November 4th 2018
“You ready to try this again?” Joe asked with a big smile when she opened the door to him later that evening, another bag of Chinese food in his arms.
“Not really, but I kind of owe you.” She stepped back and opened the door to welcome him in.
“That, you do.” He chuckled as he stepped past her into the apartment but this time, he had actually been invited in. When he placed the bag down on the counter, her turned around to face her with a cheeky grin on his face. “So, how do you want me?”
“The couch would be ideal.” She rolled her eyes at his playful nature. “I haven’t had the time to buy a dining table.” She lied, avoiding his eyes.
He didn’t need to know that eating her meals at an empty dining table would make her feel even lonelier than she already was. Even when she was married, it had only been her and Calvin at the dining table at the off occasion that he had been home or decided to grace her with his presence. Most times, it was just her alone at the dining table, and she didn’t want anything to remind her of her old life, in her new life.
As stupid as it sounded, that included not buying a dining table.
She didn’t need any more reminders of what a disaster and failure her life had turned out to be. And as much as she hated being reminded of her old life, it was almost as if she just couldn’t get over it. Wherever she went, the remnants of her past followed, hanging over her head like a rain cloud getting ready to start raining and ruin everything.
“The couch it is then.” She murmured quietly.
Since she wasn’t freaking out like the other evening, Audrey was able to dwell on how weird it was to have Joseph Darcy in her living room, on her couch, eating Chinese food.
As if this was a regular occurrence and they did the exact same thing every Friday night.
Other than her brother and her sister-in-law whom had helped her move into the apartment, and her few work colleagues whom picked her up from the door before a night out, no one had actually visited her in her apartment in all the time that she had lived in it.
She almost couldn’t believe it.
“Have you changed your mind about the Chinese?” He asked her, forcing her to escape the hundred thoughts currently swarming her mind and thought process.
“No, of course not.”
“Have you changed your mind about me?” Even though he had a small, teasing smile on his face, Audrey saw right through him. The way he sat on the sofa, tense and not yet helped himself to any of the food, it was almost as if he expected her to throw him out of the apartment again.
She shook her head, no.
“Come join me then.” He patted the spot next to him, his lips curving up as the worry slowly left his face.
She took heed to his words and sat down on the sofa, careful to leave an adequate amount of space between them.
Audrey wasn’t quite sure what he wanted from her, a friendship, relationship or just company for tonight. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to jump to conclusions. That had never worked in the past and she was planning to do things differently this time.
If Joe wanted to be friends, then she was more than happy with that decision. If he wanted to be more than friends or pursue a relationship, then she would just have to send him packing.
The last thing she needed right now was a new man.
She turned her head and sent him a weird look, wondering why he was just sitting there.
Almost as if stuck in a daze, Joe shook his head and chuckled quietly to himself before opening up the bag and placing the various containers on the coffee table, having nearly gotten everything on the menu as he wasn’t quite sure what she preferred.
“I know you said you didn’t like noodles the other day, but I got some anyway.” He shrugged.
“I didn’t say that.”
A slow grin spread over his face at her reaction. “You implied it with your actions.”
“No, I just implied that I didn’t like you.” She teased as she helped him unpack all of the food.
Joe snorted at her statement. “I think you did more than just imply it. You pretty much announced it.” He threw his head back and laughed, thrown off by her bold statement.
This was more like the Audrey he had met last year.
When he finished laughing, he turned to only to take in the serious look on her face. To show that he was joking, he nudged her shoulder with his before continuing to unpack the food, not wanting to freak her out before they even started eating. However, that would still be more progress than last time.
“I wasn’t sure what you wanted to drink, so I hope a 7UP is okay.”
“That’s fine.” She smiled gratefully and eyed the cans. “But I’ve got some beers in the fridge if you’re interested.”
“That would be great.” He smiled and watched as she got up to head to the kitchen in her small, open-plan apartment. His eyes remained on her as she walked around the small kitchen island and to the fridge, bending down to grab the bottles. Before she could turn around and catch him ogling her plump ass so brazenly, he was quick to avert his eyes and get back to work.
Audrey placed both the beers on the table and plopped down on the couch, a few inches closer to him than before. It was unintentional, but she didn’t want to be rude by sliding away, especially since she was sure that he would notice it and knowing him, call her out on it.
“I got you a fork.” She said as she handed it to him before reaching for a pair of chopsticks for herself. “I’m not sure how good you are at using chopsticks.”
“Absolutely terrible.” He smiled gratefully and immediately dropped his chopsticks on the table to replace them with the fork instead.
“I guessed so.”
“How’d you guess that?” He asked curiously.
She waited to finish her mouthful before she spoke, but was unsuccessful with keeping the smile off her face as he stared at her.
“You don’t look like you’re too good with your hands.” Her expression was neutral yet mirth danced in her eyes.
“That’s a bold assumption to make.” Joe scoffed and reared his head back in mock shock, almost as if he was offended but she knew better. It took a lot more than a simple backhanded comment to stump Joseph Darcy. From the few things that she did know about him, she knew that he wasn’t very easily offended as he didn’t take anything too seriously but rather, with a grain of salt.
“I saw you struggling with them the other day.” She admitted, laughing softly at the funny look on his face.
“And I thought you were too mad at me to focus on anything other than trying to get me to leave.” He chuckled, clearly poking fun at her and getting her back for her earlier comment. “Well, I’ll have you know since you’re throwing around serious accusations here, I’m very, very good with my hands.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and it was all she could do to not burst out laughing, but she didn’t want to bruise his ego further.
Audrey had done enough damage to her as it was and she had no intention of making things worse.
“It’s just chopsticks that I haven’t mastered.”
“You’ll get the hang of it if you eat more Chinese takeaway.”
He shrugged nonchalantly and reached for an egg roll. “I prefer pizza but this is okay.”
Audrey frowned at that. “If you don’t like Chinese, why didn’t you just bring something else then?”
Sure, she had been the one to suggest that they get Chinese – especially since she hadn’t had any in nearly a year – but ultimately, the choice was up to him. He could have very easily decided to go with something else and she wouldn’t have said anything. She definitely wouldn’t have minded and knew that he was aware of that.
It was difficult to swallow her mouthful with those thoughts in her mind.
As playful and funny as Joe was, ultimately, he was a bit of an enigma. She just wasn’t sure if she would be able to handle him after everything she’d been through.
Audrey couldn’t help but think this was a classic case of the right person but at the wrong time.
Joe shrugged and twisted his fork in the carton of noodles. “I know Chinese is your favourite and I honestly don’t mind it.”
“Next time, you can choose what we have.”
He glanced up at her from his egg roll. “It’s good to know you plan on there being a next time.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She was quick to deny, but there was already a large grin on his face.
“It’s too late to take it back now.”
Once they had both eaten their fill, he had made sure to help her clean up and place the leftovers in her fridge, even when she tried to stop him and suggest that he took them home with him instead. In response, he had grinned and said that that she would enjoy them much more than he would.
When he spied a leftover slice of pizza, he helped himself and they both settled on the sofa again, this time, watching the newest episode of Riverdale. While she had never actually watched the show, he seemed to be a fan of how crazy the plotline was and while she found it confusing since she started watching from the middle of the season, she very quickly found herself enjoying it too and made a mental note to start watching from the beginning in her own time.
Or perhaps, that had something to do with the company she had while watching it.
“How’s your nephew?” She asked halfway through the episode, the thought of earlier randomly springing to mind. “I forgot to ask before.”
“He’s doing great.” Drawing his eyes away from the screen, he smiled at her. “They bandaged him up and sent him home.”
“How did he break it again?”
“He wanted to be superman and threw himself down the stairs. He ended up landing funny on his hand but luckily it was just a wrist sprain.”
Audrey couldn’t help but laugh at the notion. “He sounds like a masochist.”
Joe nodded. “I think most kids kind of are. They don’t know their limits and my nephew, Duncan, drives my sister absolutely insane.”
“I can only imagine.”
“My sister used to always tell me the kind of things that he got up to and while I believed it, it’s so different actually seeing it in person.” He chuckled to himself, clearly amused with all the mischief that his nephew got up to.
“And you don’t join in on the mischief along with him?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that.” Joe grinned cheekily and finished off the last of his pizza. While he skirted around the topic with his vague answer, his grin was answer enough.
“Do you remember when we first met?” Joe asked completely out of the blue, momentarily throwing her off guard.
Audrey glanced at him, a small frown on her face at the sudden question. “Yes, why?” She replied cautiously.
“No, reason.” He smiled at the screen and shrugged. “It just feels like that again.”
“What do you mean?”
“The way we are now,” he gestured between them. “Is just like how it was the first night we met.” When she still looked confused, he elaborated further. “We were perfect strangers but even then, I felt this electricity between us and I was so comfortable around you, almost as if I had known you my whole life.” He admitted honestly, surprising even himself.
“You were really easy to talk to.” She voiced aloud, unsure of what to say at the huge confession that he had just made. While she agreed with everything that he had said, she couldn’t bring herself to say anything further.
“We converse so easily and the banter is definitely there. You miss no opportunity to knock me down a peg and I’m the funniest man you’ve ever met.”
Audrey stifled her laughter as she stared at him with big, incredulous eyes. “I never said you were the funniest man I’ve ever met.”
“Actions speak louder than words, Audrey.”
She rolled her eyes playfully. “I get what you mean, though.”
“You do?” He sounded.
She nodded. “Even though it started off with me lying about my husband, it was just so easy to talk to you. Even if you were super annoying.”
“I wouldn’t say I was super annoying, but I was kind of annoying, wasn’t I?” He laughed softly.
“Persistent and stubborn actually.” She smiled, quoting the words he had used to describe himself the first time they met.
What a bittersweet moment it was.
“I knew you were lying about your husband being in the bathroom.”
“You knew I was lying all along?” The surprise was evident in her voice.
“Of course, I knew.” He chuckled. “I owned the place. Plus, I saw you walk in alone. However, adding the extra touch of mentioning that he has stomach problems really made me want to believe that it was true.”
Audrey laughed. She seemed to be doing a lot of laughing that evening. In fact, she laughed more in the few hours she spent with him than she had in the past year.
That was a difficult thought to swallow.
“What made you move here?”
“I told you. My lease ended and I wanted to move to be closer to my sister,” He tried to explain but she was quick to cut him off.
“I know that isn’t the only reason.” She rolled her eyes before sending him a pointed look.
“Okay, fine.” His smile dimmed just a little. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel like I really connected with you. I connected with you in a way that I’ve never connected with anyone else before. I know that sounds strange but I can’t explain it.”
A brief silence passed between them before she mustered up the courage to voice her true thoughts. “I think I understand what you mean.”
“You do?” He sounded, surprised.
She nodded. “It was almost as if we already knew each other.”
“That’s how I felt too.” He sighed, a solemn expression on his face. “It was just too bad that you were already married.”
“Unhappily married.” She pointed out with a snort.
Joe chuckled. “I didn’t know that at first.”
“It wasn’t clear just from speaking to me?”
Joe paused and stared at her for a moment. When she called out his name, he blinked and smiled sadly before answering her.
“When we first spoke, you sounded like you were in love with him. Like you absolutely adored him.”
“I did.” She frowned as she thought back to her previous life. “Or I thought I did.”
“I know that now.” He hummed, his eyes moving up and down, lingering on her plump lips for several seconds, almost as if they commanded his attention and begged to be caressed with his own set of lips.
“The few times that we ran into each other afterwards, I was able to truly see that you were unhappy.”
“Unrequited love.” She sighed sadly.
Joe frowned as he watched her. She didn’t like that he was being quiet.
“What are you thinking?”
“I don’t think you want to know.”
“Do you still love him?” Joe asked, his words rushed and his voice without hesitation.
Audrey was quick to answer, having pondered over that very question herself for months on end after the divorce.
Almost as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, Joe sighed quietly. Watching him, she couldn’t help but feel like he was relieved, almost comforted by her answer.
“I think I fell out of love with him a long time ago.” She said in a small voice. “I think I was more in love with the idea of what we used to be. How perfect we were before. I just wanted that, but he didn’t so it didn’t work out.” No tears sprung to her eyes as she spoke as she had cried over him far too many times before. He hadn’t deserved any of those tears, yet she had wasted them all for a man that simply was not worthy or appreciative of them or her.
“I feel like by holding on, I just made things worse.”
“What do you mean by that?” He asked curiously, though kept his voice gentle so as to not alarm her.
Audrey reminded him of the deal that she had made with Calvin towards the end of their marriage, giving them a final trial of two months to see if there was anything left of their relationship worth salvaging. There wasn’t, and that was why she had left before the two months had finished.
Two weeks early, to be exact.
“I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”
“But he made more.” He stated simply, his voice serious, needing her to know the truth. Needing her to understand that none of what had happened was her fault, but rather her ex-husband’s.
“Yes.” She agreed. “I just wish I left earlier; you know?” She glanced at him, desperate for him to understand. Other than her brother very briefly, Audrey hadn’t spoken about her feelings or thoughts on her marriage with Calvin. Over the months, she had kept them all in and often found herself pondering over how things had been between them, especially on how it had ended.
“You can’t believe that you stayed with him for that long?”
“Yes.” She confirmed instantly. “I just can’t believe I stayed with him so long. He was so horrid to me. He constantly mistreated me and talked down to me, and he was sleeping with so many women behind my back. When I found out, he stopped caring and even began flaunting them all in my face. He didn’t care or love me at all, yet I stayed with him because I was so blind.”
“Love makes you blind.” He stated simply, hoping to reassure her.
“That, too, sometimes.” He chuckled. “But not always.”
Audrey sighed and rested her head on the back of the sofa before rolling it to glance at him from under hooded eyes.
“You want to know what I think?” He asked softly.
“I think you left at the perfect moment.”
“Why is that?”
“Whatever time that you did leave him, that was the perfect time for you. There’s a reason why you stayed with him for so long, and there’s also a reason why you finally left him when you did. Perhaps if you had left him earlier in your marriage, then you would have run back to him and regretted it later. And if you hadn’t left when you did, maybe you would have never left him.
Audrey stared at him with a deep frown on her face, trying to process his words. Everything that he had just said was what she had spent months wondering and driving herself crazy over.
“When did you get so wise?”
Joe chuckled. “You’ve just never been in need of any advice before.”
“I could have done with some last year.”
“Everything happens for a reason.” He stated boldly. “I know it doesn’t always seem like that in the moment, but you’ll find it’s always true in hindsight. Everything that you do and everyone that you meet is for a specific reason. I don’t believe in coincidence but rather, I believe in purpose.”
“Why do you think we met?” She asked boldly, genuinely curious.
“I’m not sure yet.” He whispered quietly. “But I look forward to finding out.”
“What do you want from me?” She exhaled, unable to look away from him even though the intense scene between Jughead and Betty – Jughead, she had learnt was their ship name – on the screen demanded their attention.
“Everything. Anything. Whatever you’re willing to give me.”
“And what if I can’t give you anything?”
“I know that’s not true.” He whispered quietly, the words merely breaths of air passing his lips as he leaned towards her, closing the little distance between them. “I’m not going to rush you. We’re going to go at your pace, however fast or slow that is.” He paused as he gazed into her eyes. “Even if it’s just friendship that you can give me, I’ll take it happily.”
Audrey wanted to cry.
Why couldn’t she have met Joe before Calvin? Then she would have never been subjected to such pain or sorrow.
But as Joe had mentioned before, everything happened for a reason.
She couldn’t live the rest of her life regretting Calvin, even if he was the worst thing to have ever happened to her.
“You’ve given me a lot to think about.” She whispered.
He nodded and gulped. “Then I’ll leave you to think.”
When he stood up and stretched, all she could think about was his mouth on hers.
It was almost as if they had blinked and the moment had passed. Instead of passionate kisses and warm hands roaming over each other’s bodies, they shared an awkward hug which lasted too long to be classed as just friendly.
Before he left, he made sure that they exchanged numbers so he wouldn’t have to show up at her apartment unannounced anymore.
Watching him leave, she couldn’t help but wish that she had acted on her desires and pulled him down for a kiss. But she hadn’t, so maybe she just wasn’t ready yet.
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