#9 The story of Thomas and Francesca
Thomas isn’t going to let this go, so I decide to just put it out there. “Michel – the caterer – he’s my ex.”
“Ah,” Thomas says with a knowing look. “He’s the guy you’re getting over.”
I nod. “Yeah… sorry.”
“Not a problem,” he says with a shrug. “You’ve obviously figured out by now that I’m still into Francesca, even though that’s the dumbest thing for me to be, so I’m not one to judge. I think we both knew what we were getting into with each other, right?”
“I guess.” I scan the room, relieved to realize that Michel isn’t anywhere in sight. He’s probably prepping food somewhere. Thank God. “Do you need to stay here long, to show your face?”
“If you want to go home, we’ll go,” Thomas says immediately. “Not a problem. I already scored another assignment with the twins, and Dylan is networking his ass off, so I think we’ll end up getting way more orders than we can take on.” He nods in his friend’s direction, who is indeed handing his business card to the two people he’s talking to, smiling charmingly.
“You really don’t mind?” I ask, not wanting to ruin his night. “I came here in my own car, so I can just leave and you can get back to-”
“I’m coming with you,” he cuts in, smiling at me. “That is, if you want me to.”
Of course I want him to. If anything, I need the distraction of his strong, fit body against mine even more than I did last night. Now that we’ve established that we both know that we’re only using each other to get over our exes, I feel even freer than I did before, nothing holding me back from enjoying the hell out of this rebound fling.
“My place this time?” I propose.
“Actually, I want to check on The General if you don’t mind. He’s okay, but he tends to have some pain in his paw at nighttime, so I want to see if he needs some pain medication.”
“That is so sweet,” I say, reaching up to touch his face so I can pull it down and kiss him. “Okay, your place it is. But I need to get back early in the morning to walk my dog. I can’t keep asking my neighbor to do it. She’s got a bad hip.”
“Look at us, planning us having sex around our pets’ needs,” Thomas says with a grin. “Aren’t we cute?”
“So damn cute,” I agree, pulling him with me back to the front, where I push the button for the elevator. While we wait, Thomas shoots Dylan a text to tell him we’re leaving. He waves at us from the other side of the room, not looking bothered at all. He’s chatting to the twins again, laughing at something they’re saying.
When the elevator doors slide open, my breath is caught in my throat and I feel like I might faint.
“Tracy?” Michel says, looking at me in surprise. He’s holding two trays of appetizers in his hands, and eyes are as warm as always. His gaze moves to Thomas, who has his hand on the small of my back, and he frowns. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m on a date,” I say, feeling a little sick. “This is Thomas.”
“Hey man,” Thomas says, holding out his hand before realizing that Michel has his hands full. “Your fancy snacks are really good, man. You’re a great chef.”
Michel doesn’t even reply. “You’re on a date?” he asks, sounding incredulous. “We broke up barely a month ago!”
“Which means that we’re both single,” I remind him, trying to stay calm. I don’t want him to realize that I’m only doing this because I miss him so damn much. I want to throw myself into his arms and beg for him to take me back, but I know that would only end in mutual heartbreak. Again. We need to stop doing this. All the times before this one, I didn’t move on. I waited for us to find our way back and do it all over again. I can tell that Michel didn’t realize I wasn’t bluffing when I told him that this was it and that we should stop doing this to each other. He may have been the one to call things quits, but I guess I’m the one truly deciding to stop doing our stupid little dance that never leads anywhere.
“I didn’t think that you…” He trails off and looks down at the appetizers on his trays. “I need to get going. I’m working tonight. I’ll call you later, Tracy.”
“No, don’t,” I say quickly. I’m trying so damn hard to move on from him. For his sake as much as mine. I’m not good for him. He said so himself. “We’re over, Michel.”
“If you say so,” he replies, pushing past us and walking into the party, handing the trays to a waiter before making his way to the twins to ask them something.
“That was intense,” Thomas comments dryly while he leads me into the elevator and pushes the button for the front floor. “That’s the guy you’re trying to forget about?”
I nod, closing my eyes for a moment. Seeing Michel does things to me. Makes me feel things I don’t want to feel. I miss him so damn much. Thomas is a nice distraction, but he’s no Michel. Five years is not something you can get over in a month. Not even close.
“Want me to just drop you off at your place?” Thomas asks softly, squeezing my hip. “I get it if this changes things.”
“But your ex-”
“Is not someone I want to discuss right now.”
The elevator dings and we get out, his hand still on my lower back. I let him lead me out of the office and straight to my car. “Your car?” I ask, motioning to the other side of the lot.
“Dylan has the keys,” he assures me. “Do you want me to drive?”
I nod and had him my car keys, sliding into the passenger’s seat myself. I normally wouldn’t allow a man to take care of me – I’m a strong, independent woman after all – but that would mean exchanging my heels for the flats in the back, and I’m honestly a little out of it and I drank more champagne than Thomas, who is still stone-cold sober, while I’m a little buzzed, so it makes sense to allow him to drive. To allow him to take care of me.
“Tell me about Michel,” he says as he pulls out of the lot.
“I’d rather not.”
Thomas glances at me with a frown. “Humor me. I’m not asking for your life’s story, just to tell me a little about your previous relationship. I can start, if you think your story is pathetic. I’m sure mine is worse.”
“Doubtful, but try me,” I challenge him, crossing my arms over my chest.
He laughs and stops at a red light. “Okay, so you met my neighbor Francesca, right? Well, we’ve been friends for over three years, from the moment she moved into the apartment next to mine. We started sleeping with each other within the first month or so, but it wasn’t anything serious. Just sex. We started out as fuckbuddies, but we soon became way too good friends for that, so we became friends-with-benefits.”
“And you fell in love with her,” I add when he falls silent.
“Exactly,” he says softly, pulling back up when the light turns green. “I didn’t realize it at first, but I fell hard and fast, like I never have before in my life. I’ve had girlfriends and I’ve felt deeply for them, but not like Franny. It took me off guard. She obviously wasn’t interested in more than sex with me, so I settled for that, and then she started dating someone, and I met someone, and we sort of drifted apart, but each time we found ourselves single at the same time, we ended up in bed again, and I fell a little deeper in love with her.”
I look at him while he talks, and I can see the pain on his face, plain to see. He seems so carefree and cocky most of the time, but even Thomas has a heart that can be broken. And Francesca broke it.
“She always chose these total assholes to date, and they were never serious about her,” he goes on. “I was there to pick up the pieces every single time she got dumped, and I started hoping that maybe we could be more than just a casual recurring fling, but then she got this serious boyfriend, James, who gave her all the attention she as craving, and who made her feel special in a way none of the other guys ever did. So, of course, she fell for him. For the first time, I truly realized that I could lose her to someone else.”
“Didn’t you ever worry about that before?” I ask. “You just said she dated guys before this James guy.”
“Yeah, but I met every single one of them and they were assholes, or just not serious about her. She always went for cheaters, players, guys with serious commitment issues… Never anyone who I saw as serious competition. It took James wooing her for me to realize that I was truly and utterly in love with her and that I’d never be satisfied with the casual sex we kept having whenever we weren’t involved with anyone else. I’d already lost multiple girls because of Franny, and I figured that I should just go for it with her.”
“Lost girls over her?” I ask.
“Yeah, they gave me an ultimatum when they figured out that I hung out with my hot neighbor all the time: Fran or them. I picked Fran every single time.”
“Oh,” I say softly. He doesn’t even sound sorry about losing girls because of his friend who didn’t love him back. Who never will. He must really love her. “What happened when you went for it?”
Thomas laughs without humor, taking a sharp right turn. “I lost her. I told her that I wanted her, but I was so stupid about it. I told her when she was all excited about being James’ girlfriend and not at a point in her life when she was ready to look at me in a different light, and then I found out that when we met, she was interested. If I’d stepped up sooner, she’d have told me yes.”
“Why didn’t she ever say anything if she liked you back then?” I ask. “Is she old-fashioned or something, wanting the guy to make the first move?” That always annoys me. Girls can be just as strong and badass as guys are. My dad showed me that, and I still live like that. I hate it when girls wait around for the guy to take charge when they could just take control of their own lives.
“No, Franny thought that I was old-fashioned.” We’re at his apartment building now, and Thomas pulls into a vacant parking spot, but we both stay seated, staring out the window with unseeing eyes. “I know we’ve only just met, but I think you know me well enough to know that I talk a lot of shit. The way Dylan and I joke around all the time… I have the same thing going with Fran. We hang out in our pajamas, tease each other, get high… And I guess I made jokes about how I wanted to marry a girl, knock her up a million times and have her take care of all the housework and raise the kids while I provide for them.”
I can’t help but crack up at that. “Yeah, you seem extremely old-fashioned, Thomas. That sounds exactly like what I thought your future might look like.”
He grins and looks at me for a moment. “Exactly. That’s the correct response. Fran thought I was serious, and she decided not to try and date me because she didn’t want that kind of future for herself. And it took me three fucking years to tell her how I felt and to realize that while she may have felt the same at one point, she had shoved all that aside because of a joke I made when I was high as a kite.”
“That sucks.” I can’t imagine losing someone over something so stupid, and I feel bad for Thomas. Then again, I think that if Fran had truly been in love with him back then, she’d have asked him more about it, tried to change his mind or something. She might have been interested, but I doubt she was ever as hung up on him and he still is on her. “Then what?”
“Then she invested all her time in James until he was stupid enough to break up with her, and I got with Fran on the night they broke up.”
“Oh Thomas,” I sigh, shaking my head. “That’s horrible timing.”
“I know,” he grunts. “I felt like I finally had a window to swoop in, and I grabbed my chance. In my defense, I was a little drunk, and so was she, and she was looking extremely sexy that night.”
“I bet you think she always looks sexy.”
He grunts again. “Yeah, you’re right. And I know I need to get over her already. It’s been three months since that night, and she’s dating Joshua now. He’s a really good guy, and he worships the ground the walks on, so I guess she could do worse. I just… I don’t seem to be able to shake this feeling that if I just wait a little while longer, stay single so I will be available when they break up…”
“You still think she’s the one,” I finish for him when he trails off. “And that she will find her way back to you.”
“A few weeks after James broke up with her, she showed up at my place with The General, and I thought that she had come to tell me she wanted to be with me, but all she could give me was a maybe,” Thomas says more to himself than to me. “I told her that it wasn’t enough. And, of course, we slept together again. Every time she shows up, we end up in bed, even when I try to control myself. So I told her that if she wasn’t ready to be with me, I couldn’t be around her, and I locked the door on us. I was hoping…” He grunts and hits the steering wheel hard. “I was hoping that she’d finally see that we would be so right together. That she’d miss me and keep thinking about me the way I’ve been thinking about her for three whole fucking years, but instead, I pushed her right into Joshua’s arms and now he gets to fall asleep with her in his arms every night. That should have been me. It so should have been me.”
I reach out to take his hand in mine, feeling his pain. I know exactly how he feels. I’m not in the same situation as he is, but I do know what it feels like your heart was ripped out of your chest.
“I’m just trying to be her friend now,” he grumbles. “But it’s so fucking hard. I don’t want to lose her, not even if she chooses Joshua for the rest of her life, but I can’t seem to flip the switch and be okay with being nothing but her friend.”
“Maybe you should cut her out of your life,” I suggest. “Clean break and all that.”
Thomas gives me a curious look. “Is that what you’re trying to do with Michel?”
I nod. “It’s the only way.”
“I refuse to believe that,” he replies, looking sad now. “Franny has been my friend for too long to stop trying to find a way to keep her in my life without it destroying me. It’s only been a few months. I’m sure I’ll find a way. Joshua is a good guy. I like him. He’ll do right by her. If she can’t be with me, at least she’s got someone who will treat her right. Not like the assholes she dated before him.” He takes a deep breath and tries to push the thoughts of Franny aside. “Now it’s your turn. Tell me about Michel.”
I sigh. “Let’s go inside. I’ll need a drink for this story.”
He grins. “You sure you’re not just trying to get us drunk and horny so you won’t have to talk about him at all?”
“A girl can only hope,” I reply with a smile.
“You owe me the story of you and Michel,” Thomas insists. “But sure, let’s go inside so you can tell me with a beer in your hand.”
“Wine,” I say immediately. “I don’t care much for beer.”
“I don’t have wine, but we could get high,” he suggests while he gets out of the car.
“Sounds like a plan.”