Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 28: Has Anyone Ever Told You to Shut Up?

My mind’s telling me that this is such a bad idea such





Fuck rationality.

I follow Nate out of Cara’s apartment. He takes me by the hand and guides me to the staircase. Casting me a toothy grin, the both of us start to climb up and up and up.

“Where are we going?” I laugh as I almost stumble and fall down the last flight of stairs.

“You’ll see.” He winks at me. He leads me around the hallway until we come across an open space. I stop at my tracks and gasp.

Flowers of every kind and colour dot the green leaves that scatters beautifully everywhere. The soft murmur of water trickling down the fountain and the low rumble of waves cascading across the man-made ponds whisper in my ears. Rocks are strewn in places to compliment the natural beauty of the plants. Vines curl down from wooden structures, making the whole scene look almost fairy-tale-like.

I step forward, my eyes trying to take in everything. My mouth gapes open in astonishment.

“A rooftop garden.” I say in awe. “Holy crap, this is beautiful.”

“I know.” He smirks as he stands next to me. The both of us are standing in the middle of the rooftop garden. I place my hands on my face and laugh.

“How did I not know this place existed?” I ask myself. “I’ve been living under this...” I gesture to the garden, “I’m so mad at myself!”

He chuckles, low and rough. “Not many people know about this place.”

I smile at him, my eyes twinkling under the night sky. “Thank you for taking me here. This place is... unbelievable.”

“I knew you’d like it.” He says, his hand brushing against mine as he walks past me to take a look at the flowers. “Sometimes, in the morning, I would come here. Just to clear my thoughts. The smell of the flowers is so... refreshing. It helps to calm me down. Relaxes me.”

I nod in agreement. My eyes wander to the spectrum of colours displayed in front of me.

“Breath-taking.” I murmur as I touch the petals of one of the flowers.

“I agree.” Nate comes behind me, but instead of looking at the flowers...

He’s looking at me.

My entire face turns red.

He smiles, and my god, it’s the same one he had cast me the first time I met him in the hallway. It’s a crooked smile, the edge of his lips lifting slightly higher than the other. His arm rises and his hand cups my face. I lean into his touch on instinct, pressing my face against it.

Suddenly, his hand drops, and he immediately recovers himself, expression changing.

“Sorry, I...” He shakes his head, and laughs, his cheeks turning a slight pink as well, “I got caught in the moment.”

“Um, it’s okay,” I mumble, and then swiftly look away.

I’m getting so worked up over Nate. God dammit. I’m starting to think that Cara may be right; Nate may have feelings for me. And I...

I don’t know about me. I’m so confused. What do I even want?

When I saw Daniel with those women just now, hot jealousy immediately washed over me. How can I feel like that when I hate the guy and everything he stands for? These few weeks with him have been tolerable... but I can’t forget how he was the first time I met him.

I can still recall the intense hatred I felt for him when he dismissed those girls he had sex with... over and over again. It was heart-breaking to watch. He showed little remorse for them. How can I be jealous of someone like that? How can I have any feelings for someone like that?

It’s impossible.

And then there’s Nate standing in front of me. Nate, who goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. Nate who smiles, whose smiles always lift my spirits up. Nate, who talks to me about books and my wants and needs and my troubles. Nate, who always listens to me. Nate, who I can see having a future with.

So why is there this odd feeling inside my chest that’s telling me otherwise? Why do I feel like every time I’m taking a step forward with him, someone else is tugging me back?

“Alex, are you alright?” Concern pinches Nate’s face.

I shake my head to clear out the heavy thoughts from my head. “I’m fine.” I force a smile on my face.

“You’re not fine,” He tells me. “You had on your ‘thinking face’.”

I cough out a small laugh. “My ‘thinking face’.” I echo.

He chuckles. “Yeah. Your ‘thinking face.’ When you’re in deep thought, you always scrunch up your face, your cheeks puffed, your nose wriggling, your lips curved into a frown.”

“You’re perceptive.” I note.

“I can’t help it. You tend to do it a lot,” Nate says, “And by a lot, I mean all the time.”

“I’m sorry,” I murmur, “A lot of things have been running in my mind lately.” “Want to talk about it?” He smiles and nudges me to the railing.

I follow him, and the both of us lean against the glass, inhaling the picturesque view in front of us. The sky is so dark it’s as if someone has thrown a blanket over it, with little holes to allow the stars to shine through.

“Is it about Daniel?” He asks.


I nod my head.

He sighs. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But nevertheless, I’m here for you. You know that right, Alex?”

I turn my head to face him. “Yes.”

He leans over, closing the little distance between us. He reaches forward and tugs a stray hair away from my face and to the back of my ear. I hold my breath as he does that, my heart galloping, pounding out a beat that is too fast, too hard. Is Nate making a move on me?

He’s not.

“Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours,” His fingers linger on my hair. His lips curve into a boyish smile.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on. Books. Writing. Books. More writing. More books.” I say, laughter hinting from my tone. “It’s pretty boring.”

“Ah, but it’s not,” He corrects me, “You’re more brilliant than you think you are, Alex. I know that, first-hand. You’re intelligent. An intelligent writer. And you’re a great storyteller. The way you tell stories, it’s like I can imagine everything perfectly, like a movie playing in my head.”

“I don’t know exactly know where you’re going with this, Nate.” I laugh.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is... I’m trying to understand you.” He tells me. “I want to know how you think and what you’re thinking. Even if a part of you is thinking about Daniel or if you’re just thinking of creative lines to feed your characters-”

“I do think about that all the time,” I nod my head.

“Yeah, and I don’t mind at all.” His fingers trail my cheek. “It’s kind of amazing how sometimes you just stare into space muttering things like you’re actually having a conversation with your characters in real life.”

“It’s a writer’s thing,” I lift my hands. “I know. I’m totally weird.”

“You’re not weird.”

“You say that because you’re just as weird as me. Trust me.” “I’m not weird!” He defends himself.

“Yes you are! You’re all kinds of weird!” I say, laughing. “You eat a sandwich with only the bread and the patty.”

“It was just that one time!” He chuckles.

“And for some reason, you’re totally against the act of putting ketchup on fries.”

“It’s disgusting. Why can’t you just dip the fries into the ketchup instead of having to squirt it all over the fries, where your hands can get dirty-”

“Did I mention you’re a major clean freak? I think you have major OCD problems, my friend.” I pat on his shoulder.

He takes a step closer to me, a look of bewilderment plastered on his face.

“And you say I’m the perceptive one.” He murmurs.

I shrug. “I guess we’re both perceptive, then.”

“Or maybe we’re just super fascinated about each other.”

“If you think I’m fascinated about you for one second, I think I need to do some rearranging in your brain.”

A low laugh rumbles from his throat.

He reaches forward and cradles my face in between his hands. “God damn you, Alex. Has anyone ever told you to shut up?”

“A couple of times.”

He shakes his head, still laughing, and leans closer so our foreheads are touching. “Well, I’m telling you to shut up right now.”

“Why?” I say, breathless, as I realize our faces are so close to each other.

“So I can do this.”

And then, he closes the remaining space between us and presses his lips against mine.

It’s a gentle kiss, lips slightly parted. I wrap my arms around his shoulders just as he does the same around my waist. His lips meld into mine and I am awed by the way they feel. They are soft, but firm- I didn’t even know one thing can be both. They follow the curve of my lips, like he’s tracing them, mapping them out.

Holy crap on a cracker.

I can’t believe it. I’m kissing Nate.

I’m kissing Nate.

I’m.... What the fuck. I’m kissing Nate!

I pull away from him so fast I almost fall to the ground. Before I can do that, Nate circles his arms around me and catches me before I can even stumble. We stare at each other, breathing heavily, trying to process what the hell had we just done.

“Fuck,” He swears as he lets go from me. He buries his hands in his hair and pulls, his face completely pained. “Motherfucker-” “Nate.” I call his name.

His eyes meet mine, and his entire expression crumbles. “Fuck, Alex. I kissed you! I can’t believe I did that. I fucking kissed you!”

My mouth opens, but no words come out of it.

He places his hands against the railing, trying to catch his breath. “God, I kissed an engaged woman. What the fuck is wrong with me-”

“Nate, wait-” I lay my hand on his shoulder but he jerks away.

“I’m so sorry, Alex.” He faces me, but he stands away, as if the thought of even standing next to me is unbearable. Somehow, that freaking hurts. “It was- I didn’t know what I was thinking. I mean I did at first, and I did it anyway- fuck. Daniel’s so going to bust my balls if he finds out I kissed his fiancé. I... I... kissed an engaged woman. God."

I close my eyes and purse my lips. I can’t bear looking at Nate like this. Like he just committed a horrible crime, and he is ready to pay for it. He looks so broken, so hurt, and maybe that’s why I did what I do next.

It’s about time I do it. I’ve been harbouring this over him for so long, and it’s a miracle how he still forgave me over that. I’m not sure if he’ll forgive me now when I tell him. He’s going to be pissed and even more hurt...

Or he’s going to be relieved.

Either way. I know it’s time.

It’s time I tell him the truth.

“Nate,” I start off. “Nate, the engagement... it’s... fake.”

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