“What’s going on, Jess?”
Kristy’s question as I bring the last of the dinner dishes into the kitchen shouldn’t surprise me. The atmosphere had been downright tense over dinner, everyone trying to force a conversation which had been an absolute fail. Yet I’m unprepared for how her question affects me. At least, I’m unprepared for the surge of emotion that hits me square in the chest as Kristy’s eyes search my face worriedly. It takes every one of my internal resources not to give into the tears which have been threatening all evening.
I can’t remember the last time I cried. I know I cried the day my parents died, and then every day for a year. After that, I thought I was done. I told myself that nothing could be as painful or as devastating as losing two people I loved, and I cut everything out of my life that had the potential to hurt me. Everything except for Kristy. I allowed myself one person to love and hold on to. Just one. And Adam’s comments don’t hurt like the death of my parents did. Not at all. But, I just…they do hurt. Worse still, his opinion of me threatens my friendship with Kristy.
This afternoon I convinced myself that Adam disliked me because of his unrequited feelings for Kristy. I thought he’d projected his guilt and anger onto me. But I was wrong. Not only is Adam accepting of his feelings for my friend, but Logan already knows about those feelings. Meaning, I have no leverage against Adam. Nothing to hold over his head. The fear that he’s going to say something to Kristy that will make her re-think her friendship with me is worse than the fear my career might be over. She’s been all I’ve needed for so long. All I thought I’d need. Now I see what a mistake it was to hold onto her so tightly. She has Logan, and it’s past time I let her go and give her the space she needs to live her life. I must tell her about London and the crush I had on Logan before she hears it from Adam.
And when she knows everything…Well, she doesn’t need me anymore, so why would she want me in her life?
Tears blur my eyes, and I can only see the outline of my friend. Thank the heavens, Logan asked Adam to help him with something in the shed. It means the two of them aren’t here to see me breaking down.
“Jess, say something,” Kristy says urgently. “You’re starting to scare me.”
“I have some stuff I need to tell you, but this isn’t the right time. Can we talk tomorrow?”
I’m ready to blurt out everything about London and my crush on Logan now. This is the first time I’ve been alone with Kristy since she arrived home from her weekend away, and if I say something now, I’ll get in before Adam does. But I don’t want to rush this conversation. Explaining everything to her will take time.
“Of course we can talk tomorrow,” Kristy says, putting her arms around me. “But you’re still scaring the crap out of me. You’re not dying, are you?”
“It feels like it,” I say with a laugh-sob. “But I’m not.”
“I’m sorry I invited Adam over for dinner,” Kristy says, her voice full of remorse. “I know you two don’t get along that well. Even if I don’t understand why, I shouldn’t have pushed it.”
“Adam and I will never be friends, K. I don’t think we’re even capable of getting along.”
I pull away, sniffle, and try to appear as if I have my act together.
Kristy shakes her head, disbelievingly. “But everyone likes you and gets along with you. You’re…you.”
I force a smile for my friend, knowing she means well. Kristy’s low self-esteem has always ensured she sees everything that’s right with me and everything that’s wrong with her. How many times has she deferred to me over the years, allowing me to take charge of things and to make decisions for both of us because she lacked confidence in herself? And I let her do it because there was a part of me that wanted her to need me the way I need her.
What kind of person does that? What kind of person allows their best friend to put themselves down and out? How could I let Kristy forget how capable she is? Telling my friend that she’s awesome doesn’t undo the fact that I’ve confirmed her doubts in herself by letting her lean on me.
And now that she’s not leaning on me, she’s blossoming. I should have pulled away before now. She would have gone from strength to strength without me around. I’ve been holding her back because I needed her.
“I guess it was bound to happen at some point – someone disliking me.” The weight squeezing my chest is heavy, and my throat is so tight I can barely talk. “No one is liked by everyone, are they?”
“You are,” Kristy says adamantly.
“Not by Adam.”
“Then there’s something wrong with him.”
Her utter conviction would make me laugh any other day. “He likes you and Logan,” I remind her.
Does Kristy know just how much Adam cares for her? I don’t know, but it’s not my place to tell her. I won’t interfere in her friendship with him. She deserves every friend she has in her life – every person who loves her and cares for her.
The sound of the front door opening makes me stand up straighter and take a deep breath. The men are back.
“Babe, I can’t find that box you want,” Logan yells from the front door. “Can you come and point out the one you’re talking about?”
Kristy eyes me warily. “Will you be okay for a sec?”
“I’ll be fine.”
As soon as she leaves, taking Cricket with her, I start doing the dishes. I’d prefer to disappear into my bedroom rather than clean up, but I can’t leave Kristy with a dirty kitchen after she spent so many hours preparing a meal. I might not have been able to taste much of the dinner she made as I sat across from Adam, avoiding his gaze, but I’m sure it would have tasted great if I’d had an appetite. I owe it to my best friend to wash up.
I’ve only put one clean dish on the dishrack when someone walks into the kitchen. Goosebumps prick the back of my neck as I feel them watching me, and I know without turning around that it’s Adam. Damn it, why isn’t he still in the shed helping Logan and Kristy?
I see him pick up a tea-towel out the corner of my eye. “You’re a guest. Leave the dishes. They can air-dry.”
My voice is clipped and unfriendly. We might have agreed to be civil, but I can’t pretend Adam is just any other person. There’s something too personal about the dislike he feels towards me. And I’m still too hurt to be able to hide it the way I’d like to.
“I insist,” he says, going to pick up the only dish in the dishrack.
I sigh. “If you must help, then there are clean tea-towels in the bottom drawer. Would you mind using one of those, please?”
He puts the dish-cloth down on the bench and reaches into the bottom drawer for a clean one, and I go back to washing dishes, doing my best to ignore the man beside me.
“We never finished our conversation from earlier,” he starts after a minute of tense silence.
“Didn’t we? I’m pretty sure nothing else needs to be said.” I swallow. “We don’t like each other, and that’s fine. We don’t have to be friends. Being civil is enough.”
“But you asked me why, and I feel like I should answer.”
I keep my hands busy in the sink, scrubbing unnecessarily at the plate in my hands. I know exactly which unanswered question Adam is referring to and I’m not going to play dumb and pretend I don’t. I just need to decide whether I can stand here and listen to him share the reason he dislikes me so much. On the one hand, shooting myself in the foot might be less painful, but on the other hand, at least I’ll know why he hates me instead of constantly guessing.
I glance at him quickly. “I wouldn’t want to put you out, but if you feel as if you must answer the question, proceed.”
Adam shoots me a wry grin. “With extreme caution?”
“Are you capable of caution, Adam? We are talking about the same thing, aren’t we? You’re going to expand on why you hate me.”
“I told you, I don’t hate you. But you do remind me of someone.”
“Someone you didn’t like, presumably.”
“Oh, I liked her. To begin with. She was beautiful, popular, and friendly. Everyone thought butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, wanted to be her friend, or date her. You accused me of having something against beautiful girls, and I’d say I do have a bit of prejudice. Knowing that girl and seeing what she was capable of made me understand that beautiful people aren’t always attractive on the inside.”
“So, you hate anyone you consider beautiful?” I ask, barely holding onto my temper at how unfair he’s being.
“No, but being beautiful in this world means you can get away with a lot more. You can treat people atrociously, and everyone looks the other way.”
“I don’t treat people atrociously,” I tell him.
“You treat people like they don’t matter to you. That’s just as bad.”
I stop scrubbing the already clean dish in my hands and turn to face him. “You think people don’t matter to me?”
“I’m certain of it. You’re cool and distant with everyone, uninterested in getting to know anyone or connect with them. I’ve watched you flirt, smile, laugh and agree your way through shit-loads of conversations, never deigning to offer up anything of yourself before you move onto the next person as soon as you can. It’s like you just patronise everyone by appearing friendly, getting their adoration and compliments before walking away from them. They’re nothing but a way to inflate your ego and an audience you can manipulate.”
“Wow,” I choke.
Reminding myself that I invited his honesty, I try to breathe through the ache reverberating through my chest. He sees me as an ice machine. Princess, he calls me, and now I understand why. He thinks my choice to let in only Kristy makes me cold and calculating. And he probably thinks I haven’t let Kristy in, either. More than likely, he thinks I’m using my best friend. Manipulating her and using her as an ego-boost.
“Am I wrong?” Adam asks.
Is there any point telling him that he is? He’s never going to believe me. And how wrong is he, exactly? Aside from Adam, no one except Kristy elicits a response from me. I don’t let people in. I’m not interested in anything more than superficial relationships with people. No one knows me well. Even Kristy doesn’t know me as well as she could because she sees me the way she wants to see me instead of as I am. It seems as if the only person who sees me clearly is the man beside me.
And he despises me for it.
He’s still waiting for me to answer him, but I don’t know what to say. I can’t tell him he’s wrong when he’s not. Nor can I stand here and say he’s right about me being such a horrible, emotionless robot.
“You’ve made up your mind about me, Adam. Nothing I say will change your opinion of me.”
“Are you saying you’re not like that? That people do matter to you?”
“Kristy matters. I’d give my life for hers at the drop of a hat. Logan is also important to me because he makes her happy, and because he’s a great guy. And I also care about Kristy’s parents, although to a lesser degree.”
I’d made the conscious decision to keep an emotional distance from Kristy’s mum and dad, no matter how welcome they made me in their home.
“Outside of them…” I start as I begin washing the dishes again. “No one comes close. I guess you’re right in that respect. However, I never set out to use anyone, and manipulation is the farthest thing from my mind when I talk to people.”
But does that mean I’m not guilty of it, does it?
In Adam’s eyes, I am. In his eyes, I am a horrible person. And seeing myself through his eyes…I can’t help but wonder if maybe I am. At least when I believed Adam was a hypocrite who projected his feelings onto me, I could convince myself that he didn’t have a good reason to dislike me. That the ugliness he saw was inside of me was just his own reflection. But that isn’t the case. Knowing what happened in London, and knowing how much better off Kristy has been without me here…Well, I’ve never been less sure of who I am.
“That’s more honesty than I gave you credit for,” Adam says.
“Despite what you think about me, I am capable of being honest.”
Adam stares straight at me until I stop what I’m doing and look at him.
Uncertainty casts a shadow over his face. “I guess I’m relieved to hear you say no one besides Kristy matters. I would have felt sorry if I was wrong about everything and you did care what I thought. I’d hate to think I hurt your feelings before.”
I try very hard to smile, but the corners of my mouth refuse to tilt up at the corners. “Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t hurt me, Adam. Your opinion means very little to me, remember?”
What was the point in letting Adam know his words had hurt? I mean, they shouldn’t have hurt me. They definitely shouldn’t have sliced through me the way they did. It’s much better to let Adam believe I don’t care what he thinks, even if the sad and strange reality is that for some reason, I do.
As Adam’s gaze stays locked with mine, however, I have the strongest feeling he doesn’t believe I’m not hurting because of his comments.
“I’m back,” Kristy says cheerfully, walking into the kitchen. “Adam, you’re a guest. You don’t need to dry the dishes.”
“I wanted to.”
“Well, thanks, but I can take over from here. Logan wants you to help him shuffle a couple of things around in the shed.”
After Kristy takes the tea-towel off him, Adam glances at me. His reluctance to finish our conversation is obvious, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing more needs to be said. He doesn’t like me. And I now accept that’s never, ever going to change.
I’m so nervous when I sit down with Kristy the next day that all I can hear is my heart thumping in my chest and my blood rushing through my veins. I can’t remember the last time I felt so anxious.
Cricket walks up to me and lays his head in my lap. I stroke his head and scratch behind his ears as Kristy eyes me impatiently.
Logan will be home from work soon, so I have limited time to tell my story. Adam is also working. Fortunately, he won’t be home until much later. Meaning, he won’t decide to pay us a friendly visit and interrupt my story with his own.
“Spill it before I have a heart attack from waiting,” Kristy demands, unwilling to let me put the moment off any longer.
I force myself to look at my best friend, the person who means the most to me in the world. “I fucked up, K.”
From my word choice alone, Kristy knows what a big deal this is. As I told Adam, I don’t swear unless the moment calls for it. And this one does.
Kristy’s eyes are full of concern. “What happened?”
“In London, I was lonely. Homesick.”
Kristy nods, encouraging me to continue, but I’m not sure how to. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I also have to tell you why I went to London in the first place.”
Kristy shifts in her seat, looking apprehensive for the first time this afternoon. “Why did you leave?”
“Adam threatened me.”
Kristy’s eyes practically bug out of her head. “What?”
I hadn’t intended to dump Adam in the poo when I started talking, but he plays a part in this story. I’ll make sure Kristy knows Adam isn’t at fault. Should he have threatened me? No. But he was acting out of misguided concern and loyalty.
“He was looking out for you, K. You have to remember that when I tell you this. He was worried about you, and he saw me as a threat. I would never have acted on it, but he didn’t know that.”
“Jess, slow down. What are you talking about?”
I close my eyes, summoning the strength to admit the thing I’m most ashamed of. “That night that we all went to Shark Bait – the one where Alfie and I split up – Adam caught me.”
“Caught you what?”
I sigh, feeling frustrated with myself for not getting this over with quicker. “I was watching you and Logan dance.”
Kristy frowns, clearly not following. “So?”
“So, I was watching how close the two of you were. I was watching how much Logan cared about you, and it made me think that falling in love might not be the worst thing in the world.” I pause for a moment before forcing out the words. “If the man I fell for was Logan.”
Kristy doesn’t say a word, but her shock is visible. Finally, she says, “I can’t say I understand, Jess.”
“I left Melbourne because I was attracted to Logan, K. I’ve never felt so guilty about anything in my life. I wasn’t going to go to London. Initially, I turned the job down, but then that night at Shark Bait, Adam told me I should stay away from you and Logan. He thought I was going to pursue Logan and cause trouble for you guys. But I would never do that. Kristy, you’re my best friend. I would never make a move on Logan. Ever. I swear. He’s yours, and you love him, and I’m totally over it. I realised while I was away that I envied the intimacy between you, and yes he’s handsome, but-“
“Okay, stop,” Kristy says, ending my rambling by reaching out and taking my hands in hers before giving them a gentle squeeze. “I know you’d never make a move on Logan.”
I shake my head at my friend. “The look on your face when you saw me dancing with him…It killed me. And how much I enjoyed dancing with Logan? That killed me, too. I thought that if Adam said something to you about my attraction to Logan, you’d freak out and question the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I didn’t want you to do that.”
Kristy nods. “I was still working out some of my insecurities at that time. And if Adam had mentioned something that night, I’d like to say I would have been understanding and unafraid, but I…I don’t know.”
“And I didn’t know either. What I did know was that I couldn’t let some stupid and inappropriate attraction to your guy interfere with our friendship. It’s why I left, K. You were so happy. I couldn’t mess with that.”
“So, you left without saying a thing to me about it,” Kristy states unhappily.
“And you were lonely.”
She’s bringing us back to the London incident. I’m not sure I’m any readier to talk about it now than I was before.
I try to smile. “Life was one party after another over there, but I missed you. You know me, usually I get a boyfriend and he’s company until I finish the relationship, but I didn’t feel like it for once.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I started drinking a lot more than I ever have in my life, and I let myself get talked into being friends with Grant Glendon.”
“Grant Glendon, the host of Get it Right?” Kristy chews her lip. “Isn’t he…married?”
“Married to Casey Kenzie – and the son-in-law of Alvin Kenzie.”
“Oh, Jess. No, no, no, no, no.”
Saying that word doesn’t stop what happened from being true.
“Grant hit on me the very first time I met him. I didn’t want to sleep with a married man, and I told him that. His response was to let me know he just wanted to be friends.”
“Yeah, right,” Kristy scoffs, shaking her head.
“I didn’t believe him either. At first, anyway. I did my best to avoid him outside of work in the beginning. But then we had to attend all these network parties together, and the more time he spent talking to me, the more I realised we had a lot in common. And even if I could sense he was still attracted to me, he didn’t hit on me again. I was so lonely that I let myself believe it might be okay to have one real friend in London, even if it was Grant Glendon, and even if he was married.”
“Oh, Jess.” The absolute stupidity of what I just said shines brightly in her eyes.
“I deluded myself into thinking I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and when he started telling me about his marriage troubles, I told myself that as his friend it was my job to listen.”
Kristy says nothing, just waits for me to continue, intent on hearing me out. She might think she knows how this story ends. Except it’s so much worse than she’s probably imagining.
“About a month ago, he started telling me he thought Casey was cheating on him. He said he wanted to be with me and that he was going to end their marriage.”
“You worked with the guy, Jess. And his father-in-law could ruin your career.”
“Yes, I knew it, but I kept making excuses and telling myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. We weren’t sleeping together. He just kept asking me about whether I would give things a chance with us if he were divorced.”
“But he had no intention of getting a divorce, did he?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if Casey cheated on him. I don’t know how much of anything he said was true. I just know that I had no intention of taking that final step that I couldn’t take back. I refused to sleep with a married man. As much as I was attracted to him, I wasn’t in love with him.”
“So, what happened?” Kristy asks, confusion flickering in her eyes.
“Tequila happened,” I say, shame filling my voice. “One of our cast members had a birthday, and we all went out to a hotel and got drunk. I’ve never drunk so much in my life. Most of that night is blank for me. I don’t remember anything past a certain point. One moment, I’m knocking back shots with Grant. The next, I’m waking up naked beside him in a hotel room, his wife and Karen Malua pounding on the door, right before they walk into the room with a key they got from…I don’t know where.”
Shock and horror fill my friend’s gaze. “Oh, God, Jess.”
Yes, it was that bad. “I slept with a married man, K. A well-connected one that I worked with. We were caught by his wife and my co-worker.” I try and breathe through the tears and frustration in my voice. “I fucked up so bad. I was fired from the show, and I think my career is over. Casey’s dad will do his best to make sure I never work in the industry again. All because of a night I don’t remember. A night that should never have happened.”
“Oh, Jess.” Kristy pulls me into her arms, and I can’t hold back the tears that have been threatening since I arrived in Melbourne any longer.
I sob on her shoulder, angry at the situation I find myself in, but angrier at myself and my stupidity. Aside from my parents dying, I’ve been lucky in life. I’d been offered a lot early on, a modelling contract from the age of eleven. Some would say life has been easy for me. Isn’t that what Adam said? Beautiful people cruise through life? My life had been fine without much effort on my part. But what I’d done by sleeping with Grant? My life would never be the same again. Worse still, I deserve to be miserable. I deserve to suffer. Starting with hearing my best friend tell me exactly what she thinks of me.
I pull back from Kristy. “Do you hate me? I’m a homewrecker, K. I hurt someone. The look on Casey’s face…”
Kristy shakes her head, her eyes full of sympathy. But I know she must be thinking about how Casey felt when she found us.
“If our situations were reversed, Jess, would you hate me?” she asks.
“Of course I wouldn’t. I could never hate you.”
Kristy gives me a pointed look, and I swallow, not sure how she can say the same after I told her I was attracted to her boyfriend and slept with a married man. I don’t know how anyone can like me right now because I don’t like myself a hell of a lot.
“I don’t hate you, Jess,” Kristy says. “I could never hate you.”
“But I was hot for your boyfriend!” I declare.
Kristy laughs. “Well, I’m not exactly thrilled by that thought, but I can’t blame you for it. I mean, have you seen him? He’s a gorgeous, sexy beast of a man.”
I can’t help it; I burst out laughing. I’ve never heard Kristy talk that way before. “I’m so happy for you,” I tell her. “I think the two of you are great together. He’s the first guy you’ve dated who deserves your affection.”
Her smile is a little bashful. “I think so, too.”
I smile and nod enthusiastically, and I feel some of the tension that has been squeezing me these past few days leave my body as relief filters through me. Kristy knows. She now knows everything, and she’s not giving me marching orders and throwing me out the door. At least she hasn’t yet.
“You need to remember that you didn’t do anything wrong when it came to Logan and me, Jess. Wanting isn’t exactly something we can help or stop.”
“But sleeping with a married man is,” I remind her, feeling my relief fade. “Janice doesn’t know if she can fix this.”
Kristy squeezes my hand. “Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. You have Logan and me; we’ll help you get through it.”
“You’re the best,” I tell her, meaning it to the bottom of my soul.
“You’d do the same for me.”
She’s right; I would do anything to help her. But Kristy is everything to me. And while things used to be the same for her, they aren’t anymore. She has a life, friends, and creative, fulfilling work. Kristy might accept what I’ve done, but I do still need to let go of her. She does better without me around. Not that I could ever completely sever our friendship, but it’s time to put some distance between us. She has her life, and I don’t want her worrying about mine.
And if I have nothing to fill the gap her friendship will leave me with, then I’m okay with that. I’ll be lonely, but not having anyone to lose is less painful than caring about someone so much that it shatters you when they’re not there anymore.