14.2

14.2

Anne

“Eh? You seriously dumped him?”

Jo was staring at me, an astonished look on her face, her dark eyes shimmering with surprise. Her rough, angular features reminded me of a comic book character, especially when coupled with her exaggerated expressions.

“I seriously did,” I told her, trying not to laugh at her. I was already feeling better about it, not in the least because of her comical disbelief.

I’d been dating Scott since before ever meeting Jo, which was about three or four years ago. She’d never known a version of me without him attached.

“What’d he do?” she demanded fiercely.

“Nothing! Honestly, there was nothing dramatic about it. It just wasn’t working for me anymore.”

What I didn’t tell her was that we hadn’t had sex in almost six months, because I hadn’t enjoyed having sex with him for about a year before then. Something about it had just started feeling off. Not wrong, just not what I wanted, somehow.

I definitely didn’t tell her that the only times I had had sex were in my dreams, or that she’d featured in more than one of them. We were close, but not that close. Besides, dreaming about a woman didn’t make me gay.

“Well, at least make up something interesting for me next time,” she said, pouting. “Wait, you know it’s Valentine’s Day this week, right?”

“I know,” I wailed. “I didn’t realise until after I broke up with him. I haven’t been single on Valentine’s Day in years, what do single people even do?”

“Why are you asking me? What makes you think I’m single?”

“You’re not? You’ve never mentioned having someone before! I demand details,” I told her, suddenly excited. She was always so mysterious, it felt like I hardly knew anything about her.

“How badly do you want to know?” she asked, teasing me.

“Name your price,” I said, refusing to be let the opportunity slip away.

“Hmm… dinner,” she said, leaning back in her chair.

“That’s it?”

“Home cooked,” she clarified. “I want you to come to my house, and cook me dinner. If you do, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“You have to tell me first,” I told her. “But I promise I’ll come cook for you if you do.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” I said. “Spill.”

“I’m single,” she said, a wicked smile materialising on her face. “Now, about that dinner…”

I could not believe I’d fallen for that so easily. She knew exactly how to press my buttons, and she wasn’t afraid to do it.

“You’re the worst,” I told her. “But, a deal is a deal. Just tell me when you want me over.”

“Such a good sport. Well, why not Thursday?”

“Thursday is Valentine’s Day,” I pointed out.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you have plans?”

Well, she had me there. Why that day, though? Surely she didn’t mean…

“Don’t look so frightened,” she said, reading me like a book same as always. “I just thought it might be fun, and you were just complaining about not knowing what to do with yourself.”

“It does sound fun,” I agreed.

“That’s the spirit,” she said with a smile.

“My first Valentine’s Day with a woman,” I complained. “Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. You better have ice cream.”

Despite my complaints, I was already looking forward to it. Valentine’s Days with Steve hadn’t exactly been fun the past couple of years. More often than not, they just ended up in arguments and disappointment. It was going to be nice to just be able to have fun with a friend.

“I’m sure you could get a pity date out of your ex if you really wanted,” Jo said teasingly, though it sounded like she was a little annoyed. Maybe she thought I was being rude?

“Don’t worry, you make for far better company than he does,” I told her, and I genuinely meant it. I always enjoyed myself when she was around.

“Well, I’ll try not to disappoint,” she said.

We chatted idly throughout the rest of the day, and by the time we left work and went home, I realised I hadn’t given Steve a second thought all day. I felt a little guilty about that, but also a little glad. After such a long relationship, I’d been expecting the breakup to be a lot more painful.

The next day, she came to work a little late, and didn’t say much to me even when I tried to talk to her. She had dark rings around her eyes, like she hadn’t slept, and her body language was weary.

Every time I asked her if she was okay, she assured me that she was, she’d just had trouble sleeping. I got the impression it was a little more than that, but if she didn’t want to talk about it, I had no right to push the issue.

She left while I was still in the middle of a phone call, so I didn’t even get to ask if she still felt okay about my coming over the next day. She hadn’t said anything about it though, so I just told myself not to worry.

With everything wrapped up for the day, I grabbed my coat and headed for the door. An unfamiliar woman who looked to be about my own age was leaning against the wall just outside, looking as if she was waiting for someone.

“Are you Anne?” she asked as I walked past her, surprising me.

“Huh? Yeah, that’s me,” I said, a little confused. “Do I know you?”

“No,” she said bluntly. “But you do know Jo, don’t you?”

Jo? What did this have to do with her?

“We work together. Is everything okay with her?” I asked, concerned.

“She’s fine. Listen, how much has she told you about her personal life?” the girl asked, a pained expression on her face.

“Pretty much nothing,” I told her. “Sorry, who are you?”

“Sue. I’m her girlfriend,” she said, surprising me once again. “Well, I was her girlfriend. She broke up with me. Last night.”

Girlfriend? She really was gay, then. What did that mean for tomorrow night? Just because she was interested in women didn’t make her automatically attracted to all of them, right? And this woman looked nothing like me, so I probably wasn’t even her type. I did feel a little sad she hadn’t told me, though.

Wait, last night? That meant it had happened after she’d told me that she was single. So, she lied? Or maybe she’d already been planning on it, and saying ‘I’m single’ is a lot simpler than ‘I am dating someone today but I’m planning on breaking up with them tonight’.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, not really sure what to say. “Why are you telling me?”

“You really don’t know?”

“I really don’t. And to be honest, I really just want to get home.”

“Yeah, fine,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “I don’t know what I was expecting, anyway. Just wanted to actually meet you, I guess.”

“Meet me? Why? Does Jo talk about me that much?”

I was beginning to worry that this woman wanted me to talk Jo into taking her back. Which, considering how rarely Jo talked to me about her personal life, was extremely unlikely. Not to mention I had no reason to butt in anyway.

“Talk about you? Are you really that dense?”

“Okay, now I’m confused,” I said.

“Fine. Look, the reason I wanted to meet you is because you’re the reason she broke up with me. And now I have, and I don’t really know why I expected to feel any better.”

She practically ran off after saying that, and I was too stunned to even think about following her. I wanted to know what she meant when she said that I was the reason they broke up, but she was long gone by the time the question had formed on my lips.

It didn’t matter. She wasn’t the one I needed to be talking to, anyway. Jo was the only one who could really answer that. I just hoped I hadn’t caused her any problems. I couldn’t imagine what I might have done to get in the way of her relationship.

The next day, she came to work looking just like she always did, if not better. She looked bright and cheerful, right up until she saw my face.

“Anne? Is everything okay?”

“I met your girlfriend last night,” I blurted out, a little less tactfully than I’d intended. “Er, sorry. Ex-girlfriend.”

Jo looked mortified. The colour drained from her face, and her eyes drifted away from mine.

“What happened?” she asked, biting her lip.

“She was waiting for me after work. She, uh, blamed me for the two of you breaking up. Um, I’m really sorry if I’ve said anything, or done anything that-“

“Anne, I…”

I looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t even make eye contact with me. I didn’t know what to do.

I tried to reach out to her, to reassure myself as much as her that everything was still okay. Instead, I managed to trip over my own feet, and it turned into more of a shove than a gentle touch. Our eyes met for just a second, and I could see the beginnings of tears forming.

She pulled away from me, turning her head as she ran out the door. A few other people raised their heads, but nobody said anything. I wondered briefly if I should follow her, but I wouldn’t know what to say anyway. I didn’t really even understand what had just happened.

Jo

I have never felt stupider than I did in that moment. I could only imagine what Anne thought of me after what had happened. Certainly nothing good.

I fell for Anne pretty much the first day I met her. Something about her was just so inescapably beautiful, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She was so graceful and elegant, and everything about her just seemed soft and gentle.

The problem with falling for women is that statistically speaking, they’re probably not likely to, or even capable of, feeling the same way about you. I’d learned that lesson the hard way one too many times, so when I realised how I felt about her, I decided to play it safe.

It was a good thing I did, too. She introduced me to her boyfriend that night, after inviting me out to drinks to welcome me to the workplace. He was the most incredibly dull person I’d ever met, but at least I knew that Anne was at best unavailable and at worst, straight.

Even still, we became fast friends. We worked together, went shopping together, drank together, and despite my best efforts, I could never quite shake the way I felt about her. If anything, I only fell harder for her the better I got to know her.

I tried to keep dating, but nobody ever managed to dislodge her from my heart. Or maybe I just wouldn’t let them. Either way, they always ended before they got too serious, and I went back to daydreaming about Anne dumping her boyfriend and running off with me, never actually believing it would really happen.

Then, two days ago, she told me she actually had broken up with her boyfriend. I didn’t know what to say. Obviously, I knew it didn’t mean anything, but that wasn’t enough to stop me hoping.

On a whim, without so much as thinking it through, I lied to her, and told her I was single. Then I made plans with her on the one undeniably romantic day of the year, because what’s the point of digging your own grave it it’s not too deep to crawl out of?

That night, I’d gone to see Sue, the girlfriend I’d lied about not having, and told her I couldn’t see her on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t want to tell her why, but when she asked, I couldn’t lie. Having said that much, I told her I had to end the relationship, because it wasn’t fair to her. She was angry, understandably so, but we talked about it for a long time, and I thought that everything was okay.

Apparently, I’d thought wrong, because the very next day she’d ambushed Anne outside of our office and told her everything. Or at least, enough to make Anne want to confront me about it.

Not telling her I was gay, that was one thing. She was a kind person, and she’d have understood me wanting to keep things like that private. Not telling her that I was gay, and also attracted to her, though? There was no way that looked like anything other than deceptive. Especially after inviting her over on Valentine’s Day.

Had it only been that, I might have been able to live it down. I could have just apologised, or told her it was a misunderstanding, or something. We’d have been able to recover as friends. The look in her eyes, though, and the way she’d shoved me away from her…

When I got home, Sue was waiting for me, leaning against my front door. I wanted to yell at her, but the somber expression on her face stopped me.

“How did you know I’d be home early?” I asked, stopping before I got too close to her.

“Just a hunch,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been a complete shit to you,” I said, all of the anger I’d felt towards her melting away. It wasn’t her fault, and one look at her face was all I needed to remind me of that.

“Nah, I wouldn’t say that. Believe it or not, I’ve been there before, the whole ‘unrequited love’ thing. It does weird things to you.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” I said, trying not to cry. “It’s not like she’d ever even want to be with me, but no matter what I do, I can’t change the way I feel about her.”

I couldn’t keep the tears back any longer. Sue stepped forward and embraced me, not as a lover, but as a friend. I cried into her shoulder until my eyes were red and raw, then we went inside, and she guided me to the couch.

“You need to drink something,” she told me. “Some food wouldn’t hurt, either. You just stay there, I’ll bring you something.”

“Why?” I asked, still feeling a little shaky. “Why are you…?”

“Because I remember what it feels like. I mooned over the same girl for about seven years. She broke my heart so many times, but I just couldn’t give up on her. And honestly, I could tell you were in love with someone else as soon as I met you.”

“You knew? But you still stayed?”

“I don’t really know what I was thinking either,” she said, a little embarrassed.

“Thank you,” I told her.

“Hey, it’s not like it hasn’t been fun. That’s what I’ll remember, you know. The good parts.”

Remember? Oh, of course. We broke up. There was no reason for that to change. She was still here because she was a good person, and I needed somebody to take care of me for just a little longer.

In the end, that was probably for the best. As badly as things had gone with Anne, she wasn’t gone from my heart of mind, and it wasn’t fair to ask Sue to compete with that.

We ate lunch together, then I fell asleep on the couch, exhausted. It was a welcome relief from the endless torrent of negativity that was still swirling around my brain after this morning.

I woke up to the sound of the doorbell, after what felt like only a few minutes. A quick glance at my watch told me that it was nearly six, though. I must have slept through the entire afternoon.

Groggily, I pulled myself up to a sitting position, then slowly standing up. I felt a little light-headed, but surprisingly calm. Maybe all that rest had done me some good after all.

Sue must decided to stay and make sure I was okay, because she was already at the front door, blocking whoever it was that had rung the doorbell. I heard a woman’s voice muttering something, but I couldn’t quite make out what. Sue turned back to face me, a pained expression on her face, and I saw who she was talking to.

“Anne?”

For just one second, Anne’s eyes met mine. In that one second, I saw surprise, confusion, disappointment and pain flash through her eyes. Then she turned, and ran.

Anne

I spent the entire day unable to get Jo out of my head. I couldn’t focus on work, and I just kept staring at my phone, wondering if I might hear from her.

I didn’t understand what I’d done to upset her. Did it sound like I was the one to go find her girlfriend? Was she just worried that being gay might make me think differently of her? Was it something more complex than that?

There was no point in overthinking it. I decided that I would go and visit her after work, and try to talk to her then. After all, we did have plans. I wanted her to know that I, at least, didn’t think that what happened yesterday or this morning changed anything.

I’d never had a friend like Jo before. There was something about her that had always made me feel comfortable and accepted, no matter what I said or did. She always listened to everything I had to say, and always knew what to say back to make me feel better. She was the perfect combination of fun and reliable, and I didn’t want to lose that.

It didn’t matter to me who she dated, or what she did with them. It wasn’t like she’d ever done anything to make me feel uncomfortable before.

So as soon as work was over, I grabbed my stuff, and prepared to make my way over to her place. Then, on the way out, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked incredibly…plain.

I knew it wasn’t a date, but even still, it was Valentine’s Day. It felt wrong not to dress up at least a little. It wouldn’t take me that much longer to go home first and get changed, maybe put on a little more makeup.

I ended up making it to Jo’s place a little before six, surprised at how nervous I was feeling. What was I going to say to her? Would she even talk to me?

I rang the doorbell, but it wasn’t Jo who answered the door. It was Sue, ostensibly her ex-girlfriend. What was she doing here?

“Oh. Um, sorry,” I said, mumbling a little. “I wasn’t expecting, um, sorry. I should…”

Sue turned away, looking back into the house. I saw Jo standing in the hallway, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Anne?”

A crushing pain had began to spread in my chest, and I didn’t understand why. Why did the sight of Sue surprise me so much? Why did the thought of the two of them together tonight make me feel so lonely?

My mind went black, and I completely forgot everything that I’d wanted to say. Without thinking, without being able to think, I did exactly what she’d done to me that morning. I ran.

I don’t know why I ran. I don’t know where I thought I was going, just that I needed to get as far away from the two of them as possible. Tears stung my eyes as the cold wind cut right through me, and I didn’t get all that far before collapsing to my knees in a small park that I didn’t recognise.

What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I happy for her? If the two of them were together, didn’t that mean they’d made up? That was a good thing, right?

It didn’t feel like a good thing. It felt like I’d been abandoned, that Sue had taken my best friend from me. It was such a selfish thing for me to think. I really was a terrible person.

“Anne!”

That was Jo’s voice, but why? What was she doing here? I turned to see her emerge from the darkness, frightened and desperate.

“J-Jo?”

“Anne, I’m so sorry,” she said, slightly breathless. “I’m so sorry I never told you. I swear, I wasn’t trying to deceive you. I just… I didn’t want to lose you.”

“Lose me? You mean, because you’re gay? You thought that would bother me?”

“No, I never really… at least, I always hoped that you wouldn’t mind. If it was just that, I would have told you a long time ago,” she said, suddenly averting her eyes.

“Then I’m confused. Is there something else? I was worried that I’d done something to upset you-”

“That’s not it,” she said. “Anne, I… I’m interested in you. Attracted to you. Or, no, it’s more than that. I love you. I have for a long time, but I was always too selfish to say anything, because I was scared it would ruin our friendship.”

She… loved me? What? Wait, was that what Sue had meant when she’d said it was my fault they’d broken up?

“Wh-what? Me? I, I don’t…”

“I’m sorry I never told you. I’m so sorry for being selfish. Please, just… don’t hate me,”she said, her eyes pleading with me.

“How can you love me?” I asked. “We’ve never… I mean, we’ve never been intimate, or been on a date, or…”

“Is that what love means to you? Sex and dating?”

“I don’t mean that. It’s just… that’s usually where it starts, isn’t it?” I asked, confused.

“I guess it can,” she said. “But for me, it’s like… when I’m with you, I just feel like everything is gonna be okay. When I’m not with you, you’re all I can think about. Every day, I wake up looking forward to seeing you at work, and when I think of you with someone else, I just feel lonely. Not jealous, just…”

That… that was love? But what she’d just said described almost perfectly the way I felt about her. Did that mean that I loved her?

But she was a woman, and I wasn’t gay. I mean, I’d never thought about women in that way before. I didn’t find their naked bodies arousing like men did.

At the same time, I didn’t necessarily find the idea of being with a woman unappealing. If it was Jo, I could definitely picture it.

The memories of the dreams I’d had about her suddenly flooded my mind, and I could feel my face turning red. Actually, my entire body felt warm, particularly…

Oh. It had been so long since I’d been intimate with anyone, I’d practically forgotten what arousal felt like. I looked up at Jo, and realised for the first time that not only was I attracted to her, but that I probably had been for quite some time.

“Jo?”

“Y-yes?”

“I’m feeling a little weak. Could you help me up?”

“Oh, um, sure,” she said, reaching down and offering me a hand. I grabbed onto it, letting her pull me up to my feet, before very deliberately falling into her, my arms wrapping around her neck. I could feel her warm breath against my face, and I leaned in closer, kissing her.

For a second, she froze, completely motionless. Then she pressed herself into me, embracing me back, our lips mashing together in a way that felt more sensual than any kiss I’d shared with any partner before.

“That was not the response I expected,” she said breathlessly, when we finally pulled apart.

“It surprised me too,” I said, a little sheepishly. “But I’m glad I did it.”

“So am I,” she said, still holding onto me.

“You know I’m not gay though, right?”

“The thought had occurred to me,” she answered dryly. “More than once.”

“So, will you be patient with me?”

“Patient?” she asked, confused.

“I want to try,” I told her. “But I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I’m willing to risk it if you are,” she said.

“What about Sue?”

Jo looked guilty, biting her lip and looking away.

“She’s tougher than she looks,” she said. “She’ll be okay. And it wouldn’t be fair to her to pretend that I wouldn’t be thinking about you.”

“Yeah… I think that that’s how I’d feel, if I was her.”

“So what do we do now?” Sue asked, her tone a little uncertain.

“Well, I do recall owing you a home cooked meal…” I said.

“You know, I am kind of hungry…”

We let go of each other, but she kept hold of my hand. I clung to it, surprised at how much closer to her it made me feel. Slowly, we began to talk back to her apartment.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Jo,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t find it too corny.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said back, and kissed me on the cheek.

END

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