The moment I hear the key in the lock, I reach for my beer and try and look as casual as possible – as though I’m not all wound up and stressed out over where Jess has been tonight. She’s been home when I got back from work the last couple of nights, but the house was empty when I got back tonight. No note, no message, nothing. I don’t like that I don’t know where she is. All I can think about is the fact she might be out on a date with Jake Cantrell.
I like the Ripped Tees. They’re a solid Aussie rock band. I have their latest album and I listen to it on the way to work all the time. Funnily enough, I haven’t listened to the CD once since Jess told me she was going out on a date with Jake Cantrell – the lead singer. Of course, he’s her ex. They’re both famous, both icons of Australia. At least, Jess was. They would have been perfect together before Jess lost her career. And now? Public opinion of Jess is low, but it sounds like Jake doesn’t care what the tabloids and magazines are saying. He probably knows they’re full of crap.
That bites more than I’ll ever let on. That maybe he knows her better than I do – that he probably never doubted her innocence or her character. I doubt he ever called her ugly on the inside or told her he hated her. She called him a friend, and even if she says she’s never cared about a friend the way she cares about Kristy, or me, I absolutely hate the thought of her spending time with the guy. I hate the thought of her leaning on him and not me – of her spending time with him and not me.
We’ve hardly hung out together since she told me she was going on a date with him and it flat out sucks. We’re living together, so we should be spending more time together, not less. My days feel all wrong with our stilted morning conversations.
She was supposed to tell me when the big date with Jake was so I could get the fuck out of here, but after the way I acted, she clearly decided not to mention it. Even if I can’t blame her, I feel…annoyed. I don’t want to see her walk in with him.
Thankfully, there are no hushed whispers or laughter, and I only hear one set of footsteps after the front door closes. The relief I feel that Jess seems to be alone is nearly overwhelming. My heartrate should return to nearly normal now that I know she hasn’t brought Jake back, but I still feel tense and wired. When I hear her walk into the kitchen, I get up.
I stand in the doorway of the kitchen and take her in as she fills the kettle with water, oblivious to my presence. When she turns around I stop breathing. She just looks…Jake is the fucking luckiest man on the planet. She’s insanely beautiful at the best of times, but tonight she’s the perfection every man wishes he could have. I can’t deny the thought of her dressing up like that for Jake makes me feel like I’ve ingested acid. Her dark green eyes are complemented by the green silk dress she’s wearing. Her long blonde hair hangs loosely over one shoulder, looking so soft and silky I want to touch it, and the tan coloured shoes she’s wearing make her long legs look even longer. I want those legs wrapped around my waist, as I’m buried to the hilt in her – after I’ve tasted her and brought her to orgasm with my tongue over and over again first.
I can’t help but wonder if everything I want and need is written on my face as I finally meet her gaze.
She swallows as I stare at her. “Hi.”
I clear my throat as I try and push the images of her naked out of my head. “Hey. You’ve been out.” Stating the obvious. Always a good sign for me.
“I had dinner with Naomi.”
I stand up a little straighter, the burning in my stomach finally easing as I realise she wasn’t out with Jake tonight.
Then I think about the fact this means she’ll still have that date to go on and the burn comes back, travelling up towards my heart this time.
“How did things go?”
“We talked. I’m going to see if I can opt out of my contract with my agency and give her a run at it. She’s positive she can find me something.”
“It may not be modelling, but…something’s better than nothing, right?”
She looks so uncertain, and I remind myself this is one of the reasons I absolutely can’t touch her again. She’s too vulnerable and too much of a mess to screw with. Being with her would mess everything up and it would end up a disaster. I haven’t stopped dreaming about her. She consumes my thoughts during the day far too often, but I have to ignore it – for both our sakes.
Something that’s damn hard to remember when she’s standing there looking more vulnerable and beautiful than any woman has the right to.
“I’m glad you finally called her. Even if it isn’t modelling right now, it’s something. You’ve got the ball rolling and that’s what matters.”
She nods but doesn’t say anything, and silence falls between us – large and obvious – like it has done every time we’ve spoken since Sunday morning.
“I’m watching a movie. Do you want to watch it with me?”
Her eyes seem to light up at the thought. “What are you watching?”
Her lips twist up at the side. “I like that one.”
She smiles and nods. “Yeah.”
“I never picked you for liking stupid comedies.”
The kettle switches off and she turns around to make her tea as she continues to talk. “I’m a big fan actually. Life is serious enough and full of grief and unpleasant things. I love anything that takes my mind off it.”
I think about the fact her parents died when she was sixteen and the fact that she’s lost her job and reputation. Heavy things. Of course, she doesn’t want to be watching more heavy crap that reminds her of what she’s lost.
“Then you’re going to love my collection,” I say. “It’s full of movies like this. You should have a look through it.”
She continues to make her tea, her back to me. “I’ve looked through it. I love a lot of the movies you own. I’ve been tempted to put one on from time to time.”
“Then why haven’t you?”
Our eyes lock as she swings around to look at me. She shrugs, but I know why she hasn’t, and so does she. I told her to make herself at home, but how can she be comfortable living here when I’m weird and crazy? Of course, she doesn’t want to go through my stuff and use it when we can barely talk to each other without things being awkward.
“I should have invited you to before now,” I say. “But things have been freaking awkward since I…since Saturday night.”
“And Sunday morning,” she adds.
Both of us stop and wait for the other, only to realise neither of us wants to speak first.
I take a step into the kitchen. “I’m sorry things got weird after Saturday night. I should never have kissed you.”
“We established that,” she mutters in a voice that sounds slightly bitter.
“So, I never should have acted like that when you talked about bringing Jake back here.”
“You told me you don’t have a problem with it, but I can’t understand why things are so weird if everything is fine.”
“I know,” I say. “I’ve hardly been welcoming since then. Honestly, I don’t know what’s bugging me, maybe I’m just nervous about things becoming worse for you by going out with him – you know? By attracting attention and getting your name in the papers again. I don’t want to see you hurt anymore.”
It’s a lie. I’m flat out lying to her. Me – Mr Honesty. Okay, I don’t want her to get hurt again. That much is true, at least. But the thought of her talking to Jake and spending time with him – of her doing the things with him that I promised myself I wouldn’t do with her – they’re so painful, they make me want to fork myself in the eye.
Her green eyes are soft on mine as they take me in, but there’s something in them that I can’t peg – that I don’t know how to read. “I appreciate that. To be honest I’m not sure about going on a date with Jake anymore…Maybe I won’t go.”
My heart stops for a moment before it starts again, beating faster. “Why would you say that?”
There’s a hint of vulnerability in her eyes as she looks at me. She opens her mouth to say something and then closes it again, shaking her head and lowering her gaze to the ground, and I just know whatever she was going to say is important.
“Talk to me, Jess.”
“I’m just not sure if…he’s the man I want to be spending time with.”
I’m punched by lust and shock at the same time. I can see the same need and desire I felt moment ago in her eyes as they meet mine.
I’ve done this. I’ve made her question everything. I should never have kissed her. I should never have touched her. Worse still, I can feel myself responding to her, my heart racing faster as my blood rushes south in anticipation – ready for action.
“Jess…” I shake my head.
“I know you said it wouldn’t work.” Her voice is so small and breathy, it’s barely recognisable as hers.
“I made you question things when I crossed the line on Saturday night. You have no idea how much I regret that.”
The hurt that flashes through her eyes pierces through me. “I know you regret it, but I’m not sure I do. I felt things, Adam. Things I’ve never felt before.”
She’s being so open and honest, and I’ve never seen her look quite so vulnerable. It’s taking everything in me not to go to her. I just know that if I touch her, tonight will only end one way. I’m absolutely positive we shouldn’t go down that path.
“You need to think about what you’re saying. Do you really want to risk things not working out between us?”
Her uncertainty is obvious, and I’m grateful for it right now. If it wasn’t there – if she was sure she wanted things between us, I don’t think I could stop myself from acting on the lust pounding through my veins right now.
“We’re supposed to be friends, Jess. I want to keep it that way.”
“No complications, I get it.” Her voice is tight and the hurt in her eyes grows, making me feel worse. But this is for the best.
“With Logan and Kristy looking to stay together, we’re going to be in each other’s lives for years to come. From what you’ve told me, you don’t date men long term, and I’m not looking for anything permanent.”
“So…so you’re really not interested in…exploring things between us?”
More interested than I could ever express, but… “I’d rather have you in my life as a friend, Jess. Even if there is obviously an attraction between us and I like you, I’m not…I just don’t think it would work out.”
She won’t look at me and my heart feels like it’s constricting. “Okay.”
“I’m sorry, Jess.”
I’m stunned to see tears in her eyes as she looks at me, throwing me a wobbly smile. “I guess this is what rejection feels like, huh?”
I’m walking towards her before I can stop myself. When I get to her, I want to pull her into my arms, but I don’t think she wants me to and I know I should keep my distance.
“I do care about you.”
A lot, as it turns out. I didn’t lie to Logan when I said I’d stake my career on the fact Jess is innocent. I’ll do anything to prove it – to make this whole situation better for her and prove to her she isn’t the person she thinks she is.
“Your life is a mess right now and you’re vulnerable. Are you sure this isn’t just you trying to cling to me the way you clung to Kristy?”
She looks as though I’ve just slapped her. “That isn’t…” She shakes her head. “I’m not trying to cling to you. Obviously, you think I am, though.”
“I told you to lean on me, and I want you to.”
“You just don’t want me to cling to you or complicate things, I get it.” She picks up her tea and I know she’s going to walk out. If I don’t make things right between us, things are never going to be good between us again.
I wrap my hand around her slender wrist. “Don’t…Please don’t be mad at me for trying to do the right thing here.”
Her eyes flash as they meet mine. “I’m not mad at you, Adam. I’m just…”
“Please don’t say disappointed. You’ll remind me of my parents.”
Her smile is a little bit bitter. “I definitely don’t want to remind you of them.”
She goes to pull away, but I can’t let her go. I won’t until things are better. “I know you’re upset with me and I know you’re hurt, and I hate that that’s because of me. I want things to be good for you, Jess. I want things to get better. I care about you. Doesn’t it mean anything to you that I want to be your friend and someone you can depend on long term, instead of potentially throwing it away for what? A short-lived fling?”
Her eyes soften just a little bit and I keep going. “God, Jess. I’ve never had a real relationship in my life. Can you really blame me for thinking we have a better chance of being just friends?”
She sighs. “I can’t blame you, no.”
“Come and watch this movie with me.”
“I don’t…I can’t…I’m not in the mood right now, Adam.”
“Please.” I’m on the verge of getting on my knees and begging. I’ve wounded her pride and I’ve hurt her, and I feel awful. I need time to show her how much I do care about her as a friend, and how good we can be as friends.
Hell, I need time to remind myself we’re better that way.
“I’ll make popcorn,” I tell her. “You can throw it all at me and I’ll do the vacuuming.”
Her lips twitch, and I know I’ve nearly got her. “You can pick the movie. I’ll stop Anchorman.”
“No, I like that movie.”
And I’ve got her. I can’t contain my grin. “So you’ll watch it with me?”
She shakes her head and gives me a long winded sigh. “Okay.”
“Okay.” I let go of her wrist. “I’m going to make popcorn, then.”
“Good. Make a lot. It’s going to be a long night for you, vacuuming.”
I laugh as she walks out of the kitchen with her tea. I quickly sober, however, as I catch sight of those long legs striding out of here.
I told her I want to stay friends, and I’m doing everything I can to put things right between us. I know we’re better this way. So why does the thought of her going out with Jake burn so much worse now than it did when she first walked through the door?
I look over at my co-star – the one who I barely speak to these days, except to plan segments with.
“What’s up, Dani?”
“Did you get the email from David Burnham?”
I look at my computer screen, clicking on the window which has my email. “Yeah.”
“Have you read it?”
I open it.
“We have a meeting in half an hour,” she says, not waiting for me to read it. “I wonder if it’s to talk about us taking over from Eddie and Kane.”
Dani gets up and starts pacing around the office. “I don’t know what else they could want to talk to us about? Do you?”
Maybe the fact that our show hasn’t been the same since Jess was on it. Sure, we’ve had more listeners, ratings are up on where we were last year, but there’s a strain between Dani and I that hasn’t been there before. Or maybe I’m the only one noticing that.
She stops pacing and looks at me. “Aren’t you nervous?”
“Of course not,” she mutters. “You don’t care about this job or the promotion, do you?”
I sigh and give her my full attention since she isn’t going to stop talking to me anytime soon. “I want that promotion just as much as you do. Just because I didn’t want to ruin an innocent woman’s life to get it doesn’t mean I don’t care about getting the job. I just don’t know if I want to sign a contract that means working for another year with someone who is so blinded by her own bullshit she can’t do her job properly.”
I expect Dan to yell at me, or say something vicious – for her to tell me I should quit the show. But she doesn’t. Instead, she stands there, her arms down, looking defenceless. “I can admit that I…wasn’t quite as unbiased as I should have been.”
“But I’m not sure you were as fair and impartial as you make out, either. She’s beautiful, and you were distracted by that.”
“Actually, it was quite the opposite.” I sit back in my chair and cross my arms. “When I first met Jess, I hated her. She reminded me of someone who had hurt me and left me pretty messed up. I told her I didn’t trust her, told her she was an ugly person and implied I hated her.”
Dan’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open.
“Yeah. So, I understand being blinded by bullshit. I was biased and I was mean to her. It was through getting to know her as my neighbour, and as Kristy and Logan’s friend that I realised how wrong I was. I was determined to hold onto my hatred because it was safer, but when I realised how fucked up that was, and how I misjudged her, I felt like shit and I started listening to what she was saying. I genuinely believe we sent an innocent woman to the chopping block.”
She frowns. “And you’re not at all influenced by the fact she’s gorgeous and a model?”
“I’m not influenced by that at all. I’ve just realised Jessica Skyler is beautiful on the inside as she is out the outside.
“Oh, lordy, Granger,” Dani mutters. “You are full of cheese.” She sits down and looks at me curiously. “You really think she’s innocent?”
“I’d bet my life on it, Dan.”
“Knowing you, you’re working on trying to prove it.”
I grin. “You know me well.”
“Well enough,” she mutters. “Tell me what you’ve got so far.”
I fill her in on what I think happened and the small amount of evidence available. The rest is all speculation until we prove it.
“Okay then,” she says after I finish.
“If I say I’ll help you investigate, do you think you we can go into that room together today, united, and sign a contract if they ask us to?”
“You’re seriously going to help me?” I ask. “Why?”
She huffs out a sigh, glancing up at the ceiling and then at me. “Because you were right about me being biased and about me not doing my job properly. And if I did screw up, I owe it to you and to her to try and fix it. Besides…”
“Well,” she looks a little ashamed. “I’ve been keeping my eye on all Casey related news. You know, because it’s interesting and I’ve been supporting her. Girls united and all that…”
“Get on with it, Dan.”
“Anyway, she’s just said a few things that…I don’t know, have rung a few alarm bells for me.”
“Like random stuff here and there. It’s not made any sense at the time, but it would explain a lot if what you said was right.”
“You’re still in contact with her?”
Dan looks sheepish. “Girls united?” she offers again.
“Are you willing to lay down the gender loyalty card and help me out here?”
“Yes. Because despite how much you suck sometimes, and no matter how much you annoy me, or don’t pull your weight-“
“I was going to say you’re a great co-star and this success is as much yours as mine. I don’t want to sign that contract without you.”
She’s smiling at me and I smile back at her. She’s not so bad, Dan, when she’s not being biased and making my life difficult, anyway. Maybe the two of us aren’t done with each other and our show quite yet after all.
One and a half hours later, Dan and I walk out of our meeting with the CEO of Mercury FM – David Burnham – after being offered the promotion. Eddie and Kane are leaving in July, which means we have the second half of the year to take the reins and convince Burnham we’re the best choice to take over. Not even a full year. It’s only a six-month contract. Regardless, Dan and I agreed to sign on the spot, and my co-star is practically floating on air as we walk back into our office.
“This is so awesome,” she says. We need to celebrate.”
“I agree.” I grab my phone when I get back to my desk, ready to message Jess. As soon as I heard the news there was one person I wanted to share it with more than anyone else.
It’s around nine days since we had the conversation that put our friendship back on track. And in that time, living with her has been exactly what I imagined it would be when I first asked her to move in with me. We watch movies together every night, talk every morning. I even went to the gym with her a couple of days this week. The desperate need I feel around her is something I ignore, and I know she’s trying her hardest to do the same.
“Where should we go?” Dan asks.
I type out a message to Jess: Got gr8 news 2day. Celeb8 with me tonight? Then I look at Dan. “Do you want to go clubbing?”
She looks perturbed by the idea and shakes her head.
“Not one for clubbing then. Okay, then there’s this little hole in the wall pub around the corner. I was going to ask some friends to celebrate with us. Do you mind?”
For a moment I expect her to say no, but she looks so happy I’m kind of wigged out. “That’s fine.”
“You look way too happy about it, Dan.”
“Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to invite me out with your friends?”
Now I just feel bad for not doing it earlier. “All right. Good. Guess you’ll meet the gang, then.”
I frown and try not to think about whether that’s a good idea.
Deciding it should be fine, I message Logan, Kyle, and Jamie, letting them know I have news and need to celebrate and where I’ll be celebrating. It’s a Friday night, so I expect they should be up for something. All of them get back to me and say they’re coming. All of them, except for Jess.
I sit there, bouncing my knee up and down, waiting for her to get back to me, aware I have to go on the air soon. Our show starts in five minutes.
Finally, after what feels like hours, but is really only a couple of minutes, I get a text: Great news? Can’t w8 to hear it. Jake wants to take me out 2nite, but I can bail and go out w/ him another time?
I stare at the phone in my hands, wondering why it feels so hard to breathe right now – wondering why I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach.
“Granger, come on. We’ve got to get to the studio.”
I look at Dan, blinking and trying to remember where I am and what I’m doing, and then I look back at my phone and type Jess a response: Go out with Jake. I’ll catch U later.
“Is everything okay?” Dan asks as we start walking towards the studio together.
“It’s fine,” I say, still trying to catch my breath. “I just decided I’m getting really, really drunk tonight.”
Then maybe I’ll stay focused on the fact I’m supposed to be celebrating, and not on the fact Jess is out with a guy who isn’t me.