Four Months Later…
As the taxi pulls up outside the front of my house, I stare at the empty driveway, my heart sinking inside my chest. Kristy and Logan are having a romantic weekend away – plans they made a while back, and they won’t be home until Sunday. Gone are the days when Kristy would rush from work to the airport to pick me up, as desperate to see me after months away from each other as I was to see her.
For so long, our closeness filled a void for both of us. But now Kristy has Logan and his friends. And lately, this fear has been building inside of me – a fear that I’m losing her and that she’s drifting away from me. When she finds out what happened in London…She might hate me as much as I hate myself right now.
While I was in London loneliness got the better of me, and I made a terrible mistake. I hurt people. It turns out Adam Granger was right about me after all – about the ugliness he said was inside of me. Do you know how often that thought has worked its way into my head over the past few days? The man who took an instant dislike to me from the moment we met knew me better than I knew myself. In fact, I’m not sure I know myself at all, anymore.
I need to tell Kristy what happened in London before Adam gets wind of it and spills the news first. Because if that happens, Kristy might realise she doesn’t need me or want my friendship at all.
The thought makes me sick to my stomach. Kristy is all I’ve needed for so long. I can’t lose her.
I pay the cab driver his fare, plus a tip, and then get out of the car.
After he pulls my luggage out of the boot of the taxi, I smile at him. “Thank you…”
“Have a nice day, Howie.”
He grunts and nods, reminding me of just how far off my game I am. Usually, I would have spent the thirty-minute trip asking him about himself and making conversation – charming him, as Kristy would say. I would have looked around the cab for his name and used it within the first minute. But today I haven’t been able to do more than muster a few polite words. And those were a strain.
Howie gets back in the cab and drives away, and I grab the handle of my case and roll it towards the door, taking in the new and colourful garden next to the pathway. Clearly, Kristy, Logan and their friends have been hard at work, weeding the garden and planting flowers. The thought of them here together, without me, sends a streak of jealousy through me. Kristy has a man, a job she loves, and friends. And I have…I don’t even know what I have anymore.
I screwed up everything with one mistake, and even if I deserve to lose everything because of it, I don’t know how to cope with my life crumbling around me.
Reaching for the wall next to our front door, I pull out the red brick we keep our spare key hidden behind. Panic sets in as I realise the space behind the brick is empty.
“Shit. Where did you put the key, K?”
When I spoke to Kristy a couple of days ago to let her know I was coming home, I told her I’d be using the spare key. Did she move it and forget to mention it? And if she did, what am I supposed to do now? Break into my house, or go bug Kristy’s friend, Naomi for assistance? Technically, Naomi is my friend too, but she’s always had more in common with Kristy than with me, and we’ve never been close.
I’m about to go around the back of the house and see if Kristy has left the back door or windows unlocked when I’m distracted by an obnoxiously loud muscle car pulling into Logan’s driveway, next door.
His souped-up V8 Holden rattles the foundations of every house in the street, but the sight of him rattles me even more. He is the last person I want to see right now. In fact, I’d be happy if I never saw him again after the last conversation we had.
The disgust Adam felt for me four months ago is still there in his eyes as he climbs out of the car and rakes his gaze over me. His too-long dark hair is falling over his forehead, underneath a baseball cap pulled down snugly over his head. He’s wearing blue jeans, a black leather jacket, boots, and a white t-shirt. The slight amount of stubble on his jaw and his too-long hair give him a slightly dishevelled look. But he’s got nothing on me. Right now, I’m the queen of dishevelled. The face that has landed me make-up campaigns and perfume adds galore is hardly at its best, leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed.
I should have taken the time to make myself up in the airport bathroom like I usually do, but I was too desperate to go home – too desperate to escape the rest of the world and take refuge from the media storm I know is headed my way.
“Be quiet, Cricket!” Adam yells at Logan’s fence, bringing my attention to the dog I haven’t heard until now.
It’s got to be Kristy’s dog that I can hear whining. Adam is probably here to feed him while Kristy and Logan are away. Though, I’m not sure why the dog is staying at the empty property next door instead of at home.
“Jess,” Adam says, walking towards me.
“You’re the one looking after Cricket while they’re away?”
“I pulled the short straw.”
“If it’s inconvenient for you, I can take care of him until they get back tomorrow. It will save you from coming over again.”
Cricket had belonged to my aunt and uncle before they gave him to Kristy seven months ago. He knows me, and I won’t have any trouble taking care of him. More importantly, it means I won’t have to see Adam again this weekend.
A smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Kristy didn’t tell you, did she?”
“Tell me what?”
He shakes his head, but there’s a warm smile on his face. That smile is for Kristy, not me. He’s always had a soft spot for her. Logan told me so once. Not that I needed him to when it’s so obvious.
“My lease ended a month ago, and Logan suggested I rent his place instead of looking for somewhere else. It made sense. He and Kristy are happy shacking up together; it’s wasteful for a perfectly decent house to sit unused.”
“You’re my new neighbour?”
My voice comes out sounding strangled, which is hardly surprising considering the amount of blood that is rushing through me. My ears are buzzing, and I feel like I might faint any tick of the clock. Logan and Kristy are settled in the house that I am still – on paper – leasing with Kristy. That, I was prepared for. That, I was okay with. But I am not okay with Adam living next door.
And I’m not okay with the fact Kristy never mentioned it before, either. I know me coming home was sudden and unexpected, but she still should have said something.
Okay, so every time Kristy brought up Adam while I was away, I stayed silent or tuned out, however, she still should have told me.
Adam’s dark blue gaze reveals how amusing he finds my discomfort. “Aren’t you going to welcome me to the neighbourhood by inviting me in for tea and scones?”
Not a chance. “I don’t even know how I’m supposed to get inside yet. The spare key isn’t where I thought Kristy was going to leave it.”
“That’s because she gave it to me.”
He opens his palm and shows me what he’s holding. Finally, the mystery of the missing key is solved.
I raise my eyes to meet his. “I told her I’d let myself in.”
“Kristy wanted to be here to welcome you home, but she couldn’t because of their getaway.”
“So what, she sent you in her place?” I scoff.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it? I mean, we can’t stand each other, yet she thinks I’m a good substitute for a welcoming committee.”
Before he accused me of chasing my best friend’s boyfriend, I would never have said I couldn’t stand him. I avoided him, yes. I felt uncomfortable around him and wary of his presence. Now, however, I dislike him as much as he dislikes me.
“So why did you agree?” I ask, taking the key from him.
A fission of energy shoots up my arm and down my spine as my fingers skate across his palm. Huh. Who would have thought hate could cause such a shocking physical reaction?
I ignore the irregular beat of my heart and promptly turn around to unlock the front door.
“Kristy has this bizarre idea that if she forces us to interact, we’ll end up being friends.”
I can hear the warmth in his voice as he talks about her. And after opening the front door, I turn back to confirm he is wearing that same smile from earlier – the one full of affection.
“She’s deluded,” I say.
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“I could never be friends with such a complete arsehat.”
“And I could never be friends with someone who would jump her friend’s boyfriend at first opportunity.”
I’m jetlagged, my whole world has been turned upside down this week, and I’ve just found out the man who despises me is my neighbour. All I want to do is walk inside my house and slam the door in his face. After I tell him to go screw himself. But I can’t afford to. Not now. There’s too much at stake. I need Adam to back off for a bit. I need time with Kristy – time to tell her about everything that happened in London before she hears it from someone else.
Resisting the urge to lash out at him, I take a deep breath and step into the house, only then turning around to face him again.
He crosses his arms, making him appear completely unreceptive, but I need to make him understand how much my friendship with Kristy means to me.
“Did you know that when I was sixteen, my mother and father died in a car accident?” I ask, swallowing past the lump in my throat and blinking away the tears stinging my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says reluctantly, his features softening slightly.
Thank God. He’s not a robot.
“The year that followed was the worst of my life,” I continue. “My aunt offered to take me, but she didn’t really want me. She’d just given birth to my cousin at the time, and he was sick. She didn’t have the energy to look after a sixteen-year-old girl.”
I can see the questions growing in his eyes.
“When Kristy told her parents about what was happening, she begged them to let me live with them while I finished high school.”
“And they agreed?” he guesses.
“They’d always had a soft spot for me, but it was a big ask. It wasn’t as if I would just be staying with them for just for a week, or even a month. Still, they said yes and took me in. And for the last eighteen months of high school, and even longer, Kristy shared her home and parents with me. Do you understand what I’m trying to say, Adam?”
“That now you expect her to share her boyfriend with you, too?”
I’ve just shared the most devastating event of my life with this man, and he’s deliberately choosing to misunderstand me. His hatred for me is a mountain too steep to climb. Especially now, when I’m so tired and I’ve run out of energy.
I start shutting the door. “Goodbye, Adam.”
He puts his foot in the doorway, preventing me from closing it all the way. “I’m sorry,” he says reluctantly. “I wasn’t expecting all that, and I was…unsympathetic.”
“You think?” I snap. I’m never short with people. Ever. But Adam gets under my skin in a way no one else does. “Kristy is more than just my best friend. She’s my sister and my family in every way that matters. I’d rather kill myself than hurt her.”
“You’re saying you’d never act on your feelings for Logan?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
He smiles, and it takes me a moment to realise why he’s so smug. He’s caught me. Trapped me in his web. Thanks to my fatigue and my desperation to make him see I pose no threat, I just admitted to having feelings for Logan. As far as I know, Adam never told Kristy about his concerns surrounding Logan and I, but what are the chances he’ll stay silent now?
If I lie and try to cover my tracks, he’ll never believe me. The truth is out, and I’m exposed and at his mercy. I can only hope that if I give Adam the truth – if he sees me being honest and I explain I’m over it – it might buy me enough time to talk to Kristy first and tell her about everything. Including my reason for leaving Melbourne, and my attraction to Logan.
I force myself to meet Adam’s gaze and silently ask for courage. “I never chased him. I would never have made a move on him. Ever. It doesn’t matter how much I liked him. And yes, I’ll admit I liked him. I was attracted to him before I left the country, but I’m over it now.”
While I was gone, I realised it wasn’t Logan I desired so much as the closeness and intimacy he shared with Kristy that I was lusting after. But I’m over it. There’s a reason I’ve always kept my distance from the opposite sex. I don’t want intimacy. Even if the thought of a relationship appealed to me for a brief moment in time, it doesn’t any longer. Especially not after everything that happened with Grant in London.
“Really?” Adam asks sceptically. “Just like that? Your feelings are a thing of the past?”
“Yes. And now that I’ve bared my soul to you, despite the fact you’ve never given me one good reason to or said one nice word-“
“Do you need kind words from me, princess? I figured you had quite enough of those from everyone else.”
“Forget nice words, then. Maybe you could just make an effort to be civil.”
“I think I’ve been very civil this morning, don’t you?”
“If questioning my loyalty to my friends counts as civil, then yes, I guess you have been.”
“See?” He shrugs. “Totally civil.”
“Adam, can you just…” I struggle to find the best words. “Please, can you give me the benefit of the doubt? Can we at least try and get along? For Kristy’s sake?”
Adam studies me intensely before giving me a slight, cursory nod. “For Kristy’s sake,” he agrees. “But if I see anything that makes me question your feelings for Logan…”
“I get it,” I say coolly. “You’ll be watching me.”
He grins – a wide grin, the likes of which he’s never aimed at me in the time we’ve known each other. “Lucky me, I have the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on things.”
And with that, he strides back to Logan’s house – which I suppose I should now start calling Adam’s house – throwing me a final knowing look over his shoulder before unlocking the door and walking inside.
I shut my front door and lean against it. Adam Granger is my next door neighbour.
Honestly, I’d rather live next door to the devil.