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Chapter Five

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Melia’s POV.

Wednesday morning, Braxton is out of the office. I hate the tinge of disappointment I feel when I see that his desk is still empty at nine o’clock. I hate the fact that curiosity gets the better of me and I ask one of my colleagues where he is. I hate the jealousy I feel when I hear that he is out meeting a client. And most of all, I hate the fact that, when he returns, his name moves above mine on the leader board.

For the first time in months, I’m bumped off my top spot. The fact that it is by a newbie is just another kick in the teeth.

Braxton comes over to me as I’m standing, seething, in front of the leader board. He rests his arm on my shoulder and leans onto one foot, acting all smug and relaxed.

“Guess we’re gonna find out what it’s like when I’m top of you, aren’t we?” He says cheekily. “Personally, I can’t wait.” He grins and steps back, ready to walk away. “This is gonna be fun, Mel.” He winks and swaggers off.

Bastard.

I go back to my desk in a huff. Marta comes over a few minutes later. “My commiserations, honey,” Marta says and places a cup of coffee on my desk.

I swear all my friend does is gossip and make hot beverages.

I shrug. “It had to happen sometime. Now, I’ve got to work extra hard to bump the smug bastard back to second.”

Marta leans in closer. “If it makes you feel any better, I have a funny story for you.”

I raise my eyebrow and lean back in my chair, gesturing for her to continue. Her cheeks are already tinged pink with embarrassment. This should be good.

“You know how the better half and I have Naked Wednesdays?” She starts.

My friend is one in a million.

About a year ago, Marta and her husband decided to start Naked Wednesdays. They take off their clothes after coming home and spend the entire evening naked. Naked cooking, naked eating, naked TV-watching, you name it. They wanted to spice up their marriage and improve body confidence. It worked a treat, so they’ve kept the tradition going.

“Anyways, I forgot that my neighbour had borrowed our hosepipe because she got a puncture in hers the other day, blah blah blah,” she says quickly. “I told her that, whenever she wanted to return it, she could let herself through the gate and stick it in my back garden.” Marta groans and puts her hand over her face. “There I was, naked as the day I was born, standing in front of the hob, cooking dinner. Ethel waltzes across the patio and stops in her tracks. I’m stood, stirring Bolognese and she’s stood, staring with her mouth wide open.”

“Oh my God!” I burst out laughing.

Marta groans. “It gets worse. At the point, the other half comes striding into the kitchen, asking when dinner is going to be ready,” she says with her eyes closed. “She got to see both of her neighbours bollock-naked.”

I can’t stop laughing. Tears are rolling down my face. “That. Is. Brilliant,” I say between gasps of air.

“She left pretty quickly after that. I wanted to go round and explain this morning, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m mortified.”

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The rest of the day goes quickly. Before I know it, I’m driving over to Mark’s house. He lives in a bungalow in the suburbs. He rents it for a ridiculously high price each month. Originally, he wanted us to live in it together, but I refused to spend that much on rent and it’s nowhere near my workplace.

When I arrive, he doesn’t even come out of the living-room. I take off my shoes and coat and go through to the lounge. My boyfriend is sat on the sofa, his eyes glued to the TV. He glances at me briefly, and I see the dark circles under his eyes. He looks exhausted, again.

“Hey, are you alright?” I ask as I sit down next to him on the sofa.

A guilty look comes over his face and his eyes dart to mine. “Yes. Of course. Why?” He frowns.

“Nothing, you just seem a bit tired, that’s all.”

He grimaces. “Work has been a bit stressful,” he admits.

“Aw, okay. Do you wanna talk about it?” I ask, but he shakes his head and turns back to the TV.

“Tell me about your day,” he says.

“The stupid newbie overtook me on the leader board,” I tell him. When he doesn’t respond, I continue. “That’s the first time in months that I haven’t been in first place. There goes my end-of-the-month bonus that I’ve been so used to getting.”

Mark reaches over and pats my knee, without looking away from the television screen.

“You’ll be back on top soon,” he replies, but his voice is disinterested.

I huff and stand up. “I’m going to get a drink,” I tell him. “Do you want one?”

“Another beer, please.”

He still doesn’t turn away from the TV. The lack of manners is pissing me off. I pour myself some orange juice and come back through to the lounge.

“What’s for dinner?” I ask him.

I’m suspicious because there’s nothing out in his kitchen.

Mark winces. “Uh, I forgot to get anything from the supermarket.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Yet you managed to buy two more crates of beer?”

He has the gall to look sheepish. “I got butter and bread. But nothing else.”

I stare at him in disbelief. He looks like an adult, but that’s it. That’s where the guise stops. He acts, thinks, and talks like a giant man-child.

“So, what are we going to do for dinner?” I ask bluntly.

I don’t know why I’m asking; we already know his answer.

“I guess we’ll have to get a takeaway.”

I glare at him. “Oh, how convenient, you get exactly what you want.”

Mark doesn’t reply. He just looks down at the beer bottle in his hands. I throw myself down on the sofa and go on my phone. We sit in silence for almost an hour. Mark watches TV and I entertain myself on my phone.

My phone buzzes with a text from Braxton. He asked for my number when he finished up at the gym last night. He said it was purely for practical purposes. Seeing as we live in the same building, we can call on each other in emergencies. He even suggested that we give each other a spare key to our apartments so that we can use it if we ever forget our own keys. I would normally have called bullshit, but it’s not a bad idea.

Hope you’re not moping too much about losing your spot. You’ll get it back soon enough; I can’t imagine a spitfire like you gives up without a fight.

I smile at the text and send a reply.

You’re right. I will get it back soon. Watch your back, Braxton.

A few moments later, his quick reply comes through.

I would ask you to watch it for me, but you’d get distracted by grabbable butt.

I let out a snort of amusement and Mark’s head turns in my direction. I tilt my phone away from him.

Grabbable? Let me guess, you assigned that adjective. Speaking for the female gender, it’s not all that.

I smirk as I send my sarky reply. Seconds later, another text comes to my phone.

I’ll have you know that many women have described my butt as grabbable. I don’t think you’ve had a good enough look. I’ll come and bend over by your desk tomorrow. You won’t be able to deny it.

I bite down hard on my bottom lip to keep myself from bursting out laughing.

Is this guy serious?

Don’t count on it, Mr.

His reply comes through, and my cheeks burn.

You’ll see, Wynter. I know you won’t be able to resist me for much longer.

I don’t reply to the text. As I sit next to Mark, guilt fills me. I’m flirting with another guy whilst I sit next to my boyfriend. I quickly delete our text conversation and collect the takeaway menus from the kitchen. I get Mark to choose one and I place our order.

Half an hour later, the food arrives. Mark actually turns off the TV and we sit at his coffee table, on the floor, because he doesn’t have a dining table.

I tried to order a healthy option from the Thai, choosing steamed rice and another stir-fry. I only eat half of my rice because they’ve given a two-person portion. I’m picking the fried onions out of my meal when Mark sighs loudly. I look up at him and he’s frowning at me.

“I’m sorry I forgot, alright? There’s no need to pick at your food like a child,” he snaps.

My mouth drops open. “You’re calling me a child? That’s a bit rich, coming from the supposed adult that doesn’t remember to buy basic essentials for cooking actual nutritional food.”

He glares at me, and I glare back. “Excuse me for not being obsessed with getting my 5-a-day and exercising every goddamn minute.”

I don’t dignify him with a response. This is going to turn nasty if we continue. I ignore him and return to eating my dinner. We sit in silence for the next five minutes, then Mark huffs and puts the TV back on.

After we’ve eaten, I say goodbye and leave, not wanting to be around him. On the drive home, I made the final decision. I’m breaking up with him on Friday.

When I get home, there’s a text from both Braxton and Mark. It’s a stark reminder of how wrong my life is at the moment, seeing their names next to each other on my phone screen.

I read Mark’s first.

I’m sorry. I should have bought some more food. I’ll see you Friday.

I don’t want to reply to it, but I feel bad. I send a generic reply.

I’m sorry, too. See you Friday.

My heart beats a little faster as I open Braxton’s text.

Why does a text from a work colleague get me more excited than one from my boyfriend?

I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. You know me, I take it too far sometimes. I meant what I said about you getting your place back though, you’re a force to be reckoned with Mel, you’re great at what we do and I’m glad to have you as my mentor.

I smile to myself at his text.

See? He can be nice, sometimes.

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