Trust Issues, part 2
I awoke the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed. I don't know where it came from, but for some weird reason I felt good. And I wasn't complaining.
I was showered, dressed, and out of the door in fifteen minutes, all the while tiptoeing so as not to wake up Jessica. She liked to schedule her classes so that she could always sleep in, and I was used to being quiet in the mornings. I walked briskly to work, briefly ducking into a café on the way to pick up a smoothie for breakfast; I was determined to get back on my diet, and this time stick to it.
At work I caught myself humming and smiling at myself as I leisurely organized a display of the week's new arrivals. For what must have been the first time in weeks, my mind was completely empty of anything but my job. This was work that I actually liked to do; it left room for creativity, as well as business acumen and customer service. I even allowed myself some time to read the back-cover and first few pages of the new book, which immediately landed on my list of books to read. I promised myself I would buy it when I finished work today. I had that five hundred from Lucas, after all.
As the day wore on, though, that feeling of happiness and serenity started giving way to other sensations. I couldn't really tell you what I felt whenever it entered my mind that I had promised to talk to Matthew today. To get rid of that pressure on my heart, the one that made me feel like hugging myself to keep it together, I tried and mostly succeeded to push those thoughts into the most distant corner of my mind.
Also, because my mind was primarily on what I was doing – not on guys and parties and roommates – I began to really see the store. I frowned at myself as it dawned on me that Utopia was once again practically empty. Looking around, I counted five customers, plus six at the café. That was remarkably slow for a Monday. Come to think of it, it had been a slow month. A slow year? When exactly was the last time we'd been busy?
I finished the display quickly, worried now, and then retreated to the office. I sat down in front of the computer and clicked open a few spreadsheets I had access to. I didn't know everything about the business, but Carla shared a lot. The numbers on the screen confirmed my suspicions; the store was not doing well. Sales were down in almost all product groups. Only the café was doing well, but that was a small percentage of sales. Cheap paperbacks and magazines also sold well, but even those numbers were in slight decline.
As far as I could tell, Carla was not having a good year.
A while later I was still sitting in the office, frowning at the computer screen, when I was rudely interrupted by someone knocking on the door. That someone didn't wait for an answer but barged in as if she owned the place.
"Hey, Bella!" Jessica greeted brightly.
"Hey, Jess," I muttered, and I think I was frowning and smiling at the same time. Somehow. "What are you doing here?"
"I was wondering if you had time for lunch?"
"Now?" I asked, bewildered.
"Um..." She raised her eyebrows. "Yeah?"
Glancing at the clock on the screen in front of me, I realized it was indeed lunchtime. Wow. Time had flown.
"Okay, sure," I agreed quickly. "Where do you wanna go?"
We ended up in a deli only a block from the store. We both ordered salads and sat down in a corner table. I got the feeling Jessica really wanted to talk about something, so I just waited for her to begin. I was not wrong.
"So," Jessica began. "I had this really interesting lecture today."
"Oh?" I prompted, slightly surprised at the direction of the conversation; Jessica never talked much about her studies.
"Yeah. It was about the psychology of relationships, about what attracts us in the opposite sex, and stuff like that."
"Uh-huh." Suddenly, I had a bad feeling.
"Anyway," Jessica powered on. "It got me thinking. Have you decided what to do about Matthew?"
Ah. There it was.
"No," I said cautiously. "Not really."
Jessica was silent for a moment, attempting to control herself. She failed miserably.
"God, Bella!" she sighed loudly. "What's wrong with you? He's perfect!"
I looked up from my salad. "He is perfect," I said, voicing out something I'd been doing a good job not thinking about all day. "Too perfect."
"What the hell does that mean?"
I sighed deeply. I knew what I had to say sounded incredibly stupid and even callous of me, but it was how I felt. Not that I owed her an explanation or anything.
"He's out of my league, Jess. I don't deserve him." I looked into her eyes, begging for her to understand. "And he's not my type."
Jessica considered this, a doubtful look on her face. "But you like him, right?"
"I like him as a friend," I said immediately. "I don't wanna mess that up."
For a heartbeat, Jessica simply stared at me. Then, "Well, that's just a load of crap."
"Excuse me?" I asked, incredulous. Did she think that she knew how I felt better than I did?
"Who is your type, Bella?" she asked. "Lucas?"
I flinched. "No, I–"
"You know what I think?" she interrupted. "I think you liked Lucas only because you knew it was never going to last with him. You liked him because he was unavailable, not in spite of it. You like unavailable men, because that way you'll never have to–"
"God, Jessica, just STOP!" I finally snapped, and I swear I was this close to slamming my fist against the table. "Stop analyzing me! It's not that fucking complicated! I'm just not that into him."
Jessica stared at her salad, and for a moment I felt bad for yelling. When she raised her eyes to meet mine, they were wide with innocence. "That's just it, Bella. You are into him. You're just too scared to admit it to yourself."
I scoffed. "Sure. Because someone can like someone without even knowing it. That doesn't happen in real life, Jess!"
"Yes, it does!"
"Not to me!" I shook my head vigorously. "I always know immediately when I like someone. I liked Lucas the first time I saw him."
"And look how well that turned out," Jessica muttered, effectively shutting me up.
I kept glaring at her across the table, though, until finally she folded.
"Fine. Whatever," she said with a sigh. "Wanna get a brownie for dessert?"
"No, thanks," I said, mutinously poking my salad with my fork as I refused to look at her.
"Well, I'm getting one."
While Jessica got up and walked back to the counter to get her chocolate fix, I let my mind wander for a moment. It landed right back on Matthew. What the hell was I going to do? Could Jessica be right? I mean, she was a Psychology student, but did that really qualify her to analyze my love life? In the past, I had always trusted my feelings implicitly. I had always known without a shadow of a doubt if I wanted to be with someone or not. Granted, those relationships – if you could call them that – had all ended quickly and catastrophically. But I'd always known what I wanted. Who I wanted.
And now... I just didn't know if I wanted anything more than friendship from Matthew. How was I supposed to make a decision like this?
And I didn't decide, at least not during our lunch. We talked about it some more, and I definitely got the feeling that Jessica liked the idea of Matthew and I together. I also got the feeling that she had picked the right major. Psychology suited her.
"The guy is really into you, Bella," she said as we were pulling on our jackets, ready to leave the restaurant. "And he's older than you, too. He's definitely looking for something more than a fling. And if that's not what you want, you might end up hurting him. I've only known him for a couple of days, but I have to say, I'd hate to see him hurt."
I didn't know what to say to that. I wasn't sure that Matthew's feelings were as deep as Jessica described, but what the hell did I know? And the thought of him liking me that much... Well, more than anything, it scared me. I couldn't even make myself feel flattered anymore. It was all too real too fast. And then there was also that little voice in my head, asking if it truly was real. What if he was just playing me, too?
"I don't want to hurt him," I whispered as we walked out the door. And I don't want to get hurt.
Jessica paused to look at me, and the look on her face was that of sympathy. "I know, Bels. But if you're not sure... It's better to hurt him now than a few months from now, when he's really in love."
I dragged out leaving work until two hours after my shift ended. I didn't really work, though. My good mood evaporated, and all I could do now was panic and hyperventilate. About the fact that the store was not doing well, about my job security, and about Matthew. I didn't hear from him, but then again, he didn't hear from me either. I realized that I had promised to call, but as I picked up my phone and looked at his picture, I found that I couldn't do it. Over and over again, I just couldn't do it.
What the hell was I going to say to him?
Finally I decided it was better face to face. Whatever it was.
It was raining outside when I left the store. The sky was gray and miserable, the air cold, and all around me the smell of rain and dead leaves hung in the air. I walked slowly under my umbrella. Matthew didn't live far from the store, and since I was in no hurry to get there, I decided to walk the entire way. It took me a half hour.
Still, when I reached his building, I found that I couldn't even bring myself to ring the buzzer. Feeling the need to clear my head a little more, I walked around the block once more. Then again. And again. After the fourth time, I walked right up to the door and pushed the button by his name before I could stop myself.
Without a word through the intercom, Matthew buzzed me in. As I made my way up the stairs, that horrible, heavy feeling in my chest – which had bothered me since my lunch with Jessica – got stronger and stronger until it was literally hard to breathe. All of my instincts were screaming at me to make a run for it.
His door was ajar, waiting for me. I took a deep, shaky breath, and pushed it open. He was standing there, a few paces from the door, hands in the pockets of faded, ripped jeans I had never seen him wear before. He was unshaven, his eyes dark and shiny, his expression unreadable.
I let out a breath when holding it started to burn my lungs. "Hey."
"Hey," he echoed. His voice was different somehow. Weak. Vulnerable. "Come on in."
I took two steps inside the loft. It was just as tidy as ever before. I threw a longing glance at his books before returning my gaze to his. Something in his eyes changed as I watched.
"So," Matthew said in a tight voice. "I take it you're here to tell me that it's not going to happen?"
I swallowed. "How did you...?"
"Well," he chuckled humorlessly. "If you had come to pick up where we left off, I don't think you'd have felt the need to circle the block three times before ringing the buzzer. Also, you might have called."
Embarrassed, I looked down at my shoes. He'd seen me out there? "Actually," I said, when I couldn't think of anything else, "it was four times."
"Well, I only saw the last two. So I made a guess."
The most painfully uncomfortable silence I had ever experienced followed his words. It went on forever, until finally, I forced myself to break it.
"I don't know what to say," I confessed.
Matthew ran an exasperated hand through his already disheveled hair. When he spoke, his eyes didn't meet mine. "Can I ask why?"
I tried to think of a way to explain it to him, but all I could come up with was a list of horrible clichés.
It's not you, it's me.
"I'm not ready for anything serious," I finally blurted out. "I– I don't think that I could be with anyone right now. Not so soon after... you know."
"You're still into him?" Matthew asked. For the first time, he sounded a little angry.
"No," I said quickly. He wasn't understanding me. And I really couldn't blame him.
"Are you asking me to wait?" he asked after a pause.
"No! I would never do that."
"I know, I know," he sighed with a sad smile. "And if you did, I probably wouldn't wait."
I stared, trying in vain to decipher his words and the look on his face. Did he mean that he was going to wait? Did I want that? But I couldn't bring myself to ask. There was no way his answer could make me feel better. If he wanted to wait for me to get ready for him, that was his problem, not mine. But it wasn't fair to him.
There was just one thing I wanted from him. And it was horrible of me. Cruel. That was the word for it. I was being cruel, and I couldn't help it.
"Can we still be friends?" I asked.
He let out a hollow laugh, as if he couldn't quite believe I'd just said that. Slowly, he shook his head. "I don't think so, Bella."
I bit my lip to keep myself from crying. It didn't work. "Okay," I said, looking down to hide the tears. "Okay. Okay."
And then he was standing right next to me. He touched my chin, forcing my head up to meet his eyes. It was not okay that I was crying. I was being selfish. But I couldn't stop.
"Don't cry, Bella," he said softly, desperately. "Please don't cry."
But I was breaking down and his words only made it worse. "I-I'm so sorry," I sobbed. "I know I'm being s-stupid. It's just that– I–"
I heard his sigh, and then I was in his arms. He held me close, comforting me, and even as I realized just how fucked up that was, I let myself cry into his shoulder. Tears were streaming from my eyes, staining his shirt, and I couldn't stop them. I was losing him. It wasn't right for it to hurt this bad, but it did. I clung to him, and I wished with all my might that he didn't like me that way – that we could just be friends. He was the best friend I had.
It took a long time for me to calm down. I don't know how long exactly, but I was pretty sure that seasons changed outside. Then, when my tears had finally stopped coming, he pushed me away gently, once again creating a safe distance between us. I could see on his face just how much this was hurting him. He was suffering. He was the one getting rejected. Why was I the one crying?
Selfish bitch, I told myself, and at the thought another sob built up in my chest.
With tremendous effort, I pulled myself together and managed to control my voice. "I should probably go. I'm sorry, Matt, I really am."
He only nodded, a look of torment on his face as he refused to meet my eyes. I turned around, contrite yet oddly relieved that it was over. I walked slowly to the door, and I wasn't sure what I was expecting to happen. Was I waiting for him to change his mind? Or was I waiting for me to change my mind?
I reached for the handle and pushed the door open, but I didn't want to step across that threshold.
Heart racing, I turned to look at him.
"I can try," he said, dark eyes on mine now. "I can try to just be friends."
"Oh-my-God," I breathed out in complete and utter relief. I wanted to run to him and hug him again, but even I wasn't that stupid. I think I was smiling, but I can't be sure. "That's great!"
There were traces of actual happiness in his smile now. But just traces. "See you later, then," he said.
"You'll call?" I asked, hopeful.
"Yes," he promised. "I'll call."
I wanted to laugh and scream and cry again. I didn't, though. I just threw him one last smile and stepped out of the apartment.
Outside, the setting sun had finally emerged from a sky full of clouds; those last rays of light felt bright and warm against my face. Deciding that it was a nice evening for spending even more time outside, I dug out my sunglasses to shield my eyes and hide the fact that I'd been crying, and began my walk home.
Gradually, the good mood I'd embraced in the morning started coming back to me. I felt bad for Matthew, but with every step I took, that weight on my heart got a little bit lighter. It was still there – a nagging ache in my chest – but it wasn't as bad as it had been.
Maybe everything would be okay. Maybe we truly could be friends. Already, he was one of the best friends I'd ever had, which of course was the most important reason I'd said no to being more than friends. I didn't want to mess it up. I didn't want to lose that friendship.
And I truly hoped that I hadn't done just that.
"Welcome home!"Jessica greeted me loudly from the living-room.
On a whim, I'd bought a bottle of wine on the way home; I got two glasses from the kitchen before joining my roommate on the couch. Her eyes widened as I set the bottle and glasses on the table, next to her bowl of popcorn.
She turned to raise her eyebrows at me. "You bought wine?"
"Yes," I smiled proudly. "Do you want a glass?"
She grinned. "Of course!"
"I'll share if you share?" I suggested, glancing at the popcorn.
"Deal," said Jessica. "So where were you tonight?"
I started pouring the wine so that I wouldn't have to look at her when I muttered, "Matthew's."
"Oh? What happened?"
I took a deep breath, feeling the remainders of that weight on my heart. "I told him that I only want to be friends."
"Really?" Jessica said. I met her eyes now; they were full of sympathy. For me or for him, I didn't know. "How'd he take it?"
"Pretty well, I think," I said, with a shrug that was meant to be nonchalant.
I snorted. "It's not like I have the right to be upset. I'm the one who hurt him."
"But you are upset?" Jessica guessed.
"I actually cried," I admitted, grimacing at myself. "Can you believe that?"
"Ouch," she whispered. "What did he do?"
"He hugged me. Comforted me. How fucked up is that?"
Jessica shook her pretty head in disbelief. "It is not possible for a person to be that good."
"I know, right?" I let out a humorless laugh. "I don't deserve him."
Jessica didn't respond, and I got the feeling that she agreed with me. Matthew deserved someone better than me. And I deserved to live my life single for now, look around, and see what else was out there. I was young, but I wasn't eighteen anymore. If I wanted to live life to the fullest, I would have to start now.
And so I settled in for movie night with my roommate. She was watching a horror flick, which centered around a bunch of teenagers vacationing in a lake house. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't difficult for me to catch up. Only one of them had died so far, and there were six more to go. Plus the one virgin, who would probably end up living to tell the tale. It was clichéd and full of scenes that made you want to scream at the characters to stop acting like idiots – but it was still scary, and I found myself on the edge of my seat, peeking at the gore on the screen from behind a pillow.
We finished the wine during the movie, and as the credits started to roll, I got an idea that might have been the result of the alcohol.
"Have you decided what to do with your half of the money we won?" I asked, my voice tired and slurring a little. It was past midnight, and it had been a long day.
"Um, not really," Jessica said, pausing to yawn. "Why?"
"I was thinking, maybe we should use the money to throw a party."
"A party?" She immediately perked up, eyes glinting excitedly. "What's the occasion?"
I shrugged. "My birthday?"
"When's your birthday?"
"In two weeks."
"And you haven't told me?" she asked, frowning in disapproval.
"Um. Sorry?" It honestly hadn't even crossed my mind.
Jessica, however, was getting all enthusiastic and bubbly again. "A party is a great idea!"
I laughed at her mood-change. "Let's not use the entire thousand, though."
"Deal," she grinned.
"Great. We can start planning tomorrow." I yawned widely, my tired head buzzing in a way that wasn't entirely unpleasant. "I think I'm gonna go to bed."
"Yeah, me too," Jessica muttered. Her eyes were barely open as she got off the couch, stretching.
I started dragging my feet towards my room, but halted halfway there. My eyes took in the assortment of shoes by our front door and I smiled, memories invading my hazy mind. I couldn't help but wonder how different my life would be if I had decided to put on clothes before stepping out of the bathroom that night. Would I have ever met Lucas?
"Can I ask you something?" I inquired, my eyes still on the shoes.
"Sure," Jessica replied, and I think she was expecting something serious. "Anything."
"Is it true what they say? You know, about guys and the size of their feet?"
It took a moment for Jessica to grasp my meaning. Then she burst into laughter.
"Well?" I prompted, turning to look at her with amusement.
"Yes," she breathed, eyes watering from laughing so hard. "Yes, it is."
Okay. Let me have it. *braces herself*
A huge thank you to everyone who faved, alerted and reviewed this story! And to those also who do it now and in the future. I appreciate it so much.
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