The further we get away from camp, the tenser I feel. Logan hasn’t said anything, even though he’s the one who wanted to go for this walk. Months ago, I would have been tempted to make small talk, but I’m not going to today. I feel silent and reflective as I contemplate everything that’s happened over the past day or so. The only reason I agreed to take this walk with Logan is because we need to clear the air and have it out. This is a good opportunity to do that, and maybe he’ll tell me why Adam left the campsite before I got back from washing dishes.
I don’t know why Adam didn’t come and talk to me while I was with the girls or at least wait until I got back from washing up to ask me if I want to go with him. Last night, I thought we’d experienced something together – something so deep and special it takes my breath away every time I think about it, but today he was just…gone. As if I wasn’t already worried I’m sinking deeper into feelings he won’t and can’t return.
Logan and I walk up the winding road, and when we get to the very top of the hill, the view is spectacular. There are trees and valleys for miles.
“Beautiful,” I murmur.
“A good place for a conversation,” Logan agrees.
I hope he’s not going to ruin my enjoyment of this view with whatever he’s going to say, but I’m sure he’s probably going to try. That’s okay, I have a few things to say to him, too.
“So let’s talk,” I say.
He motions towards the edge of a cliff. “Should we sit?”
“You’re not going to throw me off, are you?”
“Do you think Kristy, or Adam for that matter, would ever forgive me if I did?”
I don’t find his comment reassuring. “Does that mean you would throw me off it wasn’t for them?”
“I’m not a murderer.”
“How very reassuring.”
He gives me a hard look and I sigh and sit down next to him. “Why are we here, Logan?”
I know we need to talk, but I’m curious as to why he wanted to talk.
“What are your intentions when it comes to Adam?” Logan asks.
“Seriously?” I turn to glare at him. “He doesn’t need you to play father to him. He can take care of himself. He’s twenty-six for goodness sakes.”
Logan merely shrugs and continues to look at me. “He’s my friend and I don’t want to see him get hurt.”
“Let me guess, you think my intentions are to chew him up and spit him out like the shark you seem to believe I am, along with everyone else in this country. Oh no, wait, they don’t think that anymore since the truth came out. It’s just you.”
I’m pissed off, and maybe I’m not being fair, but his comments and his attitude have pissed me off for a while and hurt me and now I want him to know it.
“You know, when you were in Italy, Jess, I had to rescue Kristy from some jerk-off who landed on her doorstep and abused her while he tried to ascertain if there was any chance you’d take him back. And then you came here with Alfie, engaged, only to break up with him – something he didn’t seem to want like you did, for reasons that still leave me bamboozled. My point is that you can’t blame me for worrying about Adam.”
I shake my head, angry with him for having no faith in me. And yet, at the same time I can see why he might think he has a legitimate reason to be worried. I always have been ruthless with men, even if it wasn’t on purpose. I took what I wanted, and even if they agreed to things being a certain way when our relationships started, when I saw things might have become deeper for them, I walked away from them without letting myself go. I refused to experience real intimacy with them the way I have done with Adam. I think part of that reason is because they never made me feel the things Adam did, but I also know I wasn’t ready for anything deeper before my life fell to pieces and I started getting real about who I am.
Adam might have always made me feel things, but I would have avoided him like the plague for that very reason if I was still afraid of intimacy and becoming attached to people. Even when I got back from London, I still wanted to avoid Adam. So, maybe Logan does have the right to ask. They are friends and, unlike everyone else in the country, he actually has evidence to support the fact he thinks I’m a maneater.
I sigh. “Everything is different for me with Adam. Very, very different. I’m surprised Kristy hasn’t told you just how much.”
He snorts. “She’s surprisingly tight lipped about you and Adam. I know she’s rooting for you guys, but she knows I have my doubts so she hasn’t much to me.”
“Logan, you may have been right to have those doubts about me before I went away to London, but I’m a different person to the one I was. And my feelings for Adam are real – as real as anything I’ve experienced before.”
“You care about him?”
“If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear already, yes I care about him. I’m in love with him. Like, crazy-in-love, in-love-for-the-first-time, he-holds-my-heart-in-his-hands-and-he’s-probably-going-to-crush-it-without-even-knowing-about-it in love with him.”
The look of utter shock on Logan’s face is kind of funny, so funny that I cackle. “The shark fell in love.”
“I never thought you were a shark, Jess.”
“Didn’t you? You warned me to stay away from him.”
“And I gave you my reasons for that.”
“You don’t think I’m good enough for him.”
“Now wait a minute,” he protests. “I didn’t say that. Ever. You’re putting words in my mouth. If you remember correctly, the only thing I said to you was, don’t lead him on like you did to Alfie, and you can’t deny you led Alfie on.”
“It wasn’t intentional.”
“But you admit you did.”
“It was a mistake, letting him move here with me. One I’d never make again. I knew early on that things wouldn’t work out between us. I wish now that I’d been much clearer about that before the move, rather than letting things drag on. I wouldn’t let that situation happen again. I’d handle things very differently these days.”
“Good to know, but I didn’t know that before, which is why I said: don’t lead Adam on. I never said you weren’t good enough for him or anything like that. Clearly, you’ve started working yourself up by imagining me saying other things I haven’t actually said, but that’s on you, Jess. What annoys the shit out of me about it is the fact you’ve perpetuated the bullshit by telling Kristy I don’t think you’re good enough for Adam, which I never said! You took something in your mind and ran with it, making Kristy bawl me out for something that never happened and I never thought.”
I stare at him, realising he’s right. He’s never come straight out and said he doesn’t think I’m good enough for Adam, but he has made it clear that he doesn’t approve of me and Adam together. All his little comments…I haven’t needed to say much to Kristy. She could have come to that conclusion on her own. And the only reason I even mentioned it in the first place is because we were talking about it. It wasn’t like I hunted her down to tell her that her boyfriend was being mean to me.
“Maybe I have…blown things out of proportion, and maybe I shouldn’t have turned it into something it wasn’t by mentioning what I thought about your feelings to Kristy,” I admit. “I’m sorry for that. But you have been very vocal about how you feel about the idea of me and Adam being a couple. When we were out celebrating his promotion, you bordered on passive-aggressive and you’ve been snarky and cold with me ever since then.”
For a moment I think he’s going to disagree, but then he surprises me by blowing out a breath. Remorse flickers in his grey eyes before he nods at me. “I have been…a little immature myself, I guess. I could have handled things differently. In all honesty, I haven’t known how to handle things since that article came out. I’m sorry if my actions have upset you.”
“Of course they’ve upset me, Logan. The way you reacted to the article hurt me. A lot. I thought we were friends – something I’ve been very…well, I haven’t really had true friends outside of Kristy since my parents died, but I had come to care about you as both Kristy’s boyfriend and as my friend. When I thought you agreed with everyone else, I didn’t know how to take it. And when you made that comment about Adam and continued to be vocal about it, I really thought you were on the side of the media.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, Jess. My response to the article…If you know anything about my history with the last woman I loved before Kristy, you’d understand why I had that reaction. I’m protective of my relationship Kristy, Jess. And I know how she felt about the idea of you and me. Did you know on the first day I met you, Kristy sat there crying, trying to call things off between us because she was afraid I was going to fall for you?”
I swallow. “No, I had no idea. But of course I knew when we danced together at Shark Bait all those months ago that she still had insecurities about me and her boyfriends, which killed me by the way since I never ever did anything to make them think I was interested.”
“I get that, but I can’t forget that look on her face as she sobbed in my arms and tried to break up with me, believing I’d leave her for you. I know Kristy is a lot more confident now and I’m pretty sure she’s past what happened with her exes. But she was copping shit at work from her co-worker and I didn’t want her to have any reason to believe there was any kind of reciprocation of your feelings on my part. So, if I handled that badly, I’m sorry. My first thought was for Kristy and my relationship with her.”
I can’t help but be moved by the sentiment. Even if he did hurt me, I understand it. I understood it back then to an extent, but hearing him lay it out for me now while we’re both talking and being rational, it helps. And, well, I’d heard her co-worker make comments, too. Obviously, Kristy had said something to Logan and he’d felt the need to put some distance between us.
“Not to mention it was a huge shock for me when the article came out,” he continues. “Contrary to popular opinion, they don’t have manuals for how to handle newspaper articles like that.”
He offers me a smile and I smile back at him.
“I really do adore you and Kristy together, Logan. And I hope that by now you realise I love Kristy as much as you do.”
“When the two of you started crying because you were moving next door, I think I started getting it.”
I nod. “She’s been everything to me since we were sixteen, and I’ve leaned on her very heavily over the years. You could even say I’ve depended on her. It’s been an effort to step away and know you have her back now, but I’m working on it.”
“You know I’ll take care of her, right?”
“I do. I trust you implicitly.”
“Even though I’ve been a jerk?” he asks, nudging my shoulder with his.
“Yes, even though you’ve been a jerk,” I say, nudging him back.
We’re quiet for a moment as I let things sink in, hoping Logan and I are finally starting to repair some of the damage the article about us created. I hate the fact things have been so up and down between Logan and me. I need to put things straight once and for all, so I guess I should probably address the concerns he came up here with.
“So, in answer to your earlier question, Logan, my intentions with Adam are…I want to be with him for as long as I can be. I told him I want a real relationship with him. He’s insisting we keep things casual, though, so it could be all over quite quickly. In which case, I’ll be utterly shattered and heartbroken, but so be it.”
“Have you told Adam how you feel about him, Jess?”
“No, I…I know he doesn’t feel the same way about me and I keep waiting to see if that will change. I’m not sure it ever will.”
And if it doesn’t, should I take the job Naomi told me about yesterday – the one that means moving to another state?
“He cares about you, Jess. Trust me. He cares about you deeply. Even if he hasn’t voiced as much.”
“I know he considers me a friend and he doesn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“It’s more than that for him. Trust me, I’ve never seen him like he was this morning.”
I frown. “What are you talking about?”
“He was in a shitty mood when he got up. I thought it was because you weren’t there. He went to go find you, and when he came back he was in an even worse mood.”
“I…I never saw him while we down at the river. Maybe something else happened.”
“Maybe. But I know he’s got it bad. Whatever this is between you guys, it isn’t just casual for him. If he told you he wants to keep it that way, it’s probably because he’s afraid of getting hurt.”
I’m immediately reminded of my conversation with Adam about Tamara and high school. I’d love to track her down and make her pay. What she did to Adam…I’ve never been so horrified by anyone’s actions before, not even Casey and Karen’s, both of whom conspired to drug Grant and myself. But surely what happened between Tamara and Adam has no bearing on my relationship with him now. He can’t really believe I’d betray him the way she did. I know I look like Tamara, and I know I reminded him of her when we met, but he knows now that I’m nothing like her, doesn’t he? All I want is him. I’m crazy about him. I don’t want to take this job because it means I’ll be away from him.
“I’ve been offered a job,” I tell Logan.
“Another modelling job? Kristy said you weren’t so keen on going back to modelling.”
“No, it’s actually for a media analysis show in Sydney. They want me to be a reporter on their program – you know, report on all the rubbish in the media these days.”
“Wow,” he says with a frown and a glance in my direction. “Sounds like a great opportunity.”
“I don’t want to move to Sydney,” I tell him. “I want to stay here and be with Adam, but…”
“Talk to him, Jess. That’s all I can suggest. You know when Kristy and I first started out, I screwed up big while trying to protect myself, but when she told me she might be thinking about moving away from me, even just to the next town, I knew I didn’t want her to go.”
I smile. “He knows I might move away. Sometimes, I even imagine he wants me to.”
“Nope, I don’t believe that for a moment. The guys can all see he’s into you. You’ve got to talk to him, Jess. Tell him about this opportunity and give him the chance to tell you to stay.”
I breathe out, feeling my heart constrict. “What if he doesn’t?”
“Then I guess I’ll have to mess him up for being an idiot and hurting you.”
I can’t help but laugh. He’s been so convinced Adam is going to be the one hurt. Finally, he knows how I feel and my friendship with Logan is back on track.
“We should head back,” he says, standing up. He offers me his hand, pulling me up when I give it to him. “I’m glad we talked.”
“Friends?” he asks.
“Come here, then,” he pulls me in for a quick friendly hug, and when he releases me and we start walking back towards the camp, I feel lighter. Like our conversation has helped me shake off a bag of bricks I’ve been carrying around with me.
On the way back to camp, we keep talking. About his work, about what I think I might want to do next, and about Kristy and Cricket. By the time we reach the camp, I’m smiling and laughing. Well, until Adam startles the crap out of me my yelling at Kyle and Jamie.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Adam says, throwing cards down on the table in front of him and standing up. “You’re both cheating.”
Logan and I look at each other. “I told you he’s been in a horrible mood. I see breakfast didn’t improve it any. Please put us all out of our misery by finding out what’s wrong.”
I nod, watching Logan walk over to where Kristy is sitting beside the campfire. I watch him put his arms around her, and when she looks up at him, smiles and kisses him passionately, I feel envy stick its fingernails in my gut. I don’t want Logan – if I ever really did. I do, however, want what they have. I want to be with Adam like that. I want to feel that love and have that sort of relationship.
Quickly realising Logan is back, Adam starts looking for me. The moment his gaze finds mine, I feel my heart constrict before racing uncontrollably at the sight of him standing there in jeans, a black jumper and a black beanie that pushes his dark hair over his forehead. I don’t understand why he’s so unhappy. Last night was so good. I thought he’d felt that way, too. I might have fallen asleep before he got back into the tent, but I’d felt him at various times throughout the night, holding me tight and staying close.
“You okay?” he asks, coming over to me and wrapping me in his arms, like he’s missed me in the short time I’ve been away from camp.
My heart bounces at the thought. “I’m okay,” I say, pulling back to look at him. “Are you? When I came back from washing dishes you weren’t here. I thought you might have waited for me so we could go into town together.”
“I’m sorry, I needed some thinking time.”
He needed time alone? Time to think? Maybe last night wasn’t as wonderful as I imagined. Maybe we’ve already reached the end of our relationship, and now he’s just trying to work out how to end it. Not awkward at all since we’re here for two more nights, and we’re sharing a tent.
Feeling ridiculously close to tears, I decide I need to put him out of his misery. “I need to talk to you about something, too, actually.”
He nods soberly, as if already knows we need to talk. My heart hurts with every ragged breath I take.
“Do you feel like taking another walk?” he asks.
Actually, I really don’t. I’m tired and I’m hungry. But I don’t really want to be standing around here, or trying to talk to him in the tent if this is the end for us. If I tell him about the job and he tells me I should go, then there isn’t much left to discuss and I’m going to need a moment to deal with my devastation.
“Maybe we could just walk down to the river,” I suggest.
“Let’s go,” he says, taking my hand, before calling out to everyone at camp that we’d be back soon.
They yell out a few things, none of which I actually hear.
“How was your talk with Logan?” Adam asks as we start walking, my hand still in his.
“Good, I think. We cleared up a lot of things. I told him his reaction to the article upset me, and he explained himself and pointed out some things I’d forgotten. I’d like to think our friendship is back on track. For good this time.”
“So…he didn’t try to warn you off again?” Adam asks seriously as we hit the main dirt road.
“No, why?” I ask as I look at him, forcing a teasing smile to my face. “Are you disappointed?”
He shakes his head. “Of course I’m not disappointed, Jess.”
We walk a little way up the road before we take the exact path to the river I’d used with the girls earlier. Once there, we don’t sit, we just stand there looking at each other.
“You said we need to talk,” he reminds me. “So talk.”
Okay. I cross my arms and try to summon my courage. I can do this. I have to tell him about the job, even though I’m terrified he’ll tell me to take it.
“Yesterday, Naomi got an offer of work for me.”
Instead of the surprise I expect to see on his face, he nods and encourages me to keep going.
“It’s a position on Media Analysis, as a correspondent, reporter and interviewer.”
“Media Analysis,” he says. “That’s a great show.”
“Yeah.” My stomach is in knots, my palms feel clammy and I feel like my heart is going to explode from how fast it’s racing.
“You’d be the ideal addition,” he says. “Especially with what you’ve been through recently. You’re an expert on how the media twists things and the effect those twists have on people. Not to mention, you’d boost the ratings since you’re the sexiest woman in Australia and your life has recently been posted all over social media.”
“That’s pretty much exactly what Naomi said, word for word.”
He’s going to tell me I should take it. I can tell, and my heart hurts so bad I can barely breathe now.
“It’s in Sydney, Adam.”
“The head office and the studio for the show are in Sydney, I know that. And…” he gives me a sheepish smile. “I overheard some of your conversation with the girls earlier.”
“How much?” I ask, horrified. I’m sure I’d been talking to them about how in love with him I am at one stage. Did he hear that?
I guess that explains why Logan said he came to find me earlier, but I never saw him. He was listening to the conversation. God, I hope he didn’t hear that much. Is that why he walked into town? He learned how I feel but he doesn’t feel the same way?
“Just about the job,” he says. “It sounds like you don’t have long to decide. What decision are you leaning towards making?”
“I’m not sure yet,” I say truthfully. If he breaks my heart, Sydney might be the best place for me. “It’s not modelling, and it would be a great opportunity…”
“It would be,” he agrees, nodding. “And if I’m brutally honest, I think you’d be a fool not to take it.”
His words pierce through my heart, stabbing me repeatedly.
“I thought you might say that,” I tell him, amazed I can talk through the pain I feel.
He doesn’t care about me moving to another state. I guess this is it – the end of us. I stare at him, wondering how he can be so unaffected by me when I am so affected by him. The look in his eyes, though, the emotions there and his expression tell me I don’t leave him unaffected. He is feeling something.
“But I don’t want you to go,” he tells me roughly as he reaches out and uncrosses my arms, taking my hands in his. “And I heard you telling the girls earlier that I wasn’t convincing when I told you to stay, but I want nothing more than for you to stay here with me, Jess. I’ve been freaking out over the idea of you leaving. I don’t want you to stay and resent me later, and I don’t want you to make this decision based on what I want. But if you want to know what I want, what I want is you. All of you. And I want more for us, too. I want a proper relationship with you.”
“Like Logan and Kristy have?” I can’t help asking, my heart racing and a smile on my face even though I’m not convinced that what I’m hearing is true.
“Like them, except I think we’d give them a run for their money. Don’t tell them, but I think we could be the better couple.”
I can’t help but laugh at this, putting my hands on either side of his face and dragging his mouth down to meet mine. He tastes divine and I hold onto him tightly as he kisses me. The heat his mouth on mine generates makes me think we’re in danger of starting another fire right where we’re standing. Thank goodness there’s a river beside us.
When he pulls away, we’re both breathless, and his gaze is more intense than I’ve ever seen it. “Jess,” he starts, leaning his forehead gently on mine, “I want this – you and me – more than anything, but I don’t want to stand between you and this opportunity if it’s what you want.”
I totally understand that he doesn’t want to stand in my way, but he isn’t. “Adam you aren’t the reason I’m going to stay. My feelings for you are.” I’m crazy about him and I can’t let go of this opportunity to see where this relationship goes. “I can’t resent you when all I’ve wanted for the past couple of weeks is for you to tell me to stay. This opportunity in Sydney is a good one, but hopefully more will come along – this time in Melbourne.”
“You’re sure this is what’s best for you?” he asks, stroking my cheek with his thumb.
Am I sure that having a real relationship with the first man I’ve fallen in love with is what’s best for me? “Absolutely,” I tell him before bringing his mouth back to mine so we can start a fire all over again.