The burning imprint of Adam’s lips tingles on my forehead as I watch him walk away from me. What was that? What was that entire conversation we just had? I can’t believe he just kissed me on the forehead. Moreover, I can’t believe my neighbour left work to warn me about this interview – to give me a choice to opt out. Especially when he has so much to lose by doing so. He’s up for a promotion, and I’m his big-ticket item. I just don’t understand.
I mean, he’s been waiting for this moment – the moment when the world finds out how ugly I am. So, why? Why, when the time is finally here for me to be exposed, did he tell me what I was walking into? Why did he warn me about what was coming? Why did he flat out tell me not to do it?
He believes you.
I put my hand over my heart, which is currently beating too fast. Everything I said to Adam on Saturday – everything I admitted to him about what happened with Grant – about it being a mistake, he believes me. That must be the reason he warned me. Because we’re not friends. He doesn’t care about me the way he cares about Kristy. Yet he came to me because he thought it was the right thing to do. Which means, he doesn’t think I’m the worst person in the world anymore. If he still hated me and thought me a princess, he would have left Casey’s call a surprise.
“I meant what I said when I told you I’m not your enemy. I don’t want to be. And I’m serious about the two of us getting along. After all, we’re neighbours.“
I take my hand off my chest and take a deep breath.
Adam isn’t my enemy anymore. He believes me. Somehow, knowing that changes everything. If I can convince the man who has despised me since he met me that there was no malicious intent on my part to sleep with Grant Glendon and ruin his marriage, then maybe I have a chance at convincing the rest of the world. Yes, I know it’s a long shot, but it must be possible if I’ve persuaded Adam.
Without letting another second pass, I walk out the door, leaving it open behind me. Adam has just opened his car door and is about to slide into the driver’s seat when he stops and frowns, seeing me walk towards him.
“Don’t cancel the interview, Adam. I’ll do it.”
He looks stunned. As if he isn’t quite sure I’m speaking English. “I thought we agreed you shouldn’t do it.”
“I changed my mind. You told me to put myself in the eye of the storm and deal with everything, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
He called me a coward that day he walked in on me lying in bed, and he was right to do that. Maybe I needed a time-out – time to lick my wounds – but now I need to come to terms with what’s happened. The best way to do so is to face this head-on.
“Jess, the interview is going to be a bloodbath.”
“I’m well aware of that.” His blue eyes are full of confusion, and maybe a little concern. It’s that emotion which gives me courage. “And I can’t thank you enough for warning me. My biggest fear is hearing what everyone is going to say, but you know I can’t move on until I do.”
And I need to face Casey. I need to apologise for my actions. I ran from London because my agent told me to, but that meant I never talked to Grant’s wife. I never apologised. And I want to do that now. I slept with her husband. I didn’t have her back when I sat there listening to Grant talk about everything that was wrong with their marriage. I should have told him I didn’t want to hear it. I should have spent more time encouraging him to seek counselling or to divorce her if he didn’t think it could work.
So, a blood bath it might be, but maybe once I hear Casey out, and I apologise, I can face who I am and what I’ve done, and try and work out what to do with the rest of my life.
“Are you absolutely certain about this, Jess? If you go through with this interview, you can’t take it back. The papers and magazines will be all over it. You can’t predict how the rest of the media will spin it.”
“I know, and I’m ready.” He looks doubtful, and I nod. “I’m terrified too, but you said you’d help me prepare. Please, will you keep doing so?”
“You know I will,” he says as if I’ve just asked him a silly question. “We’ll go over the different scenarios every day until it’s time, but Jess you have to know how spectacularly this is likely to blow up. The details will be everywhere afterwards.”
“Then maybe the storm will blow over quicker. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder every day, wondering when the shoe is going to drop and everyone realises I’m a fraud. Like a Band-Aid, right off. I just want to get this over and done with.”
“And you’re okay with the fact Casey is going to be on the show, telling her side of the story and talking to you?”
“I think she deserves to have her say, and I need to apologise.”
“Jess. Admitting you were wrong like that…”
“I know, Adam. Bloodbath. This probably won’t end well for me. But you believed me when I said I didn’t mean to sleep with him. Didn’t you?”
He leans back against the car, studying me for a moment before he nods. “Yeah, I did.”
“You don’t think I’m the worst person in the world anymore?”
“Then don’t you think I might be able to convince the rest of the world I’m not the enemy?”
He shakes his head, but there is a small smile tugging at his lips. “There’s a chance.”
“Good,” I say, trying to sound confident.
“Jess, there’s also a good chance your career really will be finished once we’re done interviewing you.”
“But at least I’ll know,” I whisper.
He buys my bravado and nods, pushing off the car. “I’ll be over tomorrow morning, then,” he says, sliding into the driver’s seat and looking at me out the open window. “If you don’t change your mind.”
It’s not until he’s reversed out the driveway and driven away that the nerves I’ve been pushing down explode to the surface and I start panicking.
I need another cup of tea.
You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.
I chant this as I walk inside. Better to deal with the situation and get things out in the open rather than let them fester. I have a purpose now, and Adam will help me. He’ll get me ready. I’ll put myself in the eye of the storm and trust myself to deal with it. I’m not sure what the outcome of this interview will be, but I need to take this step so I can start moving forward again with my life.
The next eight days pass all too quickly, and before I know it, it’s the day before the interview. Adam and I have gone through what feels like hundreds of different questions to prepare me. Every morning we spend at least an hour together. We go for a walk, or we go to the coffee shop to sit and talk, which is harder to deal with because then I must face him while he asks me some pretty personal and intrusive questions.
Ever since that day he warned me about Casey’s part in my interview, however, things have changed between us. He’s still real with me, he still calls me out when he thinks I’m hiding behind charm and insincerity, but he’s softer than he was, and sometimes I imagine I see something like respect in his gaze. Sometimes, I even pretend I’m his friend instead of someone he’s merely coaching for an interview.
The day before my scheduled debut on radio, we go out walking, and instead of firing his usual barrage of questions, we spend a lot of time in silence.
“How are you feeling?” he asks after a long pause in our conversation.
“Nervous,” I admit. “On a scale of one to ten, one being not nervous at all and ten being so nervous that I might faint, I think I’m about a hundred.”
“You’ll do fine,” he says.
I stop. “Do you really think so?”
He studies me intensely before his eyes lock with mine. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you’ll find a way to survive this because you’re strong enough to handle whatever happens. That’s what I think.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Is that a compliment, Adam Granger?”
His lips twitch. “Maybe.”
We turn and keep walking, again in silence. It’s companionable rather than awkward, and I don’t want it to end. I’m not ready to go home.
I’m not ready for tomorrow just yet.
“We’re not going to go through any questions today?” I ask, trying to prolong our session.
“I thought we might go over your biggest fears concerning tomorrow.”
“Aren’t they obvious? My career being over and everyone hating me.”
“I want you to be more specific than that.” We stop again, now that we’re in the park. “Let’s sit for a minute.”
We walk under the canopy of trees, over to a bench seat that has way too much bird poop on it.
I eye it dubiously before sitting between two large splodges of it.
Adam appears to be trying to hide a smirk when I look back at him.
“Was that a test?” I ask, remembering his comments about me being a princess. “Seeing whether I’d sit on bird poo?”
“Not a test.” He shakes his head, but the smirk doesn’t leave his face.
“So, you want to know my biggest fears?” I ask.
“Be specific. The things she might say or the comments listeners might phone in with.”
‘She’, meaning Casey. “Where to start…” I blow out a breath. “Being called a homewrecker, a slut. Being thought of as a horrible person. Having people think I’m a femme fatale who goes after every man I meet – married or not.”
I keep going, listing everything I’m afraid people will say about me.
Once I finish, I expect Adam to tell me not to worry about it, or to say it won’t happen, but he doesn’t. “I want you to imagine how each of those scenarios might play out. Do it now. Close your eyes and see them happening. See Casey saying those things to you and the public making those comments. How are you going to deal with it?”
Is there a right or wrong answer here? No, I don’t think he’s quizzing me. This isn’t a right or wrong answer kind of question. This is about finding the internal resources I need to deal with whatever comes at me tomorrow.
Once again, I feel grateful to Adam. He’s given me his time and the benefit of his knowledge and experience in the industry. And as I close my eyes and try to see myself dealing with each of the situations I described, he’s there. Every. Single. Time. My mind clings to him because he is the way I’m dealing with this. Adam is aware of all my failings and shortcomings, yet he still wants to help me. If he can show me compassion and kindness when he once thought me ugly, then that gives me hope. The way he believes me and has helped me…I hold onto that knowledge and hold onto it tight.
Tomorrow he’ll be sitting there in that room with me, and I know his presence will give me strength. Even though he’ll be asking me questions, and even though it might go badly with Casey and the people who call in, I’ll still have the memory of every morning we’ve spent together this week. Proof that I can convince at least one person I’m not Public Enemy No. 1.
A month ago, who would have thought that it would be Adam I’d reach for and hold onto in the eye of the storm?
When I open my eyes, Adam is watching me intensely, and I wonder if he has any idea what I was just thinking. It’s doubtful he knows just how much his help means to me – just how much it has spurred me on. I’m going to buy him a drink when we’re done and tell him how much I appreciate it.
“Are you ready for this, Jess?” he asks finally.
I nod. “I think I am.”
That night, Adam surprises me by popping over after dinner. At first, I assume he’s come over to see Logan and Kristy.
“They’re in the bedroom,” I say, taking off the gloves I’m wearing to do the dishes and turning off the iPod I’ve been listening to. “I’ll go get them.”
“Actually, I’m here because I have something for you.”
I smile when he shows me the DVD he’s holding in his hands. “Zoolander?”
We’ve talked about the movie a couple of times this week. Adam told me it’s one of his favourites, while I admitted it’s an excellent spoof that makes me laugh like crazy.
“Did you ever think that maybe there’s more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking?”
His impression of Derek Zoolander is so spot on, his expression so perfect, and his words so relevant, I burst out laughing. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I have to wipe the tears from my eyes as he stands there wearing Zoolander’s favourite expression. It’s just the release I need after the intense few weeks I’ve had.
And when I finally stop laughing and look at him, I decide Adam is ridiculously good looking. Standing there in his blue jeans and black shirt, his dark hair a little long and unruly, and his blue eyes full of mirth. He’s far more attractive than I’ve ever let myself acknowledge. Before now, I might have said he’s easy on the eyes. Good looking. But they don’t really encompass the extent of his appeal. I almost feel a little breathless standing this close to him.
Kristy walks out of her bedroom, probably to find out why I’m laughing so uproariously, thankfully breaking the moment and drawing my attention away from Mr Good Looking.
“It’s to take her mind off the interview,” Adam tells Kristy when she looks at the DVD.
Kristy frowns, and I’m sure she’s again thinking about what a bad idea the interview is. We argued about whether I should go through with it when I told her about it. Logan was a little alarmed by the idea of Adam interviewing me but said he trusted Adam. Kristy didn’t have the same reaction.
“Shall we put it on?” I ask.
“Put what on?” Logan asks, emerging from the bedroom in a t-shirt and shorts, his standard attire.
He looks a little rumpled. He and Kristy both do. I had my earphones in while I washed the dishes, so I didn’t hear anything coming from their bedroom, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some serious after dinner fireworks going on in that bedroom.
Adam snags my gaze with his and makes a face that implies he’s thinking the same thing and feels just as disturbed by it. I can’t keep the smile off my face as Adam shows the DVD to Logan.
“Zoolander,” Logan nods approvingly, taking the case out of his hand. “Can’t remember the last time I saw this.”
“Same,” Kristy says.
“Let’s put it on,” Logan says, humming the first bars of Wham’s Wake Me up Before You Go-Go.
Kristy shrugs. “I’ll make popcorn.”
When she comes in minutes later, she takes the seat beside me on the two-seater couch, since the guys are sitting on the three-seater lounge.
From the moment the movie begins to play, I can’t stop laughing, and it’s even better because I’m with people who find it just as funny as I do.
“I know why you guys like this one so much,” Kristy says to Logan and Adam. “You see yourselves in Derek, Brint, Rufus and Meekus.”
“Oh yes!” I say to Kristy, high-fiving her. “Good one. Four good looking men who seem capable of starting a gasoline fight.”
“Ha ha,” Adam remarks.
Kristy throws a piece of the popcorn in her bowl at the men, which is a terrible idea. They have a bowl over there, of course they’re going to retaliate.
At the same time that the gasoline fight takes place in the movie, the four of us empty our bowls, trying to attack the other gender.
“Remind me never to do that again,” Kristy says as she looks at the popcorn scattered on the floor. “It’s always much more fun to throw it than clean it.”
“I’ll pull the vacuum cleaner out after,” I tell her. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t know, cleaning up isn’t all bad,” Logan says with amusement, watching Kristy stick her hand down her top in an attempt to pull out the popcorn that’s fallen between her breasts during the fight.
“Enjoying the view, are we?” Kristy asks.
I look at Adam, ready to share another joke about Logan and Kristy, but he is also watching with interest as Kristy fishes for the popcorn down her top, reminding me of the fact he has feelings for her.
With everything that has happened, I haven’t thought much about Adam’s feelings for Kristy, but right now I’m aware of them, and I don’t like them. Worse still, the thought he’s into her causes a sharp, jagged pain to streak through my chest. Something that feels a lot like jealousy and envy stabs through me, shocking me in its intensity.
It’s so stupid and wrong to feel jealous of Kristy. I know that. I don’t need or want Adam to look at me like that, even if I have acknowledged he’s attractive. Extremely so. All I should want from Adam is for him to like and respect me.
And, okay, I’ll admit I’d like to keep seeing him when my interview is done. I want to keep hanging out with him occasionally. We might not be friends yet, but I can see us heading that way. Despite the very rocky start to our acquaintanceship, I’m starting to like him. I don’t have friends outside of Kristy. I don’t get attached to people – especially men. But I could get attached to Adam.
The thought causes me to stop breathing. Adam’s gaze flicks over to mine and holds for a moment, causing my heart to beat so much faster for a second before he turns his attention back to the TV.
I focus on the movie and try and calm my racing heart. It’s not a big deal, right? I’m not going to get attached to him as a boyfriend but as a friend. Becoming attached to a friend is normal.
Not for you.
But I’m changing, aren’t I? I’ve had a few different labels for myself – model, nice person, good friend, polite and considerate, and charming. Everything that has happened with Grant Glendon, however, has taken my self-perception and turned it on its head. Without those labels, I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve been stripped of my mask and laid bare. Letting the world find out what I did feels like death – the death of my persona and beliefs about myself. Tomorrow, the interview will be like a funeral for my former self. I’m going to say goodbye to that part of myself. Who I am once the day is over is something I am yet to discover. And maybe the new me does get attached to other people.
When the movie is over, I immediately grab the vacuum cleaner and start cleaning up, rejecting Adam’s offer to help. He’s still here, talking to Kristy and Logan in the kitchen after I’ve finished sucking up all the popcorn.
“You’re finished?” he says when I walk into the kitchen.
I nod. “Do you want a cuppa or something else before you leave?”
“Thanks, but I should be off. I’ve got some stuff I need to get done early tomorrow. I just hung around to say goodbye. “
“Will you still come around in the morning?”
He shakes his head. “No, I think you’re ready. You don’t need any more coaching. Take the morning to prepare in any way you can, and I’ll see you when you get to the station. Remember not to arrive any later than six.”
My heart is racing too fast as he says goodbye to Kristy and Logan and I walk him to the front door. He’s not coming over tomorrow morning. Our preparation and coaching days are over. Tomorrow is it. I don’t know what things will be like with Adam afterwards, or whether we’ll hang out again without the purpose of this interview to prep for. I don’t know how the interview will go, or how my life will look afterwards.
“Adam,” I say, opening the front door and watching him step out. I look down to see my hand on his arm. He looks at it, too, and I let my hand drop away. “Thank you. For tonight. For the past week.” For believing me when I needed you to so badly. “Thank you for everything,” I say.
“It was my pleasure, Jess.”
I’m moved by the sincerity in his gaze. No matter what happens between us now, I’ll never forget what he’s done, and how he’s helped me.
Now I just have to hope it all pays off and tomorrow goes as well as it can.
A/N: Next chapter is centered around the Interview. Thanks for reading <333