“Thanks again,” Kate says as she plants a soft peck on my cheek. Even though I know I shouldn’t let her do it, I make an exception. She’s been so miserable this afternoon, and she can use a friend right now.
She was in tears when she called me earlier today, telling me how her dad had been in an accident and his condition was critical. Her parents live in Detroit, and it was killing Kate that the earliest flight she could get was tonight. So of course, I said yes when she asked if she could come over because she needed company.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to take you to the airport tonight?” I ask her.
“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t want you to cancel your plans with Emma just because of me. I’ll be fine. I appreciate your help, Jack.”
When she hugs me again, I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Not because I can’t bear physical contact, but because I know Emma wouldn’t like this. She still doesn’t like Kate, and she doesn’t trust her around me either, but I couldn’t leave Kate hanging today. I will tell Emma all about it later, though, despite knowing it might start an argument, but lying to her isn’t an option.
“Okay. Call me when you have news,” I tell Kate.
“I will. Bye, Jack.” And with another peck on my cheek, she turns and walks down the street. I look after her for a minute before I walk back inside.
Once I’m in my apartment again, I go to the bathroom to take a shower, and just as I’m dressed, my phone rings. It’s my sister. “Hey, Liv!”
“Jack!” she yells.
I frown at the urgency in her voice. “Yes. What’s going on?”
“Is Emma with you?”
The frown on my forehead deepens, and my heart rate picks up. “No. Why? I thought she was with you.”
“She was, but then something happened, and she wanted to go to your place.”
“What do you mean, something happened?” I have to hold onto the dresser I’m standing next to because I suddenly feel dizzy.
“We were at the playground, and Lucy started talking to another girl. We joined them, and the little girl’s parents were there as well. Emma was acting weird, and after they were gone, she said she knew the guy. But she wouldn’t tell me any more. All she said was she had to see you. Jack, I’m really worried about her now.”
With every word my sister says, my unease grows. “When was that? Should she be here by now?”
“That was an hour ago, so yes, she should be at your place by now!”
“Okay, breathe, Liv,” I tell her even though I don’t feel like breathing either. “I’ll try to call her.”
“Yes. And please let me know if she’s all right. I don’t want to get all worked up here, but she was pretty upset.”
"Of course. I’ll call you later. Now I’m gonna try and find her.”
We finish the call, and I dial Emma’s number right away, but after a couple of rings, it goes to voicemail. I try three more times, but no luck. And just because I don’t know what else to do, I try a fourth time. And finally, someone answers the call.
Yes, someone. And it’s not Emma. A voice I recognize immediately tells me, “Stop calling her. She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
My blood already starts boiling because Rob answers Emma’s phone, but what he tells me, makes me even angrier. “What the fuck? Why?” But I don’t get an answer because Rob ends the call without any further explanation.
“Dammit, you fucking moron!” I yell at my phone. But at least now I know where to find Emma.
So I make my way over to Rob’s place, and I’m a little surprised that he answers his door right away. He doesn’t say anything, though, just glares at me.
“I need to see her,” I tell him.
“No,” he plainly says. “I told you if you made her cry-” And again he doesn’t finish the sentence and just takes a deep breath and narrows his eyes at me. “I’m not going to let you talk to her.”
I run my hand over my face and let out a frustrated groan. “What did I do? Will you at least tell me that? Who was that guy she saw today? And is she okay?”
“She will be,” is all he says, and it takes me all the willpower I can bring up not to punch his face. “You better leave now,” he adds and wants to close the door, but I take a step forward and use my foot to keep it open.
“No, I will not leave until I talk to Emma.”
“Not gonna happen, buddy.”
Did he just call me buddy? Gosh, this guy is pushing every button I have. “I. Am. Not. Leaving!” I tell him again through clenched teeth.
“Rob,” a low, shaky voice suddenly says behind him. “It’s okay; let him in.”
Hearing Emma speak in this sad, heartbroken tone is making my insides churn.
Rob steps aside and opens the door further, and my gaze falls on Emma, who’s standing there with red, puffy eyes, resting her hands on her belly. My first thought is that there’s something wrong with the baby.
“Emma,” I say softly as I take a few steps toward her. But she retreats right away and even lifts her hand to keep me at a distance. “What’s going on? The baby-”
“He’s fine,” Emma interrupts me.
“Then what happened? Who was the guy at the playground today?”
Emma lowers her gaze and covers her eyes with her hand, trying not to cry. She takes a couple of deep breaths before she looks up, right into my eyes. “That guy - it was Dylan.”
I give her a questioning look. Dylan? That name sounds familiar. And then it dawns on me. “Shit,” I say. “Dylan as in your one-night stand?”
She nods. “And the father of my baby. Turns out he’s a cheating scumbag. He has wife and kids.”
“What?” I growl. “That bastard. I’m so sorry, Em.” I take another step toward her, but again, she takes a step away from me. I narrow my eyes. “What’s this about? Why won’t you talk to me? Why do you back away from me?”
A cold shiver runs down my spine when she says my name like it’s tearing her apart. Tears run down her face, and her chin trembles.
“Because,” she goes on, “when I came running to you - in my moment of utmost despair after I discovered what I had done - the moment I needed you most-” She takes another deep breath, tilts her head back and looks up to the ceiling.
And then it hits me. She wanted to see me. She came over. “You saw me with Kate,” I whisper.
“Yes,” she whispers back without looking at me.
“Fuck,” I mutter, and Emma’s gaze snaps back to me. She glares at me as if she thought I’m feeling caught, but I just regret I didn’t tell her right away what happened. I should have told her before Kate came over.
“No, Emma, please. It’s not what you think,” I try to tell her, but I know I try in vain when Emma rolls her eyes.
“Ugh, Jack!” she grunts. “You always say that. Next, you’re gonna tell me she’s just a friend.”
I grimace. “She is. She called me because her dad had an accident, and she needed a friend to talk to.”
“A friend! A friend!” Emma waves her arms around as she paces back and forth. “Here we go again. I can’t hear it anymore.” She comes to a stop in front of me and glares at me. “She’s not just a friend, Jack. She wants you, and she’s lurking in the shadows, waiting for you to notice her, to dump me, and take her instead.”
I gasp. “How can you even think something like that could happen? I could never do that to you. Don’t you get how much you mean to me?”
She crosses her arms in front of her chest. “Well, not really when you keep meeting with Kate. And behind my back too.”
I run my hand through my hair and let out a long, heavy sigh. My gaze falls on Rob, who has silently been watching our exchange, and for a split second, I’m wondering if he’s enjoying this. After all, he’s the one who’s been questioning my motives all along.
I look back at Emma. “I’m sorry about that. You’re right; I should have told you.”
She groans. “It just sucks that it had to happen today of all days. Can you imagine in the slightest how I feel? All I wanted was to be in your arms, and then I see you hugging her instead.”
I frown. “I’m so sorry, Emma.” I take a step toward her because I want to hold her so badly right now, but again, she won’t let me near her. “Please, let me touch you,” I whisper.
Emma shakes her head. “No, Jack. I can’t. Not now. This time it’s me who can’t bear to be touched.” She takes a deep breath before she says with such a sad expression that it crushes my heart, “Please, leave.”
Now I shake my head. “No, I can’t do that. What I can’t bear is the thought of you staying with him.” I point to Rob. “That he is the one to comfort you.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rob smirk, and I’m seconds away from finally wiping that stupid grin off his face. But then I notice that Emma saw it too and glares at him now.
“Rob! Really?” she scolds. “Are you happy about my misery? I can’t believe you right now.” She storms past Rob and returns a moment later with keys and her phone in her hand. “I’m leaving. Goodbye. And I dare either of you to come after me!” She points her finger at Rob, then at me.
“Em-” Rob grabs her arm, but she tears it away immediately.
“No!” she yells. “I’ve had it with you. Both of you.”
Without another word, she rushes out of the apartment, and I let her because I know there’s no use running after her. So does Rob, apparently, because he stays put like me.
We stare at the door until Rob is the first to move a moment later. He rearranges his glasses and sighs. “Good job, man,” he says as he glares at me.
I snort. “This isn’t entirely my fault. You could have just kept that fucking smirk off your face. I get that it makes you so happy that I screwed up, but you just screwed up too.”
Rob shakes his head and groans. “Okay, I admit I could have handled the situation a little better.” He sighs and slumps his shoulders. “I think we should try to get along,” he mumbles. “For her.”
I study him for a moment. “I agree,” I say with a deep sigh. I’m not sure how we’re going to do that, but I’m willing. As he said - for Emma.
“You really love her, huh?”
I give him a surprised look. I wouldn’t have expected him to acknowledge that. “More than anything,” I answer him with a subtle smile.
“Just give her a day or two. She’ll come around.”
I nod. “Hm. Thanks.”
“So, uhm - do you want a drink or something?”
I chuckle and shake my head. “No thanks; I don’t think we’re quite there yet. But I promise I’ll try my best to stop being horrible to you. For Emma.”
Rob laughs, “Okay, you’re right. Truce?” He stretches out his hand.
“Truce,” I say as I shake it.
A little while later, I’m back home where I keep on worrying about Emma because I have no idea where she went. She sent me a text, at least, telling me I shouldn’t worry about her, and she needed some time, so that’s what I’m doing.
And while I do that, someone’s at my door. I open it and give Paul, who’s standing there with pizza and beer, a surprised look. “What are you doing here?” I ask him.
He smirks. “I had to leave. Emma showed up at our house, and Tessa let me know quite clearly that I was to go because she and Emma needed to talk.” He walks past me into my living room where he makes himself comfortable on my couch. “And as Emma was pissed at you,” he continues when I sit down next to him, “I figured you could use some company.”
I smile at my friend, grateful for his company.
“Now tell me what happened.” Paul hands me a beer and looks at me expectantly.
So while we eat and drink, I tell him how I messed up today, but plan to make it up to Emma.
Knowing that not Rob, but Tessa comforts Emma now, makes me feel so much better.
And yes, I know it’s a little hypocritical to expect Emma to accept Kate as my friend when I have a hard time with Rob as hers.
So once Emma has calmed down and is willing to see me again, we’ll sit down and talk about this yet again, hopefully for the last time.