He let go of her in the carpark, but only when the car was unlocked, and the door was opened. He stood blocking her as they both breathed heavily. His eyes were everywhere but on her.
“What the hell, Drew?” she growled as she stood refusing to get into the car, she emphasised her words with her finger pointed into his chest, “What do you think you’re doing? You arranged this meeting. It was your idea. You wanted me to do this. Do you have any understanding of how rude that was?”
“Me? What were you doing?” he yelled back his eyes still not on her, and his forehead was lined in an expression she wasn’t familiar with, “Get in the car, we’re leaving.”
“No,” she let the word hang in the air with no further explanation.
“Do you want to run back to him?” he accused as he dropped his head tilting it to the side and away, “Are you leaving me for him?”
“Can you even hear yourself?” she exclaimed, “Is that what you really think of me?”
“Get in,” Drew rubbed the bridge of his nose with his hand, his head angled away.
“Why?” she asked, “So you can accuse me of flirting with the next guy I cross paths with? What sort of woman do you take me for Drew?”
“Please,” his voice was shaking, “Get in the car.”
“I don’t think I can,” she blinked back the tears, “If you have so little respect for me then it would be best if you leave without me.”
“It’s not you,” his voice was rough, “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m the one. Get in the car, Jen. I can’t do this here. Please.”
“If I get into this car, what’s going to happen?” she stared at him defiantly with traitorous tears running down her cheeks, “What promises are you going to make to me this time?”
“Please,” he whispered his eyes closed.
The desperation in his voice stopped her, the anger died on her lips. His plea spoke of pain and humiliation. She looked at his face and found his eyes darting as if he was fighting to hold himself together. All the fight in her vanished. Whatever this was, he was hurting due to it. It might be his doing, but she still couldn’t watch him suffer like this.
“Fine,” she said through her clenched teeth, “But this doesn’t mean I’m happy.”
Without saying another word, she dropped into the passenger seat and clipped her seat belt on. If this was the end, then he was right about one thing, the carpark of her prospective employer wasn’t the right place to have their final argument.
He stood at the driver’s door for almost five minutes before he opened the door, got in and started the car. She didn’t ask him about it. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his face was pale. There was something wrong with him. She wondered if this jealousy was just the tip of the iceberg. Did his issues run deeper and broader than just this emotion?
His held the steering wheel tightly, but every time his hand was forced from this position it shook. She watched every movement out of the corner of her eye as she started to catalogue every possible cause. Did he have some medical condition she didn’t know about or was it psychological? Did he suffer from depression, anxiety or some sort of mental disorder?
The other possibility was that he knew Reed and there was some sort of history between the two men. They could have been pretending to be strangers when in fact there was some deep rivalry between them. That would explain why Reed had manipulated the situation and why Drew had overreacted.
She closed her eyes and listened to him breathing. The only thing she could do was wait and listen. He would have his opportunity to explain his actions and then she would decide what to do. If he lied, withheld the truth or the reason was trivial, she would make her exit. He might be jealous, but she was confident he wouldn’t hurt her or confine her. If nothing else, Belinda wouldn’t stand for that. And for that reason, she wasn’t worried about herself, just him.
The trip back seemed four times as long, and she felt exhausted by the heavy silence when they arrived back in the apartment’s carpark. It was still only early afternoon, but it felt later than that when he pulled into the same park that they had vacated and turned the engine off. He sat there, unmoving, his hands still gripping the steering wheel, his seatbelt fastened, and his eyes still fixed on a point in front of the vehicle.
“Will you come upstairs with me?” he sounded tired too.
“Will you explain to me what just happened?” she kept her voice even as she tried to keep the anger and humiliation from showing.
He closed his eyes, breathed out, and then opened his eyes without looking at her, before he answered with a simple, “Yes, I’ll tell you everything.”
“I’m not asking for that,” she frowned, “I just need you to tell me why you don’t trust me.”
“Then you need to know everything,” he still was looking ahead not at her, “That’s the only way you’ll understand why I reacted like that.”
“Alright, I’ll listen to what you have to say,” she unclipped her belt, “But if I even suspect that you aren’t being honest with me, I will leave. I won’t care what promises I made and what you need, I will end this.”
“I understand,” he sounded defeated, “There’s nothing I want to hide from you.”
She nodded and opened the door, getting out of the vehicle and headed straight for the elevator without waiting for him. He joined her in time, before the doors closed, but stood well away from her like he was afraid of getting too close. She felt like beating her fists against him but was still surprised by his apprehensive manner. He was a big guy, her tiny fists couldn’t be that scary.
“If you’re worried about me going to the press,” she was guessing the reason why he was acting like this, “Don’t be. I’d never do that. Anything you tell me won’t go any further.”
“I didn’t think you would,” he muttered, “But thanks anyway.”
“If that’s not the reason,” she asked, “Then why are you looking at me like I’m about to go all Bruce Lee on you?”
“Bruce Lee? Maybe,” he looked at the numbers not at her, “For me, that’s what’s at stake. If you leave, it will be more painful than any physical injury.”
“Is this what Belinda was talking about?” she asked, “Is this what your friends were worried about?”
“Yes,” he said simply as the elevator door opened onto his floor.
She didn’t understand but followed him. Part of her was still angry from the whole jealous boyfriend act, but she also wanted to hold him, protect him against whatever was making him so injured, and she wanted to keep her word to Belinda. She’d told Belinda that she wasn’t planning on hurting him. If she left now, she suspected that his friends would blame her for his pain. That wouldn’t reflect well on Belinda. It wasn’t enough of a reason to stay, but it was a good excuse to listen to him.
When the door of the apartment was closed, he walked into the kitchen and took two bottles of chilled water from the fridge, handing her one. Then he dropped into a seat and cracked the plastic lid off and drank most of the contents in one gulp.
“I don’t have much of a track record when it comes to women,” he twisted the bottle in both hands, “It’s made me suspicious, and I find it difficult to trust. That’s not your problem, it’s mine.”
She took off her coat and sat down opposite him without replying.
“You don’t believe that,” he sighed, “I can tell by the way you’re reacting.”
“It sounds like an excuse to me,” she turned her head, “I don’t get how a few bad girlfriends could make you treat me like that?”
“A few bad girlfriends?” he laughed softly, “Then you don’t understand. I’ll start at the beginning.”
He took a swig from the water bottle, wishing it was something harder and more numbing.
“I was fifteen when I fell in love with Kay,” he spoke softly without looking at her, “We were inseparable. We ran away from home when we were seventeen to form Drink, Drunk, Drowning with Alec, my best friend and the drummer of the band. Success came quickly, and it wasn’t long before it felt like the three of us were invincible.”
He twisted the bottle as he focused his eyes on the floor.
“Kay was everything to me,” he grimaced as he stopped, “No, she was more than everything to me. She was my first love and the only one who’d ever loved me.”
“That can’t be true,” Jen interjected.
“I wish it weren’t the truth,” he exhaled, “My mother didn’t care for me, she ran away from her strict parents and only returned to abandon me in the care of the very people she’d escaped from. I had no one else. My father was unknown, and my grandparents had immigrated from Europe, so there was no other family. They reluctantly raised me but blamed me for their daughter’s faults. There was no love in that house.”
“You’ve never heard from your Mother?” Jen bit her lip, she couldn’t image that sort of life.
“My grandmother told me that she’d died,” he shrugged, “So, when Kay fell in love with me, I wrapped my world around her. She was the only woman I looked at, and I was her man. I proposed to her when I turned twenty-one. We’d just released our third studio album. I was on top of the world and felt like I’d gone to heaven when she said yes.”
He stopped there, and his whole manner changed. The lines on his face deepened, his body shrank, his hands formed shaky fists, and his eyes reflected the pain. She wanted to reach out to him, but he was too far away.
“I still don’t know what I did wrong,” he looked up at the ceiling, “Even now, after all these years, I keep going over those last few months, and I still can’t find anything. Maybe it would be easier if I knew. If I could point at an ill-timed comment, get angry with myself about some stupid action, or blame my arrogance. But I have nothing. We were fine. Everything was good. I loved her, and I thought she loved me. We didn’t fight, we didn’t argue, and I gave her everything I had.”
He brought his hand up to his forehead as he scrunched his eyes up.
“Sorry,” his voice was broken, “Time doesn’t heal. I still can’t talk about this without feeling the pain. You’re only the second person I’ve ever told the full story too. Sam is the other one. The guys know most of it, but not everything.”
“If you don’t want to,” she started to say, her eyes burning with her tears for him.
“No,” he interrupted, “I need you to know this. I need you to understand why I’m this way. I can’t lose you too.”
She wanted to assure him that he didn’t need to do this for her, but her words weren’t working. Her mouth opened by her dry throat didn’t say anything. He looked at her tear stained eyes for a long minute before he continued.
“The first time I caught her, she was in bed with Alec,” he said simply, “They both claimed it was a mistake and I had no choice but to believe them. I’d devoted everything to her. I forgave them both without putting up a fight. I loved her so much I was prepared to forget everything in a heartbeat. I didn’t even get angry. I just ignored it, and we all pretended that it didn’t happen.”
He laughed, a cold, humourless chuckle as if remembering some sad joke.
“I thought that I could fix everything,” he sighed, “It was my fault she’d slept with Alec. I just needed to try harder to please her, to be a better man for her. I decided that I’d do anything for her because the alternative was too painful to consider.”
He took another drink of his water, his hands shaking as he did.
“And I dug my head in the sand,” he tightened his fists, “I did nothing each time I saw her flirting with another man, found things in our bedroom that weren’t mine, or listened to her excuses for being late or not coming home at all. I didn’t want to believe anything that would mess with her being in love with me.”
His face was lined as his eyes were moist as he fought for breath. He eyes were everywhere but looking at her.
“Then I walked in and found her having sex with a man I didn’t know,” he winced, “And this time I knew it wasn’t a mistake. They didn’t hear me enter the room and, as I stood there too stunned to look away, I could tell that he wasn’t a stranger to her. She was making love to him with an enthusiasm that she’d never had for me.”
He closed his eyes as he clenched his jaw and took a couple of breaths.
“I wish I couldn’t remember her face when she eventually noticed me,” he flinched, “She looked relieved. She smiled and didn’t stop what she was doing. I turned and walked out. And I didn’t stop walking until I found that first bar. I ordered a drink and proceeded to drink the place dry.”
“Was that when?” she didn’t want to finish the question. “When you disappeared?”
“Yes, I couldn’t face anyone,” he confirmed, “I’d failed. She was the most important thing in my life, and I’d lost her. I knew she wasn’t coming back, but I still couldn’t let go. I thought that if I drowned myself in alcohol, she’d turn up and rescue me. She’d always been the one who made sure I got home safely after a big night out. I thought she might reconsider if she saw how miserable I’d become.”
“And your music?” she frowned, “You never went back?”
“That was the end of me being interested in anything to do with music,” he confirmed, “It was her dream, not mine, and I couldn’t pick up an instrument after that without thinking of her. I still don’t play. The exception was the night Jay and Belinda got back together, I played because I knew the pain he was going through. It was the only thing I could do to help him.”
“What about Kay?” Jen asked hating the look on his face when she said her name.
“I never saw her again, not after that day,” he looked out the glass at the view of the city, “She didn’t rescue me. She didn’t even ring me. I drank myself into a stupor and kept drinking.”
He laughed a sad scoff.
“Not something I’m particularly proud of, but I didn’t learn my lesson either,” he looked at her, “I drink when I feel things are not in my control. It helps with the pain.”
“Drew,” she whispered his name.
“And while I was spiralling out of control, drowning my sorrows, and blubbering like a baby, she moved on. Alec stayed with her, in the band, and they replaced me. Later, I heard that she’d secured a deal for a solo album. I don’t know which man she ended up with, but it wasn’t me.”
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. She knew it sounded lame, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“But that was just the start,” he sniffed a cold laugh at her sympathy, “I was at my lowest point when the guys rescued me from my drunken self-destruction and encouraged me to join them. I’d known Jay when he was Josh when he had a voice and before he’d lost everything. They were the ones who sobered me up and gave me purpose again. I owe them my life.”
“Is that why they are so worried about me?” she asked while looking at her hands.
“It’s one of the reasons,” his voice was serious again, “Angela, Celeste, Maddy and Veronica are the other reasons.”
“Who?” she looked at him the list of names confused her.
“Past girlfriends,” he shrugged, “Angela was my first relationship after Kay. She left me when I refused to go back to my past. She wanted to date Drey Anders, not Drew Miller. Celeste slept with Mark. It turned out that she was using me to get to him.”
“Drew,” she uttered his name in pain as he spoke with such a flat voice that she couldn’t help but ache for him, “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” he flung the words back at her, “This is the only way you will understand why I reacted like I did today and last night. It’s not because of you it’s because of me.”
“But Drew,” she tried to argue with him, but he continued without letting her finish.
“Celeste’s cheating with Mark almost broke the four of us up,” he said with no emotion in his voice, “But he didn’t know she was seeing me when it happened. She wanted to keep our relationship a secret, for that reason. I forgave Mark, but it took a long time for me to trust him again.”
“Please Drew,” she interjected.
“Maddy was just after the fame,” he sighed, “She wanted to be seen out with me but not see me. She ended up leaving me for Bryce Spencer, the actor, she’d met him at one of the functions I took her too. And then there was Veronica.”
“Stop this Drew,” she grimaced, “I don’t want to hear any more.”
“Veronica liked to fight with me,” his fingers tapped on his knee, “She liked to provoke me. She didn’t know everything about my past, but she’d guessed enough to know how to manipulate me. She liked it when I was jealous.”
“Drew,” she pleaded, “This isn’t necessary.”
“She’d purposely create situations which would enrage me,” he ignored her and continued, “It was all part of the game to her. I knew what she was doing, but I couldn’t stop it. She knew which buttons to press to bring me back to her and to get her own way with me. The guys hated her, but I couldn’t stop myself from running to her.”
“Stop, please,” she felt her eyes burning.
“Because she told me that she loved me,” he lifted his eyes to her, “And I wanted to believe her.”
“Drew,” she said with pity in her voice.
“I know now that it wasn’t love,” he held her eyes while he said those words then he turned his head to the tall glass windows, “I won’t be burnt by her again.”
Jen opened her mouth but didn’t know what to say to that. It was clear that he was trying to tell her something, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear him say it. His implication, in the context of what had come before it, made her apprehensive.
“And now you know why I can’t stand watching you with another man,” he whispered, “It burns me up inside.”
“But, I’m not,” she started to say, but then she realised that she didn’t know how to finish that sentence.
“I know you’re not,” he exhaled, “You’re better than them. You’re kind and genuine. And I have more to lose than ever before.”
“But, can’t you see?” she tried again.
“And that’s it,” his eyes were fixed on her, and he did nothing to hide the pain in them or etched on his face, “That’s a summary of everything that has brought me here.”
“You didn’t need,” she started to say but he still wasn’t listening to her, it was as if he was pushing the words out while he still could.
“Are you going to leave?” he pulled his eyes from her as if that very action was painful, “There is the door. If you are going to run, this would be the time to do it.”
“I’m not,” she whispered.
“You’ve heard my story,” his eyes darted around the room as if focusing on anything was too much, “I’m broken. I’m not the man you thought I was. I wouldn’t blame you if you left now. But if you stay, you are staying. I don’t want to play any more games. I need more.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“And don’t even think about staying out of pity,” his voice was raspy, “I don’t want you to comfort me. If you’re feeling sorry for me, then you should leave now.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” she frowned.
“I’m warning you, Jen,” his voice lowered as he closed his eyes, “If you stay, I’m going to hold on to you tightly and do everything in my power to convince you to fall in love with me.”
She didn’t bother answering him. She pushed herself out of the chair she was sitting in and stood, watching him dropping his head and his eyes flinching, as she did. But instead of walking towards the door she bridged the gap between them and stood directly in front of the crouched over man.
Silently she dropped her hands to his face and cupped it, bringing it upwards so that she could see his fearful eyes. He wasn’t hiding his anguish as he waited for her parting words. She could see that he was bracing for her to grind his heart into a paste, spin on her heel, and slam the door after her. It was written all over his face.
“I’m not leaving,” she spoke with no hesitation in her words, “If you’re willing to trust me, then I’m not going anywhere without you.”
The words were hardly out of her mouth when his arms came up and pulled her down onto his lap and into his embrace. He cradled her, his arms wrapped around her holding her tightly against his chest on the sofa. She didn’t struggle. She knew that this was what he needed right now. Closing her eyes, she listened to his heart beating as he struggled to hold himself together. His muscles were tight, his body was shaking, his chest was moving with fast intakes of breath, as his head balanced over her shoulder hiding his face from her.
She’d heard his words and didn’t doubt his sincerity. She had other doubts, but those didn’t have a voice, not when he was like this. She’d felt his pain, and her heart had melted. She pushed aside the hidden truth in his confession that niggling feeling could be dealt with later, and she let herself believe that she could mend him.
All her defences were down, as he tore his own walls down, hers had fallen too. Knowing his weaknesses made her own seem inconsequential. She felt like he’d given her a gift by trusting her with his past, he’d opened his heart to her, and that wasn’t something she could ignore. No one had ever trusted her like this before, he might have issues around fidelity, but he had enough confidence in her to grant her the truth.
She didn’t try to speak. She stopped thinking. She was in his arms, and he had laid himself bare before her. He had opened his heart and soul to her, without asking for promises, payment or anything in return. The only request was that if she chose to stay with him that she do what he’d been asking for all along, give him a chance.The man holding her was raw and bleeding. He was the naked man. The man he wanted her to know. And she could see him.