“You know I love you. I’m just not sure this is a good idea,” Kristy says, returning to the kitchen after taking Logan his coffee.
I haven’t told Kristy what happened between Adam and me last night, but I haven’t needed to. She’s my best friend. She’s guessed what went down.
“I know everything is a mess for you right now,” Kristy continues. “And Adam has become a good friend, but you have to know that starting something with him could end badly for him and you.”
And Logan and Kristy. I got that. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know, K.”
Kristy rubs her forehead while looking at me. Her expression is full of confusion, but also something that looks a little like disappointment. “You’re like a sister to me, and I’ve always got your back.”
“Then please have my back right now. I need your support.”
I don’t think I can take it if she says she agrees with Logan about me and Adam.
“Jess…” she shakes her head. “You’re my friend, but so is Adam. I’m worried about what will happen when you end things.”
I inhale deeply, then let it out slowly. She has good reason to worry, I can’t deny that. I’ve ended every relationship I’ve ever been in. And while many have ended amicably, not all have. If there’s a fall-out between Adam and I, it’s going to spill over onto on Kristy and Logan.
And I haven’t shared my feelings about Adam with Kristy because she might tell Logan about them; I haven’t wanted her to feel like she has to choose sides.
“I don’t want to see Adam get hurt,” Kristy says. “You can have any man in the world. You even went on a date with Jake Cantrell last night. Do you really have to start something with Adam?”
Her voice is pleading. Never has Kristy come right out and asked me for anything, and she’s never asked me not to date a guy. I have a feeling, however, that that’s what she’s doing right now.
“Just…please. Please think about what you’re doing.”
The distressed expression on her face slays me. I might have been her best friend for years, but Adam has become one of her dear friends and she doesn’t want to see him hurt. I understand it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cut me to the quick. Have I been so cold to men in my past that she thinks I’d set out to date her friend and mess with his heart?
“Have you spoken to Logan about this? Did he tell you he warned me off Adam?”
“Because I’m a man-eater and all?” I ask bitterly.
“I don’t…” she breaks off, shaking her head while looking lost for words. “I don’t think you’re a maneater. Surely you know me better than that. And if Logan has said something like that…Well, I’m surprised and really annoyed with him right now. Any guy would be lucky to be with you. You’re out of all their leagues as far as I’m concerned. It’s just that you never, ever care for them, Jess. And while some of them don’t mind, others end up getting hurt.”
I sigh, understanding what she’s saying completely, and relieved she doesn’t agree with Logan about Adam doing much better than me.
“Trust me, it’s not Adam who will end up hurt,” I tell her.
She sits down at the small table wedged in the corner of the kitchen without taking her eyes off me. “What are you talking about, Jess?”
“I’m in love with him, K.”
Kristy looks shocked. She opens her mouth and then closes it again. “I don’t believe it. You…you’ve never fallen in love with them before.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I…have you told him?”
“No. God, no. It was hard enough telling him I wanted a real relationship with him.”
This morning, Naomi told me I should be honest with Adam about what I want from him, and I had been. Even though it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I might have chickened out in the beginning of our conversation, but I still came out and said what I needed to in the end. I’ve never been so honest with myself or others about who I am and what I want.
Not only am I the more honest and straightforward version of myself these days, but I feel like I’m real and authentic in a way I’ve never been.
Kristy sits forward in her chair. “What did he say? When you told Adam that you wanted a real relationship?”
I breathe out. “He said he wants to keep it casual.”
“Oh,” Kristy says, looking so disappointed it’s almost as if she’s now rooting for Adam and I to get together.
“He doesn’t want a relationship. He tried to tell me that. He’s okay with something casual, and he said we’ll see where it goes.”
Of course, Adam has every right to be cautious. We haven’t been friends for all that long, we’re living together, and the last thing we should do is rush into something. I know this. But there’s this part of me that wants to dive off the edge of the cliff with Adam and go all-in with him.
Kristy frowns. “He does always tend to favour one night stands.”
But if it had been Kristy who asked him for a relationship, would he still have insisted on keeping things casual? She’s the one woman he said could change his mind about how crappy relationships are. If it had been her instead of me…
My heart twists painfully in response to my line of questioning.
“So, I guess this will be just as casual as all my other relationships.”
I was striving for flippant with my comment, but flippant is the last thing I feel. Adam doesn’t want things to be weird when we’re not together anymore? My feelings will make things weird for both of us if he learns of them.
And how long can I hide them from him? When have I ever been able to hide anything from that man?
“Jess,” Kristy starts. “You know Logan and I started off sort of the same way. He was insistent he didn’t want anything more than sex, but…with time sometimes these things change.”
“Logan fought what was between you because he didn’t want to betray the memory of his dead fiancée,” I remind her. “Adam doesn’t have a dead fiancée.”
Though he does have a solid reason for not believing in happy relationships. His parents tore each other apart from the sounds of it.
“Just…give it time, Jess.”
I force a smile. “I’ll have to.”
I’ve always liked to be in control of everything, and my feelings for Adam terrify me, yet I’m ready to throw myself headfirst off a cliff and into a relationship. I’m just not sure I’m capable of holding back and being cautious with Adam. The emotions overwhelmed me last night, like water sucking me below the surface. That feeling of drowning was scary as hell, yet I can’t deny I want to experience it all over again.
“Hey, I remembered some stuff about that night,” I tell Kristy suddenly.
“Which night?” she frowns. After a moment, recognition dawns “Oh, that night. What did you remember?”
I fill my friend in on what I remembered and she, like Adam, is happy I’m going to do some digging into what happened.
“And then you’ll be out of here once again, I guess,” Kristy says.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to be a model anymore.”
Earlier, Adam mentioned me going back to work – back to modelling, specifically. The idea should have thrilled me, but being stripped of my career and reputation – falling to pieces and putting myself back together again – it’s changed me. And the thought of sitting in front of a camera again, selling an idea or an image…it doesn’t call to me the way it did.
I don’t know what I want to do now, in the same way I’m not sure who I am anymore, but I’m not convinced modelling is something that will make me happy. Before now, my life has been about the superficial – I don’t want to hide behind a glossy façade anymore. Now, I want to go deeper. I feel deeper.
“I know. It’s a surprise to me, too.”
“What will you do if you don’t go back to modelling?”
“I don’t know yet.”
But I need to figure that out.
In the days that follow my conversation with Adam regarding our relationship, I make lists of all the things I might want to do other than modelling. I also end my contract with my agency. They said they would permit me to sign with Naomi’s company, however a percentage of everything I earn during the next two years – the length of the contract I’ve just escaped – will go to them.
Yesterday – Tuesday – I signed with Naomi officially, and she took me out for a business lunch, during which we toasted our blossoming business relationship with champagne. She’s optimistic she’ll have me a job for me soon. Though, what kind of job it is remains to be seen.
When I’m not at the station, helping Adam and Dani track down leads to the events of that night with Grant, I’m at home. There, it’s too easy to think about Adam when he’s not around. And when he is around…well, we spend a lot of our time in the bedroom. Four mornings in a row we haven’t gotten out to bed before twelve.
At least, I’m sleeping better than I have in weeks.
On Wednesday, I decide to clean the house because I’m restless. I’m in the middle of scrubbing the shower down when my phone rings. I grin when I see it’s Adam calling. Despite the fact I was in his office less than a couple of hours ago, I’m ridiculously pleased to hear from him.
“Hey, shouldn’t you be working?” I ask, trying to keep my voice as casual as possible. After all, that’s what we are – casual. So far, Adam doesn’t seem to have any idea how I feel about him. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
“Yeah. Jess, one of other DJs just came in and handed me a magazine they got from the supermarket today.”
Something in his voice makes my stomach feel as if it has just been filled with lead. “It’s the picture of us, isn’t it?”
“You & Me is the magazine that came up with the goods.”
Great. “What’s the headline?”
He hesitates, and I know it’s bad. After a beat, he speaks in a voice which is so soft I have to strain to hear him. “Is Mercury FM’s hottest interviewer Jessica Skyler’s latest victim?”
I run a hand over my face before walking into the lounge room to sit down, my legs feeling a little wobbly.
“I didn’t want to ruin your evening, but I thought you should know.”
“Are you going to be okay? Do you want me to come home?”
“No, stay. You’re working. I’m fine.”
Actually, I’m mad as hell right now. I can handle the headlines about me. There have been enough of them over the past month; I’m starting to get used to it. But I’m furious Adam has been dragged in this media cyclone now, too.
“I’m sorry, Adam. I never wanted your name dragged into this mess.”
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “I’m only worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” I reassure him. “I’m just angry that they’re mentioning you and me together and drawing the wrong kind of conclusion about you.”
He will never be my victim. He can’t be when he’s the one who has the power to crush me.
“You know what they say?” he chuckles. “All publicity is good publicity. I have no problem declaring to the world that we’re seeing each other. You know that, right? You said you want to keep things on the down low, but if you hadn’t, I’d have told all my listeners I’m with you.”
“Even though we’re a casual thing?” A thing he’s convinced will end the moment I get another job.
I’ve dropped a few comments over the past few days about staying here – about not going overseas anymore and not taking another modelling contract. But he shrugs off everything I say. I can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t believe me, or because he doesn’t want to think it’s true. Maybe he’s just planning on enjoying what we have and then letting me go.
If I stayed in Melbourne, would he be disappointed or happy? Is he counting on me being gone so he can go back to his one-night stands? Is that the only reason he even agreed to have a relationship with me in the first place?
“I’m proud to be with you, Jess. I’m proud to know you and be your friend,” he says.
The warmth behind his words takes some of the sting out of the thought he only agreed to this relationship because he thinks I’ll be leaving sometime soon.
“That’s nice to hear,” I say softly.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Yes,” I tell him decisively. “I made a mistake. Even if I didn’t sleep with Grant – which hopefully we’ll prove – I made a mistake by spending time with him. But plenty of people make mistakes every day. I wish they’d quit banging on about mine. Aside from that, I’m fine.”
“That’s my girl.”
Somehow, those three words from Adam carry me through the afternoon. I hold them close to my chest, remembering them every time I feel angry or sorry for myself.
And when the clock hits six o’clock, I sit down with my dinner and turn on the radio so I can listen to Adam and Dani’s show. Today, they’re interviewing a musician who was caught in an avalanche. He tells them about the songs he made up while he was out there, stuck under the ice. Several of those songs are currently topping the chart on iTunes.
It’s a great interview, and I can’t stop smiling as Adam and Dani ask questions that make them two of the best radio journalists in the business.
Not that I’m biased at all.
Once the interview ends, Dani and Adam have a dialogue about disasters and the good things that can come out of them, then they invite listeners to call in with their stories.
“Hi, my name is Katie,” says the first caller. She sounds a little young, like fourteen or fifteen, but I suppose disasters don’t discriminate based on age.
“Hi Katie,” Dani says. “Tell us about the disaster you’ve experienced and what came out of it.”
“Actually, I have a question for Adam.”
I can’t say why my heart starts racing, but it does. From the pause on air, I wonder if Dani and Adam are having a similar reaction.
“What’s your question, Katie?” Adam asks.
“Are you really dating Jessica Skyler?”
I stop breathing and hold onto the edge of the table as wait for the answer.
“Well, this is right off topic, but thanks for your question. I’m not dating Jessica Skyler,” Adam says.
Despite the fact that I asked Adam to keep things on the down low between us, and despite the fact he told me he’ said he’d be happy to let the public know about our relationship – casual or not – I don’t like hearing him deny we’re together.
You have no one to blame but yourself.
“Oh, thank God,” Katie says in a rush. “She’s such a back-stabbing bitch with the way she went about sleeping with Grant Glendon. And you’re so hot. You deserve so much better than her.”
I stand up, suddenly having a surge or energy and adrenaline that makes it impossible to sit still. A girl just called me a backstabbing bitch on air. If that’s not bad enough, she said Adam deserves better. Now, I’m not going to let the opinion of some girl make a difference to my life, but her comment has reminded me that Adam’s star has kept rising while mine has been sliding downhill. If I do stay in Melbourne – and especially if I give up the modelling – will we grow apart as he becomes more famous?
“I might not be dating Jessica, Katie, but she is one of my best friends and she’s one of the best people I know. Next caller.”
I’m sure Adam and Dani hang up on Katie before she can say anything else, but she’s not the only person ringing in with questions about my relationship with Adam. Everyone seems to want to weigh in, despite the fact Adam just told everyone we’re not together.
“Austin,” Dani says with some irritation, “please tell me you have some kind of disaster story for us.”
“Sorry, Dani,” Austin says. “First-time caller, long-time listener. By the way, I love the show.”
“Thanks,” she murmurs. “And I wanted to give Adam a piece of advice. Run, my friend. Run away from that woman. Girls like her will use you up and spit you out, without a shred of remorse. Bros before hoes, right?”
“Thanks for your opinion,” Dani says, not sounding thankful at all.
Having heard enough, I’m about to reach over and turn the radio off when there’s a pause on air. My hand hovers over the button as I wait to hear something – anything.
“We have a special caller right now,” Dani says. “Someone who can weigh in on the current conversation with a lot more knowledge.”
I stand there, waiting. Dreading who they’re talking about. Is it Casey again? No, surely, Adam would have warned me. And Dani has been so helpful. I can’t imagine she’s set something up again.
“Karen, is this you?” Dani asks.
“Yes. Hello, Dani. Hello, Adam.”
“Karen, can you give us your last name, please?” Adam asks.
“Malua. My name is Karen Malua. I was Jessica’s co-host in London.”
“Do you have some information you’d like to share with us, Karen?” Adam asks carefully.
“Yes, I do. Casey set the whole thing up.”
“What do you mean, she set the whole thing up?” Dani asks.
“It was her suggestion and her idea to drug Grant and Jessica and make it look like they had sex that night. Grant and Casey were on the verge of divorce, and Grant had just been given proof that Casey was cheating on him. Because of her affairs, she was only entitled to a million dollars if Grant was faithful. But if he cheated, too, she was entitled to half of everything.”
What the…? I want to get on the phone and talk with Karen myself. Of course, what Karen just described was what Adam suspected all along, but hearing it like this…
The whole scandal is unfolding live on the air.
“I don’t understand,” Dani says. “Casey was cheating on Grant? Why didn’t she just divorce his arse? Her father is one of the wealthiest men in Britain. Surely, she didn’t need the cash.”
“Alvin is bankrupt.”
I wish I could see the faces of everyone listening. I can’t believe it. This was all a setup. All for money. I didn’t sleep with Grant. I thought I hadn’t, but now I knew for sure.
“Why, Karen? Why are you telling us?” Adam asks. “And why now?”
“I heard the things people are saying about Jessica, and I hate the thought she’s suffering because of Casey’s greed.”
Like I’d ever believe that. Karen has known about what happened for months – has probably seen the articles and perhaps even whispered a few ideas to the people in the tabloids in the hopes of them slamming me.
“Jessica was always nice to me,” Karen goes on. “She was kind and I liked her.”
Another lie. Karen made it clear she resented my spot on the show and wished it was hers.
“Then why on earth would you let someone drug her?” Adam asks. His voice is as cold as I’ve ever heard it. There’s an edge to it that actually scares me. “What kind of person allows that?”
“I caught Casey in the act, but…she blackmailed me into keeping it a secret. But tonight, I listened to everyone saying such horrible things about Jessica, and I realised I had to speak up.”
I don’t believe her for a minute. And why was she listening in from London?
“You do understand what you did was a crime and an offence?” Adam asks.
“I know I’ll have to pay the price. So will Casey.”
There’s something in her words that makes me think that this is why she’s calling in. She wants Casey to pay for something. I just don’t know what.
“Thank you for sharing this with us, Karen. I wish you all the best,” Dani says, ending the phone call.
I breathe out a sigh as Adam and Dani sign off from their show. They went over their standard two hours tonight because of Karen’s call; they couldn’t very well stop it halfway through. And I’m so grateful for the time they’ve spent looking into this for me. A lot of what Karen said tonight had to be lies, but what she’s admitted may begin to restore my reputation.
A few minutes after I’ve turned off the radio, Adam calls me again.
“Did you hear it?” he asks as soon as I pick up.
“I heard it all,” I tell him.
“You’re in the clear now, babe. This is just the beginning. I’ll be home soon and we can celebrate the influx of job offers you’re about start receiving again, okay.”
I say something that I hope sounds enthusiastic. But while I’m glad Karen called the show tonight to shed light on what happened, I still don’t know what I’m going to do with all those offers that might come in. And, just as importantly, I still don’t know if Adam will ever want more than this casual relationship we’re in. I want this thing between us to be more, but if he decides he doesn’t…sticking around might be painful for me. If I get an offer that takes me away, do I go or do I stay?