It’s official. I’m an idiot. I’d known on some level that going out with Lana was going to equal trouble for me and I’d still done it. Sure, I could blame the decision to go out on wanting to be a part of the team here at camp, but I’d just known it would come back to kick me in the butt. Lana got rip-roaring drunk, and somehow I ended up being responsible for her. Which I might not have minded so much had she not insisted on throwing her arms around my neck and trying to dance with me.
Of course the people we were with had taken photos of the two of us together. And of course they’d posted them on Facebook. Now I remember why I’ve stayed clear of that site in the past. I prefer to live my life rather than simply record it. And it’s a fabulous place for gossip and shit to fester and explode in people’s lives.
When I woke up this morning, I had a message from Kara and a message from Austin. Kara called me a prick for moving on so fast and hurting her best friend. Austin told me I was a fuckwit for letting the photos get published and gave me a heads up that if Claire asked him to, he would fly to New Zealand to beat me up.
Neither of them seemed to get that hurting Claire was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and now I don’t know how I’m supposed to make it up to her. Truthfully, I didn’t do anything to be ashamed of. I didn’t kiss the woman or even flirt with her. The only thing I’m guilty of is not pushing a drunk woman off of me. However, knowing I didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ doesn’t make me feel any better about hurting the one person I care for above all others.
Reaching for my phone, I scroll through it for Claire’s number, and this time, instead of throwing the phone back on the bed and walking away, I hit the ‘call’ button.
My heart races as I wait for her to pick up. Will she pick up? It’s a Sunday night and if I was in Melbourne, I’d be visiting Diana. Maybe that’s where Claire is right now – that’s why she isn’t picking up. I dread hearing what Diana has to say about the way I’ve hurt Claire. While mother and daughter are different in most ways, Diana loves her daughter to pieces. Of that, I have no doubt.
And she’ll come after me if Claire tells her I’m already screwing someone else.
Even if I’m not.
The phone keeps ringing on Claire’s end. I feel more and more anxious with every unanswered ring. When it cuts off because there’s no answer, I hang up and try again. I hate not knowing if she’s ignoring me or if she’s just busy.
More than anything, I just want to talk to her. I want to make sure she’s okay, but I also need to hear her voice. It’s been one week and a day since I last spoke with her and kissed her goodbye. Last week, I thought some distance was probably what we both needed to come to terms with the end of our relationship and the concept of moving on, but I no longer feel that way. Even if we can’t be together, I want her in my life.
Need her in my life.
My heart, which was already racing uncontrollably, accelerates further and the jolt of adrenaline causes me to actually jump off the bed.
“Claire. It’s Dylan.”
Her voice is small and the distance in it isn’t from the miles that separate us. She must be thinking about the photos she’s seen of me and Lana.
“Kara messaged me and told me you’ve seen the photos.”
There’s a pause on the line. “You don’t owe me an explanation. You don’t owe me anything, Dylan. We both knew it was over the moment you left.”
Yes, but even if I didn’t owe her an explanation, I wanted to give her one anyway. “It’s not what you think, Claire. She’s a girl I work with. She got drunk and everyone thought it was hysterical to let me deal with her. If I could have thrown her off me without hurting her, trust me, I would have.”
“It’s fine. Whatever you do is fine. She’s clearly into you and I’m sure it won’t be too long before the two of you are hooking up. We’re both moving on.”
My heart stops. “You’ve gone back to the list?”
Am I really feeling this guilty when she’s already started dating again?
“I’ve gone back to it.”
“Good for you.”
Nothing could hurt more than the idea of her dating someone. I sit back down on my bed, not able to stand for another second.
“I tore it up.”
I sit there, staring at the wall, not quite registering what she’s saying.
“You tore what up?”
She sighs, a sound that suggests exasperation and frustration. “I tore up the list.”
“You tore it up?”
Inwardly, I curse. She’d just said that and she’s going to get annoyed with me repeating her sentences. As if she isn’t annoyed with me enough already.
It’s just that it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than when she’d first said it.
“I couldn’t see it at the time, but my friends were right about the list. I wanted someone who was the carbon of myself. That’s never going to work for me. I can’t date myself.”
“Why not? You’re pretty awesome.”
“It’s not like any of the guys I’ve dated have ever thought that. I’m not dating the right guys. I can see that now.”
“So…what type of guys are you planning on dating now?”
“A different kind.” I can almost see her shrug.
“Do you have a new list?”
“Not yet. Well, I guess I kind of have one, but it’s in my head.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Because I want to hear it.”
For some reason I want to torture myself by listening to her talk about the kind of guy she wants now. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because it means she’s not dating anyone yet. The relief is like a bottomless pit that can never be filled. I’m not ready to get off the phone with her yet.
“Does he make you laugh? Does he work in a bar? Does he drive you crazy? Does he make you jump out of aeroplanes?”
Is he like me?
She laughs – a sound I haven’t heard in far too long. “I think I need someone who can push me out of my comfort zone a little, yeah.”
I feel a little bit smug, even as jealousy charges through me at having to compete for her affection with a version of myself. “So, you’re looking for Dylan 2.0, hey?”
“Something like that,” she says hesitantly. “I need the version of you who can marry me and give me the family I want.”
The smile slips off my face as her words arrow through my heart. Even if she wants someone like me, she wants the things I’ll never be able to give her soon enough. “Is that even possible? Wouldn’t Dylan 2.0 want freedom and travel, too?”
“Maybe he’s already done his travelling. Maybe he’s already done seeing the world. Maybe he’s ready to settle down and have a family.”
“Maybe…” I say.
What else am I supposed to say? I doubt telling her the only reason I put off travelling for so long in the first place was because I wanted to see her settled down and happy. Now I wonder if I’ve hurt every chance I might have had of making things permanent by sticking around to keep an eye on her. If I’d gotten over the travelling bug earlier…
Except there’s no guarantee I would be over it by now even if I’d left years earlier. No guarantee that I’d be home, ready to give her what she wants.
Still, the thought of her with a man like me, with a family…it makes breathing impossible.
“Anyway, I should probably go.”
“What’s the rush? Where are you going? It’s Sunday night.”
“I know, but…I can’t talk to you all night long.”
My heart twists in my chest. “I miss you, Claire.”
“And I miss you, too, but I need to get on with my life. You’re clearly getting on with yours.”
“I explained what happened with Lana.”
“I know, but what good could possibly come out of us talking? I mean, what’s the point?”
Her words cut me to pieces. We don’t have a sexual relationship anymore and I’m not in Melbourne, so now I have nothing to offer her? “I don’t know, Claire. I thought that after these months we’ve spent together, maybe we could be friends.”
“I’m not sure I can be friends with you, Dylan.”
“Well, how will you know if you don’t try? I think I at least deserve that much.”
I don’t bring up the fact I risked my friendship with Austin to give her what we both wanted – that leaving her behind in Melbourne and letting her go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Either she’s willing to meet me half way or she isn’t.
“You really want to be friends?” she asks.
“Just try it, Claire,” I plead. “Talk to me. Tell me about your work.”
“You always find bank talk boring.”
“That was before. There were better things to be doing with our time than talking.”
I smirk at her quick intake of breath.
“You can’t make comments like that if we’re going to be friends.”
“So I can’t ask you what you’re wearing?”
“No! Absolutely not.”
I’m sure her tone is supposed to scold, but I can hear the amusement underneath.
“Okay, I won’t ask you what you’re wearing, even if I’m dying to know.” I’m pushing it, I know, but I can’t seem to help myself. “Just tell me about your week.”
“You really want me to tell you about work?”
“Tell me about anything and everything.”
I don’t care if she never stops talking. Right now, the only thing that matters is keeping her on the phone so I can listen to her talk for a while longer.