Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 36: Every Broken Piece of You

I try to digest what Pepper is telling me. As much as I’d like to think that she’s talking nonsense, I know that she’s right. She’s absolutely right.

I’ve been blind for so long.

I like Nate. I do. But I don’t think it has ever been in a romantic way. I wanted to like him like that, because he made me feel so special and loved. And I may have been infatuated with him ever since I met him, but how deep does my feelings run for him? Not enough. Not enough to sustain a relationship.

Nate and I are supposed to be together. I used to keep telling myself that. We’re right for each other. We fit well; we share similar interests, we are so taken by each other. It makes sense that we’d end up together. But somehow... it doesn’t.

And I know why now. I see the answer clearly now, and I can’t deny it any longer.

It’s because of Daniel.

Daniel’s right. I do have feelings for him. Strong feelings. I hadn’t wanted to admit to myself because those feelings scared me. I was absolutely terrified about how I felt for Daniel that I pushed myself away from him and into the arms of Nate. Nate was my safety net: he’d always be there when the going gets tough for me. But I can’t let him be that anymore. It’s not fair for him. I know that now.

I need to tell Nate. I need to end things with him. It’s just not fair.

How can I do this to him? Was I that selfish and stupid to want Nate but have feelings for another man?

God, I’ve never been this angry at myself. I hate myself for being this way.

I have to turn over a new leaf.

“You know I’m right, Alex,” Pepper temporarily disrupts me from my thoughts. “Don’t go stringing my boy along anymore. You know what to do.”

I nod my head, blinking away tears. I briefly glance at the door, wondering when he’s going to come back, and how am I going to break it out to him.

But as my gaze falls on the door, I realize that it’s ajar. And I see a flash of Nate passing by. That’s when I know.

Nate had heard the entire conversation between Pepper and I.


The next few hours are absolute torture for me.

The minute Nate materializes in the room with a steaming cup of coffee for Pepper, the tension in the room has been denser than ever. As Nate crosses the room and takes his seat opposite from me, I expect him to confront me about what Pepper had told me. Maybe he would yell at me? But Nate doesn’t seem like the person who would yell.

But then again, how would I know? I did such a bad thing to him. It’s horrible. I feel horrible. And I’m certain he does feel it too

But he doesn’t confront me. He doesn’t say anything at all. He just avoids my gaze, his eyes glued to Pepper, sparking when his grandma rambles on and on about her days and about her nurse. I laugh too, a little bit more false than usual, because my mind isn’t exactly here. My thoughts keep drifting to what’s going to happen when our visit is over and when Nate sends me back home.

I’m scared about what might happen. This whole week with Nate had been great, and I will always treasure our memories, whether good or bad. A little part of me tells me not to let him go, but I fight against it, knowing that this is the right thing. Pepper told me so. And I agree with her.

I can only keep lying to myself for so long.

Nate, Pepper and I continue talking for a couple more hours, exchanging stories with one another. Nate and I don’t exactly talk with each other, only talking to Pepper but he glances at me briefly when Pepper gives a dirty remark about how impolite it is to avoid eye contact with the guest (namely me).

I think that perhaps Pepper would ease the tension a bit and confront both Nate and I but she doesn’t do that. Pepper doesn’t tell Nate about what she’s told me either. I think she’s trying to let us sort it out by ourselves. But I think she too feels the tension that pours into the air.

“The both of ya are really getting on my nerves. What the hell is going on?” Pepper asks innocently, “you guys are as tensed up as my stinkin’ feet.” Nate shifts uncomfortable. I avoid Pepper’s darting gaze.

After a while, we decide to part ways with Pepper. The sun outside begins to sink back into the earth, casting a bright tangerine colour unto the sky. I glance at the time and realize I should be getting back home.

I bid goodbye to Pepper, hugging her tightly, knowing this is the last time I’ll be able to see her again. She knows it too, so she presses a kiss on my forehead and beams down at me.

“You do what is right, Alex.” She murmurs.

“I will.” I nod swiftly. Nate clears his throat, signalling it’s time for us to go.

I smile briefly at Pepper once more before heading downstairs, where Nate’s car waits for us. He helps me into the front seat and starts the engine.

The ride back to the penthouse is awkward.

Nate and I don’t look at each other. His eyes are glued to the road in front of him and mine to my phone. I keep fiddling with the lock button, the time on my home screen mocking me. Sighing, I click again so my phone goes blank. For once I wish that time would pass faster.

When we reach the parking lot, Nate cuts the engine. I contemplate on getting out of the car, but I know I should do it here. Now.

“Nate-” I start off.

“I know what you’re going to say.” He sighs, leaning against his seat.

I don’t say anything. My silence only confirms what he had just said.

He tilts his head so he’s facing me. His hazel eyes gleam under the dull rays of light.

“I heard what my grandma said to you. About how you don’t have feelings for me. How you have feelings for Daniel. Real feelings.” I close my eyes, my throat constricting.

“Is it true, Alex? What she said?” His eyes search mine.

I nod wordlessly.

He sucks in a sharp breath, like he can’t quite believe it.

“I know you’re confused, but I didn’t think-” he pauses, “there’s always this uncertainty in you. I can see it in your eyes every time you look at me or touch me. Or kiss me. I thought it was because you needed time to get used to this. Us. But now I know it isn’t that. We were never an ‘us’ in the first place.” His words completely shatter me.

“You know I wanted to be with you,” I tell him truthfully, my eyes moist with tears, “I wanted to make myself believe that I’m happy with you. That I can make this work. But...” My voice trails off, breaking slightly, “I don’t know how to do that. You are so good to me, Nate. But I can’t keep lying to myself that I truly... have feelings for you.”

His entire expression crumbles, and my heart aches.

“I can’t do this.” Tears begin to pool in my eyes, “I like you, but it’s not the way you like me. With passion. With sincerity. With love.

I can’t return those kinds of feelings, and I don’t want to lie to you or to myself anymore. I’m so sorry, Nate.”

He lets out a shaky breath, tearing his gaze from me and looking down, as if he doesn’t want me to see him hurt.

“So, I can’t make you happy.” He says, like it’s a statement.

“You did,” I place my hand on his shoulder and squeeze, “I’m so grateful to have experienced this... with you, no matter how short it was. You made me really happy, Nate.”

“But not as happy as you are with Daniel.” He finishes off my sentence, as if he has taken those words straight off from my deepest, darkest thoughts.

Tears stream down my cheeks. Because I know he’s right.

Even though the past week with Daniel had been...difficult, we always had a good time together. Whether it was screaming our lungs out to ‘Hey Jude’, or busying ourselves in the kitchen with hot chocolate and pancakes or banter back and forth about whether Gilmore Girls is better than Desperate Housewives, we always enjoyed ourselves immensely when we’re together.

Kind of made it hard to believe I hated the guy before.

Now... I actually liked him.

Maybe even love him.

How fucked up is that?

“I know it’s so screwed up, and I’m so sorry I played with your feelings...”

One edge of his lips curve upwards. “I know. And the screwed up thing is, I’d let you play with them. I don’t care if you think you’re falling in love with Daniel. I’d give you my fractured heart a million times over no matter what, knowing that you would shatter it to pieces.”

“You can’t do this, Nate.” My voice cracks, vulnerable. “I can’t... it’s not fair.”

“You’re right. It’s not fair.” He sighs. “I won’t ask you to choose, Alex. I’m not that kind of guy. I will let you go. I have to. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think you should be with me.”

A sob escapes my throat. “You’re a good guy, Nate. I don’t deserve someone like you. I’m messed up. Broken.”

He leans forward, so our foreheads are now touching. His breath comes out uneven and ragged. “I would still want you. Every single broken piece of you.” The tears just start coming down in streams.

“This is why... this is why you’re too good for me.” I whisper, choking on my tears. “You love unconditionally. I’m not worthy of that love. One day, someone will come along and will be worthy of it. But that person isn’t me, Nate. I’m sorry.”

He exhales deeply, closing his eyes like he cannot take the pain anymore. “I have to let you go, don’t I?”

Somehow through those tears, I manage to nod.

“Fuck,” He curses. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“I don’t know how to do this either.” I shake my head.

“So do we.... just break up and not talk to each other again?” He suggests.

I choke out a small laugh. “I don’t want to not talk to each other. That sucks.”

“So... friends?”

“Maybe. But it will be awkward at first. I mean, we kissed. Friends don’t do that.”

“Yeah. That’s pretty awkward.”

“Maybe... maybe we shoudln’t talk to each other for a while,” I say softly, “Give each other some space.”

“Yeah.”

“Then maybe after a few weeks, we can be friends again.”

He chuckles but it’s a humourless one. “Sometimes I think we’re only destined to be friends.”

I can only offer a smile. I reach up to touch his cheek. He leans into my touch. “I hope you can find someone who is worthy of your love.”

His hazel eyes hold mine, and this time emotions flood them. “I wish you the same.”

We stay like this for a few more moments, afraid that once we break apart, the awkwardness and coldness will seep in, and we will be nothing but strangers yet again.

“I have to go.” I murmur after a while. The sun had already sunk back into the ground, replaced by the silver globe hanging in the sky.

“Yeah.” He says in a defeated tone.

I drop my hand and grab my bag, fiddling with the straps. Then, I glance at Nate one last time before exiting the car. “Goodbye, Nate.”

“Goodbye, Alex.”

As I get out of the car, I shut the door behind me. My legs are like jelly. They wobble as I slowly cross the carpark, away from Nate. But before I can get very far, I hear the car’s window roll down.

“Wait!” Nate yells.

I swivel my head to his direction, confusion written all over my face.

“Do you love him?” Nate asks me.

My heart leaps out from my throat.

“Daniel?” My voice sounds hoarse.

“Yes. Do you love him?”

It takes a while for me to answer his question. Mostly because I don’t actually know the answer myself.

Do I love Daniel? I know that I’m falling in love with him. But loving him is entirely different. Loving him is accepting every single part of him, every ugly thing he’s ever done and every beautiful promise he’s ever given. Loving him will be hard.

Almost impossible.

Instead of saying that, I answer. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

Nate doesn’t look satisfied with my answer, but he accepts it anyway. He merely offers a smile.

“Like I said before, you guys are good for each other.”

Those are the last words he said before he rolls up the window and speeds out of the parking lot.

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