Belinda had watched her carefully while they sat in the coffee shop. They’d talked politely but Jen could tell that Belinda was bursting to say something more. It wasn’t often that Belinda held back her option, so Jen wasn’t looking forward to hearing it. She knew that she’d been vocal about her doubts about Josh. She didn’t think he was right for Belinda and thought that she’d get hurt. That still rang true but now she felt the same way about herself.
“Just say it,” Jen finally broke the silence, “I know Drew isn’t in my league and I’m playing with fire.”
“Really?” Belinda lifted her eyes off her coffee.
“I know he has some sort of history,” she continued, “He hasn’t told me what it is, but he has promised me that he will when he’s ready.”
“Did he?” Belinda’s eyes showed her surprise.
“And I know that there’s no possibility of this ending well,” Jen frowned, “I don’t understand why he’s so persistent.”
“Is he?” Belinda bit her lip.
“It’s my fault. I stuffed up,” Jen rubbed the side of her face, “I knew he’d has too much to drink but when he kissed me at that bar, I should have walked away but I didn’t. Since then he hasn’t let me out of his sight.”
“I see,” she frowned.
“Stop that,” Jen exhaled, “Why is everyone being so weird about this? I know we aren’t right together but why are you looking at me like an alien is about to explode out of my chest?”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Belinda frowned, “I’m worried.”
“I know,” Jen whispered.
“And I’m trying to find a way to tell you to be careful, Jen,” Belinda took a sip of coffee. “He’s not who you think he is.”
“Is this where you tell me he’s a player and has a hundred girlfriends, and I’m just another one of his conquests,” Jen sighed, “Don’t bother saying it. I’ve already guessed it.”
“That’s not what I was going to say,” Belinda sighed and put her coffee cup down, “It’s not as simple as that.”
“Then what were you going to say?” Jen could hear the frustration in her own voice, “That I’m going to get hurt? That my heart will be feed into a mincing machine and made into dog food?”
“Jen,” Belinda grimaced, “Although that is a concern, I’m more worried about him than you.”
“Him? Drew? Really? Why?” the short questions fell from her mouth.
“Drew does have a history, that is true,” she frowned and looked towards the large glass windows at the front of the coffee shop, “Because of that, they are very protective of him. Drew, Sam, Mark and Josh are very close. They all have wounds, but some are deeper than others. I love Josh and I know that he’d be devastated if Drew gets hurt again.”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. This wasn’t what she expected.
“Please be careful,” Belinda lifted her eyes as she implored her, “Don’t hurt him.”
“Me?” she spluttered. “Why? You know me. Why are you saying that?”
“I know that you don’t date, and I’ve never seen you with a guy, which might mean that you don’t do relationships or that Drew is special to you,” Belinda frowned, “I don’t know the reason why you’re here with him, but please don’t toy with him.”
“I thought you knew me better than that,” Jen stared into her coffee cup.
“I’m not saying you’d do it deliberately,” Belinda whispered, “Drew’s not like other guys. He comes across brash and bold but inside he’s different. All I’m asking is that you think about what you’re doing.”
“Alright,” Jen lifted her eyes and looked at Belinda. She’d known her for long enough to know that Belinda wasn’t being malicious. She was a genuine person who was kind and caring. If she was worried, then it was for a good reason, “Can you tell me why?”
“It would be better if he told you the details,” Belinda sighed, “All I can tell you is that they all mother him. They’ve been on high-alert and very worried about him since Sunday.”
“Because of me?” she asked.
“No, they didn’t know about you,” Belinda cringed, “It was because of me. Now that Josh and I are together they’ve been concerned.”
“Did you and Drew?” Jen’s eyes widened as she moved away from Belinda.
“No,” Belinda looked horrified, “No, nothing like that. I’m with Josh, but they seemed to think that because we’re so happy that would have the reverse effect on Drew. But I think you should talk to him about that. This is just my interpretation of what I’ve heard.”
They both looked into their coffee cups as Jen contemplated what Belinda was saying. She couldn’t understand it and it made her curious and feel protective at the same time. He was confident, gorgeous and, apparently, scared. At some point in time Belinda was implying that he’d suffered, been injured, and bled, not physical but emotionally, and that made her angry. She wanted to find out how and why and then find the culprits and make them pay. She wasn’t a violent type, but her fists were clenched as she fought the rage.
She looked up and found Belinda deep in thought too. She watched her friend glance at the window towards the theatre. She knew she was thinking about her own man. Jen hadn’t seen this side of Belinda, she was always so focused on her work. She looked different now. Jen knew she still had problems with her work, but Belinda looked more confident and grounded than she’d been before Josh. But this, apparently, didn’t stop her from looking towards the theatre with concern.
“Why do you call Jay by the name Josh?” Jen asked to take Belinda’s mind off what was happening within the building across the street.
“Jay is the nickname his friends use. It’s short for JJ Masters,” Belinda smiled as her eyes became unfocused, “That’s the name he uses professionally. His birthname is Joshua. They all use alias’ to protect their families and to allow them some privacy when they need it. They have stage names and professional names for the public but try to keep their real names private.”
“Oh,” Jen nodded, she should have known that. Drey Anders was the name Drew used to use during his music career. But did that mean that Drew Miller wasn’t his real name? “They all use an alias?”
“As far as I know,” Belinda finished her coffee and looked out the window for the hundredth time.
Jen realised the time. They should be getting back. Darshar Voo would be there by now and, despite telling Drew that she was alright with it, she felt a little edgy. Belinda’s own discomfort was rubbing off on her, and her words of warning were still playing on her. If he was as fragile as Belinda was implying, then it made her nervous to leave him with a woman like Darshar. She felt the need to see him.
They walked back to the theatre talking about her work. She filled Belinda in with what had happened with Little Sammy and the others. She left off telling Belinda about Drew meeting them or that she was pretending to date Drew. It sounded too much like she was using him and, given Belinda’s concerns, she didn’t want to give her any more reason to think she would hurt him.
The theatre was busy when they got back. Lighting, sound and stage hands were everywhere. There were several groups bunched around the artists. Leric Dandy was talking to someone with a headset on, as his wardrobe people fussed over his costume-like outfit. He was very theatrical in his performances. The boys from FreshLife were lounging on some of the seats. They couldn’t have been more than seventeen and looked like they were heading to prom with crisp cut haircuts, baby faces, tailored suits and shiny black shoes. Dashar was on stage and was talking with Drew and Josh.
The guys were all working, so Belinda and Jen took a seat near the back of the theatre and out of the way. Darshar nodded someone who started a recording of one of her songs and then went to stand on a spot on the stage while the two men demonstrated the dance they would be doing. It was amazing to watch them moving. They were wearing black knee length tights but had nothing on their chests. They were dancing painfully slowly, stretching and contorting into various positions, sometimes in perfect synchronisation but other times complementing the other’s movements. It was mesmerising to watch.
The chorus of the song brought the two men to her. They then started to dance around and with Dashar. It was beautifully choreographed to be very sexy with the two men fawning over her, but for some reason Jen found it hard to watch. She dropped her eyes and noticed that Belinda was gripping the armrests with her fingers dug in. Jen put her hand over Belinda’s and they held hands.
“It shouldn’t bother me,” Belinda hissed through her teeth, “I trust him.”
“You wouldn’t be human if ‘that’ didn’t affect you,” Jen whispered back at her.
“What about you?” Belinda turned to look at her, “How does it make you feel?”
“I’m wondering if she’d still be able to sing after I rip her face off,” Jen snarled as Dashar and Drew frolicked together their faces too close, “I want to strip away every piece of her skin that touches him.”
“I’m glad it’s not just me,” Belinda laughed softy, “That woman makes me want to spit acid.”
“It’s just lucky that we trust them,” Jen glared at Drew knowing that he couldn’t see her, “Do you think that we could put shock-collars on them? If we did that then we could pulse a ‘small’ electric current through their private parts every time they get too close to her?”
“That might make it difficult for them to dance,” Belinda growled as Darshar turned to Jay, “Although the idea does have merit. Just a small shock to remind them that we’re watching?”
“Exactly,” Jen nodded, “And if they’re touching her at the same time and she gets electrocuted too, then that would be an added bonus.”
“Thanks for that,” Belinda laughed softly, “You know that I’m going to be pushing an imaginary button every time she touches him from now on, don’t you?”
“What this button?” Jen curled her hand into an upright fist, with her thumb curled to push downwards on top, she pressed the pretend button several times in quick succession as Darshar latched onto Drew again.
“Please tell me that you’ll be coming to this thing with me?” Belinda laughed softly, “I’d appreciate the support.”
“It isn’t really my scene,” Jen frowned but one look at Belinda’s pleading eyes she knew that she was going to attend. But it wasn’t just Belinda. After seeing Darshar with Drew she knew she had to attend. If she didn’t, she’d end up grinding her teeth flat, dismantling his expensive motorbike into small pieces, emptying the contents of his refrigerator onto his bed to create a modern piece of art, and it wouldn’t end well. “Alright, if he still wants me to come.”
“That isn’t going to be a problem,” Belinda laughed and indicated towards the stage.
The must have been finished because Darshar was leaving, and Drew had a hand over his eyes as he searched the theatre. As soon as he saw them, he jumped off the stage and headed straight towards their seats. Jen released Belinda’s hand and they both shuffled in their seats as they straighten themselves to pretend to be unaffected by what they’d just witnessed.
“You’re here. Did you see?” he said as he reached them, “What did you think?”
“Be polite,” Belinda whispered while hiding her lips.
“I thought,” she tried to think of something productive to say, “I’m thinking that I’m going to ban any future Jam-and-cream performances.”
“Jam-and-cream?” Belinda’s eyebrows shot up, “What is that?”
“We only do that style of dance at hen’s parties for brides-to-be and their friends,” Drew looked confused, “This wasn’t like that.”
“Hen’s parties?” Jen and Belinda said at the same time.
“You didn’t like it, did you?” Drew’s lips formed a straight line.
“Excuse me Belinda,” Jen got out of the chair, grabbed Drew’s hand and headed for the same quiet corner he’d previously taken her. Then she let go of his hand and turned to him, “I’ve changed my mind.”
“You have?” he frowned, “About what?”
“It does bother me,” she looked up into his confused expression, “I’m swear that I’m about to rearrange that women’s face with my fist.”
“What woman?” he asked then his expression cleared, “Darshar? You’re jealous?”
“I’m not jealous,” she growled, “I just didn’t like her touching you. That’s not jealousy, it’s something else, public decency issues, hygiene concerns, PDA phobia, or some sort of anger management issue.”
“Really?” he moved in close to her, “Exactly how jealous are you?”
“You’re not on safe ground, Pretty Boy,” she glared at him, “What is the nature of your relationship with that woman? And why is it necessary for her to lay one finger on you?”
“You’re even more adorable when you’re jealous,” he whispered as he moved in and kissed her.
All her annoyance morphed into desire. She kissed him back with her hands in his hair and her body against his. She didn’t care why, she just needed to feel him against her and know that he was kissing her just as desperately. He lifted her up and pinned her against the wall, her feet came up and wrapped themselves around his waist as his mouth attacked hers and his hands cupped her bottom.
“Where’s Drew?” the voice was Sam’s. It was coming from the stairs above their hiding spot.
Drew stopped kissing her but didn’t release her. They froze, locked together, breathing heavily as they tried to stay silent. It wasn’t that she wanted to overhear the conversation, but she didn’t want to be caught in this compromising position by his friends who didn’t like her to start with.
“I don’t know,” it sounded like Mark, “He’s probably somewhere with that short woman. You saw Jay? Belinda seemed to be remarking her territory, I suspect that Drew’s in a similar position.”
“Do you think they’re serious?” Sam asked.
“What? You didn’t see him?” Mark said as their voices moved off into the distance, “Please kill me if I ever get like that. Just cut my throat, put an axe through my chest, anything would be better than being that pathetic. Promise me that you’ll put me out of my misery? Promise me, Sam?”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Sam’s warning was the last thing they heard as the theatre doors closed behind the two.
She felt herself breathe again and her muscles relax. She was hanging off him. He held her tightly, his freshy-shaven jawline against hers and his tight dancing pants taut and pushed into her centre.
“Are you marking your territory too?” Drew whispered as he rubbed his cheek against hers.
“Are you calling me a dog?” she pushed his shoulder back to glare at him but couldn’t hide the smile on her face.
“No, but I’m happy for you to claim me,” his eyes sparkled, “We could go back to my place and you could put your scent all over me, if that helps.”
“That’s just gross,” she gave him a gentle push as she freed herself from his embrace, “It was just a dance, right? You haven’t slept with her?”
“I’m a one-woman man,” he left his hands either side of her as he lowered his face down to her, “And you’re the only one I’m interested in. I won’t cheat on you.”
“But we’re not,” she started to say but he put his finger over her mouth to silence her.
“You might not be convinced yet,” he whispered as he touched his nose to hers, “But I’m sold. I like you Jen. I want you. I’m yours when you’re ready for me.”
“Mmmmf,” she spoke into his hand.
“But I don’t want to have this conversation here,” he sighed, “Tonight, I’ll sit you down and listen to everything and patiently explain why you’re wrong.”
“You’re so arrogant,” she huffed as he took his hand away and released her.
“Yes, but that’s not a good enough reason to deny me,” he smirked, “And you love that about me, anyway.”
“I do?” she raised her eyebrows.
“Yes, you do,” he linked his hand with hers, “Now I’ve been rebranded as your man, where do you want to go?”
“Don’t give me any ideas, Pretty Boy,” she smirked as she walked with him, “You might not like where I place my Brand. Which reminds me, you neatly avoided my questions before.”
“Yes, I did,” he frowned, “Yes, it’s just a dance. Mark choreographed it so that it matches the rhythm and words in the song. It’s my job.”
“And Dashar?” she prompted.
“It was just once,” he looked away, “I won’t lie to you. Once. We slept together once. But we were both drunk.”
“We were drunk,” she stopped causing their hands to part.
“I was drunk,” he corrected, “But this was very different.”
“Why?” she frowned at his correction.
“Because I wanted you before and after we slept together,” he lifted her face so that he could see her eyes, “I think it’s pretty obvious that I still want you without any alcohol in my system. And I would have found a way to be with you even if we’d not ended up together that night.”
“You didn’t even notice me before,” she turned her head away.
“Really?” he laughed as he recaptured her face, “I might have been preoccupied the day I met you but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t notice you.”
“You did?” she lifted her eyes to him.
“Yes,” he looked away, “And you weren’t the only one who did a little research. Just because you don’t have a Wikipedia page, don’t think that this stopped me from find out everything I could about you. I even went down to Trenton and found where you worked and asked around about you. I had a plan. I just jumped the gun and ended up in bed with you instead of romancing you.”
“You came down to Trenton to find out about me?” she scoffed, “Unlikely.”
“Ask Belinda,” he sighed, “I went to see her while I was down there and gave her the concert tickets, two concert tickets. It was me who suggested that she brought you.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. He held his hand out to her. She looked at it for a couple of seconds before she placed hers into the outstretched hand. She felt her insides fluttering.
“I can’t do anything about the past,” he frowned as he linked his fingers with hers, “What happened with her was a long time ago. We have both moved on and are good friends. I don’t have any lingering feelings towards her and I won’t repeat that mistake. There is no reason for you to be jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” she pouted.
“But don’t let that stop you if you want to remind me who I belong to,” he stepped closer in that crowded foyer, “You can sear your red-hot brand into my skin in any place you chose to place it. I trust you.”
“Foolish words, Pretty Boy,” she said but the quiver in her voice betrayed her.
“We’ll see,” he laughed, “Stay here, I’m going to get dressed and then we’ll go somewhere.”
They walked, the rain had stopped, so he held her hand as they strolled through the city. She enjoyed it. He was funny and made her laugh with his quick wit and frequent innuendos. And it was nice not being in a rush to get anywhere. They didn’t go into any shops or buy anything other than food, they just walked and talked. She smiled so much that her cheeks ached.