Alight [Completed]

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Chapter 32 - Melody

It had been three months since I’d returned from London to visit Knox. I was home, but my heart wasn’t living inside my chest anymore. I didn’t know it was possible to miss another person so much that it felt as though I was choking on air sometimes.

We talked every day, but it wasn’t the same as being in the same place. If anything, I felt worse each time we said goodbye. He was trying. I was trying. But we were living worlds apart. Were we just trying to delay the inevitable here? Was there really a chance of a future with us, or was I kidding myself? Was I trying to hold on to something that would end up killing me, regardless?

We hadn’t put to words what we were. But when we said goodbye to each other in London, it felt just like the first time. It felt like we were breaking up again. There were tears; we were walking away from each other again. And it felt just like the previous time. His lack of putting into words what we were, was slowly eating away at me inside.

Knox called me again first thing that morning, as had become a bit of a routine with us.

“Good morning, Snow,” he’d say, and then I’d feel myself smile.

“Good afternoon, Knox. How has your day been so far?”

Then I’d quickly reach for my lipgloss and elastic band on the nightstand, tying up my hair into a messy ponytail before I’d switch the camera on.

“Good. But better now I’ve seen you,” he’d tease more often than not.

“Same here. It’s the best part of my day, talking to you.”

“What’s the plan for today?” He asked, just like he’d asked so many other days.

“I’m going to look at some houses with Connor,” I admitted, biting my bottom lip, because today’s answer was slightly different to what I’d usually say. I’d clearly gotten the idea from what he’d said in London that he perhaps wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of my friendship with Connor, although he hadn’t said anything since.

“Houses?” Knox asked immediately, a strange undertone in his voice.

“Yeah. He’s looking to buy a place. He reckons that a professional football player can’t be living with his parents, and I think he has a point,” I tried to keep the conversation light.

“Why do you have to go... house-hunting with him?” Knox asked roughly, and without saying so much in words, I clearly got the impression that he wasn’t happy about this development.

“Because he’d like a female perspective, and he said I have good taste,” I smiled, trying to pretend that I hadn’t picked up on his change in demeanor.

“You have good taste, Snow. It’s just... it’s a big step buying a house. And it kind of sounds like... nevermind,” he sighed and stopped abruptly.

I bit my bottom lip, not really knowing how much I should say, because I was starting to feel upset.

“Connor and I are friends, Knox. Just like you and I are friends,” the words slipped out before I could help them. The fact was, it was his choice that we weren’t together. He was the one who’d insisted that we couldn’t be in a relationship while we were living in different places. And it was unfair as hell of him to be jealous of my friendship with Connor, because if he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me, it meant he had absolutely no say over me and who I was friends with.

“Really?” His eyebrows shot up, and I inwardly cringed, because I could hear he was getting upset too, and the last thing I wanted was to fight with him. “I hope to hell you’re not friends with Connor like you’re friends with me, Mel.”

“What do mean by that, exactly, Knox?” I was now getting worked up, too. He had absolutely no right to be upset at me.

“I mean, I hope you’re not friends with benefits with Connor Blake,” he said heatedly, but the moment he said the words, I could see that he regretted them.

“Excuse me?” I asked, outraged, feeling tears prickle inside my eyes.

“That was... I’m sorry. I’m sorry I said that,” he looked as shell-shocked as I felt.

“No. You don’t get away with just saying ‘I’m sorry’ to an insinuation like that. Clearly, there’s something on your mind. If you have anything to say to me, just say it to my face, Knox. Because I promise you, I’m about to unleash on you exactly what I’m thinking here,” I gritted out the words, fired up even though my heart was bleeding out right now.

“Fuck. That completely came out the wrong way. I apologize unreservedly. I... I don’t know what got into me. I meant... it’s not just platonic between us. And I was hoping to hell that you didn’t have the same kind of relationship with Connor Blake,” he tried to explain, raking a hand desperately through his hair on that screen, and his words robbed me of my breath for all of the wrong reasons.

“What do you think of me, Knox? What do you really think of me? Admittedly, I haven’t played hard to get with you. But you know what? It’s because I’m not scared to admit what I’m feeling. It’s because I can be honest with myself. Can you say the same?”

He sighed, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Snow. You’re right.” His voice sounded thoroughly defeated, and he looked ashamed as much as he seemed shocked by his own reaction.

I felt a tear slipping across my cheek, and I angrily wiped it away with the back of my hand.

“You can’t have it both ways, Knox. We’re friends, because that’s what you want. Because you keep breaking up with me, every time we see each other. And you’re right - you have absolutely no right to tell me who to be friends with. You have absolutely no right to question me about my friendship with Connor. You’ve lost that right when you broke up with me - twice!”

I sobbed because I couldn’t suppress it anymore, and I hated myself for it. Was this the way it was always going to be with us? Pushing and pulling, getting together, breaking up. Being so happy that my lips hurt from smiling so much, then being so sad that my heart felt like it wasn’t going to survive this. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to me.

“I didn’t...” he started, but then I exploded...

“Regardless, he’s picking me up in less than an hour. I’ve got to go and get ready to go house-hunting with Connor for our intimate little love nest, so we can keep enjoying being friends with benefits, and have very friendly sex on every single surface inside and perhaps even outside that place. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

I disconnected the video-call, and switched off my damn phone, wanting to throw it against the wall.

Why did this have to hurt so much? Why was this happening all over again? Why did it feel as though I was in the middle of a vicious cycle, which either made me feel manically happy or manically devastated, without any middle ground? This wasn’t healthy, and I knew it. Something had to give, and soon...

Forty minutes later, Connor arrived, and he greeted me with a smile, which faltered immediately when he saw the expression on my face.

“What’s wrong, Mel?” He frowned, hugging me.

“I had a fight with Knox.”

Why did it hurt just to say his name?

“What about?” His eyes narrowed as he took me in. I felt so upset; I could feel my body shaking with a mixture of rage, disappointment, and sorrow.

“You, actually, believe it or not,” I shook my head, feeling bitter and hard-done-by inside.

“Me? What the hell did I do wrong?” He looked pissed at Knox already, even before I told the story.

“He didn’t seem to like the idea of me helping you to look for a place,” I said, looking straight ahead.

“What the actual fuck is the guy’s problem? He walks away from you, and he doesn’t want you to have friends?” He exploded, shaking his head.

“Seems like he wants it both ways. He doesn’t want the burden of being in a relationship with me, but he doesn’t like the idea of me potentially being in a... romantic entanglement with someone else, either.”

I felt embarrassed as soon as I’d said it. I hope Connor didn’t think I had any sort of romantic notions towards him. My cheeks exploded with heat just thinking of what I’d said to Knox about Connor before...

“Does he think that you and I are...” Connor asked with disbelief, and I quickly interjected before he could say it, wanting the earth to swallow me whole.

“No - he doesn’t really. Although I was so angry at him, I may have said a few things I shouldn’t have. He apologized immediately. But still...”

“I’ll call him if you want and give him a piece of my mind. Who the fuck does he think he is, having any sort of claim to you after he walked away, just wanting to be ‘friends’? " He used air-quotation marks, taking his hands off the steering wheel for a second.

“Don’t call him - please. I hung up on him before. But I’ll be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt like hell,” I admitted, just trying to breathe through my anger.

“He should wake up and man up and have the balls to tell you exactly how he’s feeling about you and what you are to him. Because someone who doesn’t care, doesn’t react like that,” Connor declared unceremoniously, and I couldn’t help but smile a little at how direct he was.

“You think?” I asked hopefully, despite the fact that I was angry at Knox.

“I’m a guy, Mel. I can tell you right now that it wouldn’t bother me in the least if some chick I slept with last month moved on with another guy. But I can also tell you that it would bother the hell out of me if a girl I deeply cared about, were with another guy.”

“Like Hailey was with Davis?” The question slipped out before I could help it, and Connor clenched his jaw.

“Yeah, exactly like that. And we’re not talking about this any further, either. This isn’t about me.”

He pulled the car to a standstill in front of a sleek, modern two-story.

“We’re here. Let’s go - the realtor is waiting outside already.”

We looked at the two places he’d shortlisted, and we discussed the pros and cons of each as we were walking through the second.

“I like this place best,” I gave my verdict.

He nodded, smiling.

“I had a feeling you were going to say that. What is it about the second one you like the best?”

I took another look around, smiling as well. It was exciting to look for a place to buy - even though it wasn’t my own. And I imagined myself one day, looking for a place that I’d call my own as well. And I couldn’t help myself, but I imagined Knox right next to me, holding my hand as we walked through the place, picturing our life together there.

“I like the fact that the main bedroom’s ensuite has a jacuzzi bath with a view. Imagine sitting there after a long day, unwinding with some candles and a glass of wine,” I sighed, and his expression was amused.

“Keep going. You’re giving me some good ideas,” he teased.

My eyebrows shot up.

“Have plans with the ladies, Connor?” I teased right back.

“You never know,” he said non-committally. “What else?”

“I like the kitchen. I like the light stone benchtops better than the dark granite ones in the other place. The tiles and splashback are pretty, and I like the color scheme. I also like how the kitchen leads out to the veranda with those windows that open up, and you have your entertaining space right next to the kitchen so that the person preparing food doesn’t have to miss out on the conversation.”

His smile grew bigger. “I imagine it as being more of a bar while having parties, but go on.”

“I just like the feel of this place more than the other one. It’s hard to place a finger on it. I can see you living here, Connor,” I smiled, and he seemed to like that.

“Me too. Let’s go talk to the realtor about making an offer.”

I followed him back downstairs, where the man was talking on his phone, and he immediately ended his conversation when he saw us approach.

“So, what did you think?” The realtor looked at me, and I smiled.

“I like it. It’s a great place.”

“Happy wife, happy life, right?” The realtor winked at Connor, and my eyes widened, but Connor just laughed, not correcting his assumption.

“So I’ve heard.”

“So, how would you like to proceed?” The realtor looked at me again, but I just shrugged, looking at Connor.

“Let’s put something in writing and take it from there.”

Half an hour later, we left, and I could see Connor was excited about the prospect of buying the place.

“Got your heart set on it now?” I asked gently.

“I try not to think with my heart these days, Mel,” he said somewhat cynically. “Not until something is actually mine. Otherwise, you just set yourself up for disappointment.”

“That’s a jaded view of the world, my friend,” I sighed, knowing that he was still wearing scars from whatever happened with Hailey.

“You live, you learn, and you try not to make the same mistakes again,” he shrugged, but I could see the emotion in those charcoal eyes.

But then he looked at me with a sudden intensity in his eyes. “I wish that I’d fallen for you, Mel, instead of her. Because I have a feeling we would’ve worked.”

And for the second time that day, I didn’t have an answer; I didn’t know what to say.

“Pity we’re both in love with other people, right?” I sighed, smiling at him, finally finding the right words to say.

“Yeah. There’s that,” he sighed, smiling too. “By the way, I’m going to have to ask for another huge favor, please,” he said as he opened the passenger door.

“You mean an even bigger favor than helping you look for a house?” I teased.

“Probably not, but still. There’s this sponsorship gala event on the weekend. There’ll be press and red carpet. The whole team has to go... and I was hoping to ask if you’d go with me, please.”

“Can’t get a date, Connor Blake?” I teased, and he laughed, shaking his head.

“It’s definitely not that. It’s the fact that there’ll be press. I’m not in a relationship right now, and I don’t want my name to be publicly linked to a random girl’s who I don’t know much about,” he explained, and I nodded.

“In case there are skeletons?”

He nodded in return.

“Yeah. I have to be careful who I’m seen with in public now, because it can blow up spectacularly with the sponsors and my contract if I’m seen to be involved with the wrong kind of people, even if I had no idea about what they’re involved in. And let’s face it - I can hardly ask a girl if she has a rap sheet when I ask her out, right?” He said dryly.

“Of course I’ll go with you,” I smiled.

He nodded, then frowned as he looked at me. “Thank you. But... are you sure it’s not going to cause more problems between you and Knox?”

“He has no right to have a problem with it, Connor. And if he does, then perhaps he needs to realize that he was to make up his mind and decide what he wants,” I said bravely, but perhaps also stupidly.

Connor nodded, and he had a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Do you want to know what I told him that day when I was in hospital, and you came to visit? It was just before he left, when you went to buy me protein bars at the convenience store...”

“What?” I asked almost breathlessly, because I had a feeling that this was either going to make me happy, or hurt my heart again.

“I told him that one day he’d realize his mistake to walk away from you the way he did. And that I would be looking forward to seeing him eat his words - all of them.”

I gasped, because right then, it smacked me right in the face what I needed to do.

“I have to break up with Knox...”

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