#14 No reason to panic
When I wake up and feel someone’s arms around me, I freeze for a moment. Who the fuck is in my bed? The first name that pops into my mind is Dshawn’s, but that’s stupid, because I’m not even sleeping with him.
Then I remember last night with Joshua and I smile, snuggling against him and stroking his soft hair. He wakes up with a yawn, kissing me tenderly and pulling me on top of him even though he’s still not fully awake. He’s got morning wood going on and we both groan, ready to go after only being awake for half a minute.
The sex is just as good as it was last night and we cuddle after, drifting back off to sleep. When I wake up for the second time, I’m in the bed alone. I get up and pull on one of his shirts and my panties, stretching out before I walk into the living room of his apartment. He is in the open kitchen in nothing but sweatpants, cooking us breakfast.
“How can you afford a place like this?” I ask, leaning against the counter and grabbing his coffee mug, drinking the last few sips in there. I sure didn’t live in an apartment like this in college.
“Rich parents,” Joshua states simply. “Good morning, beautiful. I like you in my shirt.” He gives me a kiss and moves to pour me some more coffee when the doorbell rings, disturbing our perfectly peaceful morning. He frowns for a moment before making his way to the hallway to open the front door.
“Hey,” I hear a female voice say.
“Erm… hi,” he replies, sounding hesitant. “What are you doing here?”
“I miss you,” I hear her reply. “Can I come in for a moment?”
“Actually…” He pauses.
“Oh my God!” the girl exclaims loudly. “There’s someone in there with you, isn’t there?”
“Yeah,” he says with a grunt. “Can we do this some other time?”
Of course, the girl doesn’t listen and a few seconds later she’s in the living room, staring at me with raised eyebrows. She’s taller than I am, almost as tall as Joshua himself, and she’s got fiery red hair and bright green eyes. Her skintight green dress makes it obvious that she’s not just here to talk to him. This must be the ex-girlfriend, wanting to get him back.
“Who the fuck are you?” she asks, her voice way too loud and angry for this early hour.
“Shaughna,” I reply, holding up my coffee mug as a way of greeting. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me and it probably won’t be the last time either. “Nice to meet you.”
“You moved on already?” the girl asks Joshua, spinning around to face him. “Here I am, missing you for four months straight, unable to even so much as look at another guy, and you’re just sleeping with someone else like I mean nothing to you?”
“We broke up,” he reminds her, but I can tell that he wants to comfort her. He’s such a sweetheart.
“I’m going to get dressed,” I announce. “I’ll be out of here in five minutes. Don’t mind me.”
As I get changed in the bedroom, I can’t help but hope he won’t get back with his girlfriend. And not just for selfish reasons. Joshua and I have a good time together, but the fact that I spent the night with him is already freaking me out. It’s a matter of days before I start pulling away from him. This isn’t going anywhere, he’s just the absolute best way to spend my time. Still, I hope that we won’t get back to the girl who made him feel so worthless. He finally regained his confidence and now she’s here, trying to suck him back into that fucked-up shit again.
“Shaughna…” Joshua walks into the bedroom just when I’m stuffing my things in my purse and want to walk out. “I swear I had no idea that Jasmine was going to show up here today. I haven’t heard from her since we broke up.”
“No need to explain,” I assure him. “I’m leaving anyway. I’ve got work in an hour. Just…” I hesitate. “Look, it’s not my place to say anything, but from what you told me, she wasn’t good for you. Just think things through before making a decision about whether or not you want to take her back, okay?”
He frowns and takes my hands in his. “Shaughna, I’m not going to do that. Not now that you and I are dating. I really, really like you.”
Oh shit. “We’re not dating,” I say, pulling away from him. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have stayed here last night. I was just really tired.”
“Shaughna!” he calls after me when I stalk out of the living room, past Jasmine, into the hallway and finally out his front door. “Don’t walk away from me!” he yells, hurrying after me. “Shaughna!”
I don’t listen and just get in my car and drive away, leaving him standing there on the sidewalk in his sweatpants while Jasmine glares at me from the threshold.
I messed up. Big time. I led him on and now he caught feelings for me. I like him too, a lot actually, but I’m just not that invested. He was a wonderful distraction and a great friend, and last night felt an awful lot like making love, but a lot of that had to do with how relaxed he made me feel. I just… I can’t. The fact that he wasn’t even the first person I thought about when I woke up this morning says it all.
If I am ever going to fall in love again, I wish it would be with Joshua, but he’s just not it for me. I wish he was. And I led him to believe that he could be. I’m such a stupid bitch.
Back home, I call Caroline, but she’s at work, so she can’t pick up. I curse and call Francesca instead, who picks up with a yawn, complaining that I just woke her up. I tell her what happened, and she immediately offers to take me out tonight, to drink and dance and forget.
“Yes,” I agree. “That’s exactly what I need.”
When I arrive at work, I’m happy to see that Hollister isn’t working today. Instead, 30-year-old Michel is in, chatting with Kieran. He usually has a different schedule than I do, so we chat for a few minutes while he flips burgers and chops tomatoes. Then my shift starts and I leave the kitchen, much to Kieran’s relief. He always finds it annoying when I hang around for too long, because I always push them to work harder and not slack off so much. I put on my apron and head to the front to take over my tables from the waitress that is just finishing up her shift.
I walk to the booth in the back, knowing that it’s one that easily gets overlooked, causing customers to get annoyed with us.
“Hello, I’m Shaughna and I’ll be your waitress today,” I say politely to the man sitting there on his own. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
When he looks up, I gasp. Those grey eyes, the short black hair, the muscular build. Oh God, I didn’t think I was ever going to see him again. Melchior. He can’t be here. He can’t be. He opens his mouth and says something, but it’s like I’ve gone deaf. My breathing speeds up and I feel like I’m going to faint. The man reaches out to me and I flinch, trying to get away from him even though I can’t breathe. He touches my arm and I scream, even though I can’t hear the sound myself.
“Hey!” a soft voice reaches my ears and I stumble into Joshua, who is suddenly behind me, pulling me against him. “Hey, calm down, what’s going on?”
I have a hard time breathing and I realize what’s happening. I’m having a panic attack. I haven’t had one of those in six years. The realization actually makes me a little more calm. I know what to do. I just have to control my breathing again. I focus on Joshua and match my inhales and exhales to his, which makes me realize just how rapidly I was breathing before.
Slowly but surely, I start feeling a little better. Sound returns to my ears and I realize that a lot of people are talking around me, asking what’s wrong.
“Did I scare you?” a deep voice sounds behind me, coming from the man in the booth. It’s not his voice. It’s not Melchior’s raspy voice. It’s not him.
To make sure that I’m right, I turn around and look at the man a little more carefully. He looks an awful lot like Melchior, but he’s not him. He is a little shorter, a little younger and his features are a bit softer. Less angular. Thank God.
“I’m okay,” I say, trying to smile so everyone will back off. “I’m alright. I thought you were someone else. I’m sorry. Can I take your order?”
A fellow waitress tells me that there’s no way I’m going back to work right now and she and Joshua force me to sit down in the booth that the man was just sitting in. He moves to a different table, smiling at me like he pities me. Everyone is looking at me like that. Fucking hell, I haven’t felt like this in… a long, long time.
“Hey,” Joshua says, sliding into the booth right next to me and pulling me against him. He strokes my back until I’m completely calm and I’ve stopped trembling so damn much.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, feeling like I am going mad.
“I came to see you,” he explains like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “You weren’t at home, so I figured you’d be here. I walked in just in time to see you have… whatever that just was. Are you okay?”
I nod. “Yeah, it was just a panic attack. No big deal.”
“It looked like a big deal,” he says, pulling back slightly to take a better look at me. “You look better now though. What happened? Why were you panicking?”
“No reason,” I lie.
Joshua sighs. “Come on, Shaughna. Just tell me. It’s obviously got something to with that guy over there.” He motions to the man from earlier, who is not paying any attention to us anymore, thank God. “You said you thought he was someone else. Who did you think he was?”
“Someone I really don’t want to see,” I say vaguely. I haven’t thought about Melchior in months and I really thought I was past this by now. I haven’t seen him since I was 18, so why am I suddenly so shaken up?
“An ex-boyfriend,” Joshua realizes, understanding flashing in his eyes. “He really did a number on you, didn’t he?”
I shrug, not wanting to let on just how fucked up him and I were together. To say he did a number on me would be an understatement. He broke me. And he loved every minute of it.
“That’s why you were so understanding about my ex-girlfriend, isn’t it?” Joshua goes on, thinking back to every conversation we ever had. “You are always asking me to tell you about my relationship with Jasmine, trying to help me see that the things she said to me don’t define me. It’s because you know what it’s like to have someone undermine your confidence like that, isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” I agree. “I just want you to know how amazing you are. To know that even if someone tells you that you’re not worthy of being loved that you can move past that.”
Joshua frowns and I realize I’ve said too much. “Jasmine never said that to me,” he says softly. “Is that what your ex-boyfriend told you?”
Even though Joshua is sweet, I don’t want to talk to him about this. He doesn’t understand. He’ll just tell me that Melchior was wrong and an asshole and all the thing everyone always says. And all of those things are true, but that doesn’t change that I’ve never been able to shake what happened between him and me. I was only 18 and he showed me how weak love makes you. How stupid it is to trust someone. How dangerous it is to let your guard down. It was the worst summer of my life.
“What you did for me…” Joshua pushes my hair out of my face with a sad smile. “It’s so sweet. Every time you’re with me and you tell me how amazing I am and point out all the things I’m doing right, not just in the bedroom but in general… You made me feel like myself again, Shaughna. Who did that for you, after you and your ex broke up?”
“No one,” I croak out. What Joshua is describing is not something I ever had in my life, because I never let anyone in long enough to do anything like that for me. What I get are guys like Hollister using me, casual hook-ups, fuckbuddies… Nothing lasts. The only thing that lasts is friendship. Caroline, Francesca. That is lasting. Guys aren’t. Love isn’t.
“How long ago did he leave?” Joshua asks, not letting this go.
“Seven years ago,” I breathe. “I was 18.”
“Oh, Shaughna…” He pulls me in for a hug and strokes my hair tenderly. “Let me be that person for you. Let me be the one to heal you, like you did for me.”
I push him off and shake my head. I don’t need anyone to fix me. I may be broken in some ways, but I’m just fine the way I am. And Joshua was nowhere near as distraught when we met as I was after Melchior left me.
“Let me in,” Joshua pleads. “You don’t have to be strong all the time, Shaughna. Just let me listen to you like you listened to me.”
“No,” I say, finally sounding like myself again. “Really, I’m fine. I need to get back to work.”
“When do you get off?” he asks, not letting me out of the booth. “I’m picking you up.”
“No need,” I assure him. “Really, I’m perfectly capable of driving home by myself. Just let me go.”
“Shaughna,” he says with a sigh. “Please.”
When I don’t respond, he finally slides out of the booth so I can get up as well. I straighten my apron, pull my hands through my hair to fix it and plaster a bright smile on my face. “Do you want to order something?” I ask Joshua politely.
“No, I think I’m just gonna go.” He looks at me one last time before leaving the restaurant.
I take a deep breath and move to the next table, taking orders. I’m fine, I tell myself all morning and afternoon as I keep working like nothing happened. I’m fine. Nothing is wrong.