he said. "He sounds like a good match."
Alex looked hard at him and arched a brow. "You're still going to run his background, aren't you?"
"Probably," he answered, cracking a grin when Alex laughed again. "Seriously, though...I'm happy for you, Alex. If he makes you happy."
"He does," she promised, and it was true. It didn't mean that the empty spot that used to be her and Wes's marriage wasn't going to hurt for a while. "And the same to you. If Travis is somehow making you happy, then I'm glad for both of you."
"He's..." Wes looked away, rubbing the palm of his hand over the line of jaw. "He's different, I guess I'd say. Something else entirely."
Alex thought of Ethan, so unlike Wes, and Travis, nothing like her, and of the wound they both carried from their failed marriage. "Maybe that's what some of us need," she said. "Something else entirely."
It might've sounded harsh to someone else but Wes caught her eye and nodded. "But it doesn't mean what we had before wasn't great."
Somewhere in that empty space that had been her small, sad hope, something new flared to life and the ache didn't hurt quite so much anymore.
"No," she agreed. "Maybe it just means the best is still yet to come."