#9 That is what loves looks like
Taking a deep breath, I force myself to pull Annabel aside for a chat. We’re all in the parking lot in front of the police station, after having gone home for a bit. I’ve been here longer than the others, since I didn’t actually need a shower, but I did grab myself some coffee and a sandwich. I still desperately need some sleep, but I’m alright for now. I just know that if I don’t talk to Annabel before Aston gets out, I might lose my chance.
She follows me to Pinky and sits in the passenger seat, angling her body towards mine so she can look at me.
“I want to thank you for getting Aston out of trouble,” I say, needing to get this out before I turn petty. And that might happen, since I’m still hurt that he picked her instead of me. But she is fighting for him, and I appreciate that. I grab the steering wheel in my hands just to have something to hold, looking down at my hands so I won’t have to look at her while I talk. “I know he’s not mine, but I’m sure you must have caught on by now about how much I care about him. He’s lucky to have you in his corner.”
She lets out a surprised sound. “Erm… you’re welcome?”
I laugh at her hesitation, and she joins in. Damn, this is awkward. I know the next thing I want to ask her is going to be even harder than admitting to her that I care about him and thanking her. I find some courage within myself and turn to her, studying her face. “You’re in love with him too, aren’t you?” She turns bright red in a second, and it’s obvious that she’s very much aware of just how much she likes him. “Yeah, you are,” I decide when she doesn’t speak up. “You don’t even need to tell me. I know that look.” I laugh when I realize that I’ve worn that look myself over the past couple of months. “What is it about that guy?”
“I think we both know what it is.” Annabel looks me straight in the eyes, fire burning deep in them. “He’s amazing.”
“Yes, he is,” I agree immediately. I feel like I have to warn her somehow. Maybe it’s different between them, maybe he really likes her, but chances are she’ll end up just as heartbroken as I am. “But he’s also infuriating, the president of the goddamn slut league, and totally clueless when it comes to love. He didn’t even realize I had fallen for him until it was too late to cut me off without hurting me. And let me tell you, I wasn’t exactly subtle.”
I cringe at the memory of me showing up at his apartment in a sexy white latex nurse uniform that I ordered from a sex store online. Or that time way before he knew I was in love with him, when I asked him to have sex with me without a condom so I could feel closer to him. Yeah, I get stupid when I’m in love, apparently. It’s the first time I’m in love, so I’m not sure if it will be like this every single time or just with Aston.
“He told me about you,” I tell Annabel, who isn’t speaking up. “Only little bits and pieces, but enough to know that he’s confused. He has no idea what to do about you. I just… I feel like I should warn you. I’m not sure what he wants or feels, but you need to realize that he’s not suddenly going to become a different person, even if he decides to really try with you.”
“I know.” She sounds resigned, like she already made her peace with that. “All I know is that I love him. Maybe that will be enough.”
I study her face. “For you or him?”
She shrugs. “Both.” She’s silent for a moment, but then she opens her mouth again. “How many girls has he slept with? He sometimes makes comments about having been with hundreds of girls, but surely that’s an exaggeration… right?”
“Oh, it’s true.” Poor woman, she’s been lying to herself, just like I was doing for months. She thinks that Aston can’t truly be the player he’s always bragging he is. She thinks that it can’t be that bad. “At least three hundred. He stopped counting after hundred, but it must be over three hundred. He doesn’t keep girls around for more than a few months, and even when he has a regular fuckbuddy like me, he still needs more. Aston doesn’t do monogamy and he’s used to having sex every day. Multiple times a day, even. He’s not exactly secretive about that.”
Even when we were fucking four days a week, multiple times a day, he still found other girls to be with when we weren’t together. Sometimes I feel like he must be some kind of sex addict. Then again, I was addicted to him as well. I might still be.
“And he’s truly never had a girlfriend?” Annabel asks, sounding like she’s on the verge of crying. I know that I’m hurting her by being so blunt, but she needs to know what she’s getting herself into.
“Annabel,” I say softly. “You already know the answer to the questions you’re asking. Aston is the most amazing guy I know, but if you’re stupid enough to fall in love with him, he will wreck you without even trying. Trust me, I’ve been on the bottom of that pit. I’m still climbing out, slipping every time I think I’ve reached the edge.”
“Fuck me,” she mumbles, her hands curling into fists. She bites her lip, probably trying not to cry. Poor woman.
My heart goes out to her more than I thought it would. Before, I thought that I wanted nothing more than to see her fall apart, to have Aston dump her ass like he did with me. I seriously thought that would make me feel better about myself, but that was just stupid. I’m making Annabel feel even worse, and she’s obviously so deeply in love with Aston that she doesn’t know what to do with herself. I can’t help but wonder how these two ever met and what exactly their relationship is like. Maybe she’s what he needs, maybe he’s in love with her too. It sure looked that way last night, when he didn’t even look at the girls who were throwing themselves at him.
“I hope it all works out for you and him,” I hear myself saying, even though I didn’t even decide on speaking up. “He’s never ending up with me anyway, so I figure I should at least root for you to get your happy ending.” I take a deep breath, knowing I am going to hurt myself with the next words that will come out of my mouth. “Maybe I’m wrong. He does seem to like you. I’ve never known him to drive three hours just for a booty call. Maybe you are different. I sure hope you are. That means there is hope for the rest of us yet.”
She opens her mouth to say something, but I see Terryl and Asia pulling up next to us, so I get out of Pinky and Annabel rushes out as well, more than ready to see Aston.
“We got the call!” Asia yells to everyone. “They’ll be out in a few moments.”
Everyone starts talking to each other, and Annabel is right next to Nathan, talking to him in hushed tones. They’re closer in age to each other than they are to Aston and Caroline, and it seems they know each other better than they know the others. I wonder if something went on between them at one point. In a way, them being together would make more sense then him being married to Caroline and Annabel pining after Aston.
I tear my eyes away from them and look at the police station. When I see Dshawn and Aston making their way towards us, I gasp. “Guys?” I say, my voice breaking.
Everyone turns to see the two bloody, beaten men walking across the lot. Dshawn’s eyes are on Shaughna, but his mother gets to him first. She embraces him, and Terryl rushes over as well, throwing his arms around the two of them.
My attention is on Aston, of course. He looks like he’s not even sure he’s still alive. His eyes are on Annabel, going so wide that they might pop out of their sockets.
“Aston!” Annabel’s voice is high and thick with emotion. “Oh, baby!”
“Anna?” he says like he can’t believe she’s here. “You came?”
“Of course I came, you stupid asshole!” She runs to him, hugging him carefully like she’s scared he will break.
“You came, you really came,” he says in a tone I’ve never from him before. Is that love?
“I told you,” she tells him in a bitchy voice. “I told you that I’m here for you. Do you think I’m a fucking liar?”
And then they’re kissing, her legs around his waist, completely wrapped up in each other. There’s no doubt in my mind anymore. He loves her. That is what loves looks like. I never found that myself, but I sure recognize it when I see it. This is it. There’s no more hope for me and him, if there ever was any. He’s in love with this 40-year-old paralegal that lives three hours away from him.
Fuck my life.
All around me, people are hugging and kissing. Caroline and Nathan, Shaughna and Dshawn, Asia and Terryl, Annabel and Aston. And then there’s me, standing all alone on the side. Once again, I’m on the outside looking in.
My phone buzzes and I pull it from my back pocket, surprised to see that it’s James Tyson.
I’ve got the day off tomorrow, he says. Is that too soon to take you out for lunch?
I honestly don’t know if that’s too soon. I want to go home and sleep for hours and hours. But… I do have the day off tomorrow, and surely I’ll be awake by the time lunch comes around. It could be breakfast for me, if I really feel like sleeping in. Maybe I should stop wishing Aston will suddenly realize I’m the love of his life. The best way to get over someone is to get under someone new, and while I thought that someone would be Thomas, it might as well be James, right?
Sure, I text back. Pick me up at 1 pm. I add my address, feeling a little weird about making plans for a date while the guy I love is kissing his girlfriend two feet away. At least I’ve got a date. I should be happy.
I walk over to my car, leaning against me while I wait for the others to stop kissing and get in their cars. It takes a while, but finally Caroline and Nathan go back to their hotel, and Terryl manages to get Asia back in the car as well, leaving Shaughna to catch up with Dshawn. Shaughna is the first to realize that I’m still here, and that Aston and Annabel don’t have a way of getting home. Annabel drove here with Caroline and Nathan, who are gone already. Sure, they could call an uber, but that seems silly when I’m here with my car and nothing better to do.
“Fuck,” Shaughna says when she reaches me. “Aston and Annabel don’t have a car here. Hers is still at Asia’s place.”
“I know. I will drive them to it, no worries.”
“No,” Shaughna says with a fierce look on her face. “Dshawn and I will take them.”
“Shaughna… I’m fine. Annabel and I talked, and I have to say that I think I dodged a bullet with Aston.” I’m not sure if I mean that, but I do think that it’s insane how one man can have two women going crazy for him without even trying. “Damn,” I go on, trying to convince Shaughna I am okay. “She is even more messed up over him than I ever was. You need to be with Dshawn right now. I can handle being their driver for fifteen minutes. Trust me.”
“Okay…” she says, sighing. “Thanks. That’s sweet of you. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to know, because you’re amazing. Call me tonight, okay?”
Oh God no. I just want to go to sleep. “Tomorrow,” I say pleadingly. “I’m exhausted, I just want to go to sleep when I get back home. We’ll talk tomorrow, I promise.”
We hug goodbye and then she’s off with Dshawn, and I’m stuck in the parking lot with Annabel and Aston, who are still holding onto each other for dear life. When he finally puts her down and drapes an arm around her shoulders, they both look shocked to see that everyone else is gone.
“Hey,” Aston says, stepping away from Annabel to hug me for a moment, pressing a kiss to the top of my head. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I assure him, my heart doing a little backflip with him so close. Fuck, I really need to stop loving him. Now. “How about I take you and your girlfriend home?”
“Sure,” he says, not even objecting to me calling Annabel his girlfriend. “Thanks, Fran.”
He gets in the back right away, stretching out and closing his eyes. He must be even more tired than I am. Annabel hesitates, her hand lingering on the door that Aston left open, but then she closes it and gets into the passenger’s seat instead to give him more space. Or maybe because she doesn’t want to be tempted to make out with him with me forced to watch them in the rearview mirror. Whatever her reasons are, I’m not going to complain.
When I pull out of the parking lot, Annabel starts pestering Aston about putting on his seatbelt. He just rolls his eyes at her and remains stretched out across the seats, yawning.
“Don’t worry, babe,” he tells her in a sweet voice. “I’m indestructible. You should have seen me fighting Hollister and Melchior. I was like a motherfucking superhero.”
She grunts and crosses her arms over her chest. I shake my head as I take a turn. How did someone so serious and someone so carefree fall in love with each other?
“This really isn’t safe,” Annabel tells Aston after a stretch of silence. “We didn’t go through all this trouble to get you out of that hellhole only to have you die in a car crash.”
“Please, Franny is an excellent driver.” He laughs. “Even that time I fingerfucked her on the highway she stayed focused on the road the entire time.”
“Aston!” I reach behind me to smack him. “You can’t say shit like that!” Fucking hell, sometimes I forget for a moment how inappropriate his sense of humor is, but he’s always quick to remind me. Why would he say something like that when he knows I’m still in love with him, and his girlfriend in the car with us?
“I was arrested, I’m pretty sure I can say and do whatever I want for at least a week and everyone will forgive me because they feel so bad for me.” He laughs again, sounding completely unbothered by the fact that Annabel and I are horrified. “I’m a hero, after all.”
“You’re not,” I say, rolling my eyes at his antics. Still, I can’t stop myself from laughing. This attitude of his is exactly why I fell for him. “If you were, Joshua wouldn’t be in the hospital right now.”
“Right. How is he doing?” Aston sounds genuine concerned about Josh’s wellbeing. “He fought admirably for such a scrawny guy.”
“He’s alright, he’ll heal.” I look at him for a moment before focusing my attention on the road. I’ve had one important question for Aston all along, and I think that the answer is something that concerns the nervous woman next to me. After all, Aston is the one who left Shaughna and Joshua alone outside the club because Shaughna got under his skin by saying something to him about Annabel. “What I’m trying to figure out is why he and Shaughna were outside of that bar on their own in the first place,” I start out saying. “I thought you and Dshawn were making sure that Shaughna was never on her own?”
“She wasn’t on her own!” Aston exclaims, sounding like he’s feeling guilty. “Like you said, Joshua was with her.”
“And like you said, Joshua isn’t nearly as muscular or strong as Dshawn, let alone anywhere near your league. There’s a reason you and Dshawn were her bodyguards these past weeks. She stepped outside with you, yet she ended up outside with Joshua, while you were inside dancing with some blonde bimbo.” I know I’m being nasty, and the remark about the blonde bimbo is a lie and I didn’t plan on saying that. Guess I’m a little bitter after all. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that whatever Shaughna said to him is important. And he’s not good at dealing with serious feelings. Just look at the way he dumped my ass. He was trying to be nice about it, but he did end up saying something like “You knew that I don’t do monogamy, so what the hell were you doing sticking around once you caught feelings?” Yeah, Aston can be a little crude.
“She’s right,” he says softly to Annabel, who is trying to comfort him now that I managed to get him to feel bad. “I should have been there. It’s just… Shaughna really knows to get under my skin sometimes.”
“What did she say?” Annabel asks, more than a little curious.
“She accused me of being scared.” He makes a sound that’s somewhere between a groan and a grunt. “Still, I should have been there with her. She was right, of course. I am scared.”
“Of what?” I ask, feigning surprise. I already know what he’s scared of. He’s in love with Annabel, and he has no idea what to do about that.
“Nothing,” he bites out. “Can we listen to some music now?”
I wish he’d just tell her already. If I’m going to be forced to watch these two be all lovey-dovey, I’d rather it would start sooner rather than later. With a sigh, I turn on the radio. We all remain silent until we reach Aston’s apartment. Annabel thanks me politely for driving them, but Aston gets out without a word, angry for me pressing him the way I did.
Well, fuck him.