Dreamy Dylan

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#11 Goddamn manipulative bitch

The next morning, I make my way to Liv’s bakery, and I don’t realize it’s closed until I’m in front of it. Stupid, because I’ve been helping plan the goddamn opening, but I don’t seem able to remember basic shit like that today. I snuck out of the house before Kian woke up, not wanting to face him when I don’t know how I feel yet.

We had a huge fight last night. Yelling, stomping off angrily, slamming doors, all of that drama. Yes, most of that was me, I’ll admit it. Why? He didn’t apologize. He honestly feels like I should understand that he has to be someone else when he’s at work. I don’t understand that, though. He can work somewhere else, right? If they don’t accept him? He’s smart and has a lot of experience. It shouldn’t be hard to find another firm to work at, right? It’s not like all lawyers feel like they have to be someone else at the firm. Annabel doesn’t, and neither does Aston when he’s around her coworkers.

I pace in front of the bakery, not sure where to go. Tracy and Thomas are knee-deep in diapers, Scarlett flew in a few days ago to see Mila, so those two are probably fucking all over their apartment, and I’m here, all sad and pathetic, wishing Liv’s bakery was open yet. I guess I could go home, but all my stuff is at Kian’s, even my laptop. If I want to get some work done, I need to go back to his place. Maybe I’ll just stroll around the city for a while, try to find some clarity.

“Hey,” a deep, familiar voice says behind me. “You okay?”

I turn around to see James standing on the sidewalk, in full police uniform. His colleague’s car is pulling up at the curb, and Elijah waves at me, in full gear as well. James is being picked up for work, he doesn’t have time for my mess.

“Yeah, fine,” I lie with what I hope is a convincing smile.

“You’re not.” Apparently my fake smile is shit. He points behind him. “Liv and Andre are upstairs, working on new recipes. Why don’t you head up? Andre is lactose intolerant, and Liv is… well, everything intolerant, so I’m sure they can use an extra set of taste buds.”

That sounds like heaven on earth, so I allow him to open his front door for me. He calls up to Liv that I’m coming up, and then he pats me on the shoulder.

“Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be okay.” With that, he leaves.

I know he’s right. It will be okay. I just don’t seem to remember what okay looks like. Or feels like. Or tastes like.

“You look miserable,” Andre says the second I walk in. “Here.”

I sit down and accept the coffee and pasty. Perfect breakfast on a day like this.

“What happened?” Liv asks kindly, rubbing her belly. She popped a week ago, and while she’s not huge or anything, she definitely looks pregnant now.

“I had a fight with Kian.” I know all my other friends would just tell me to dump him, but Liv and Andre won’t do that. They’ll listen, and talk me through it. I know they will. So I tell them the whole story, all my doubts, my insecurities, and how I don’t know what’s next for us. How to move past this.

“You want to work this out with him?” Andre asks, stirring his coffee. “This is a relationship worth saving?”

“Yes,” I reply immediately. What else can I possibly say? I love him. I’ve only loved two other people like this in my life. This feeling doesn’t come to me easily, and I’ll be damned if I give up now. “Yes, it is.”

“Then you eat another pastry, and you go home,” Liv tells me, pushing one of her new recipes in my direction. “And by home, I mean Kian’s house.”

“You need to talk to him,” Andre agrees. “No yelling, no accepting vague promises, and no empty gestures either.”

“Empty gestures?” I’m not sure what he means.

“Look, I don’t know Kian, so maybe I’m way off, but it sounds like he knows exactly how to get you to move past his fuck-ups.” Andre holds up his hands when I start to protest. “Not saying he’s doing it on purpose. Not saying he’s a bad guy. But after the debacle with his dad, he started going with you to see your family. He didn’t fix the actual problem – his father being a dick to you – but he did give you something you wanted, didn’t he?”

“Him investing in your family,” Liv agrees.

“But that’s all he did. He didn’t stand up to his father,” Andre continues, “or take you to see his mom again, or actually make an effort to hang out with your friends, or anything of the sort. He gave you one thing, and you were satisfied.”

“You’re wrong,” I say, “that’s not what he did.”

Andre shrugs. “Maybe not, but… it is a bit of a pattern. He made you feel terrible for not accepting your eccentric clothing style and your makeup, and instead of actually talking that through and figuring out how to move past the issue, he gave you another thing you wanted.”

“To meet his colleagues,” I realize. Fuck, are they right?

“I bet when you go home now, and talk to him, he’ll try to give you something else. Like hanging out with your friends more, or moving in with him, or whatever.” Andre gives me a pointed look. “I’ve been there and done that. I was where you are. Either break the pattern now, or you’ll end up looking back on your life in two years, feeling like you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. My guy got me to wear dressy pants and shoes that aren’t sneakers.”

I laugh at his disgruntled expression. “Did you combust from the sheer wrongness?”

“I wish.” He shudders. “There was more, though, but I won’t bore you with the ghosts of my past relationships. I just want to say… I get it. Maybe if I’d noticed sooner that Eric was changing me step by step, and placating me with small things I wanted, I wouldn’t have wasted two years of my life on him. I lost myself, and it took a long time to remember who I was and what I wanted in life. Eric was a lot worse than Kian, though. He definitely was doing it all on purpose. Goddamn manipulative bitch.”

I’ve never seen Andre this bitter, but then again I haven’t known him that long. I don’t know what he’s been through.

“Please bore me with your ghosts.” I hold up my hands pleadingly. Anything to distract me from my own misery.

“Are you sure?” Andre sips his coffee. “It’s pretty bleak. Not sure if sweet Liv here can handle a story like that.”

“I married a gay man who knocked me up at 18,” Liv says, rolling her eyes. “I think I know what bleak looks like.”

“Please,” I scoff. “He’s still your best friend, you have the least dramatic relationship with a co-parent ever, and you’re pregnant.”

“Plus, the baby daddy is a hot cop,” Andre adds.

“And her fiancé.” I wink at Liv. “Your life is not bleak, honey. It’s a modern fairytale.”

Her smile is so happy it blinds me. “Alright, it’s true. I’m blessed. Now tell us the story, Andre.”

He sighs and leans his forearms on the counter. “Fine. “But only because Dylan looks so bloody pathetic. My parents live three hours away, in a quaint little town. I always wanted to escape, of course. So I snagged a scholarship and moved here. I dropped out after three months and started working as a barista. Started saving up, knowing I’d alway want to open my own coffee shop.”

“Oh, it’s a modern fairytale too,” I sigh happily. “You’re so close to the opening now… Your dream came true.”

Andre grins. “Yeah, but before we get to that happy ending, I first met an evil prince, of course.”

“Right, Eric.” I roll my hand. “Please continue.”

“I was 19, still contemplating whether I wanted to move back home, or maybe give college another go, or stay. I’d made some friends here, so I wasn’t lonely or anything. I just felt… pretty useless, I guess.” He looks sad as he thinks back to those days. “Enter Eric. He was five years older, and he worked as a nail technician.”

“He did nails?” I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Yeah, is there anything wrong with that?” Andre looks almost defensive, even though we’re talking about his evil ex.

“Of course not. But when you say evil manipulative ex, I don’t imagine a guy doing other people’s nails in a salon.”

Andre shrugs. “I have a thing for men who are a little more… femine, I guess, if you want to use that word. Out there. Different. He always did his own nails, new designs every week, matching his outfits perfectly. He was quite a work of art. Not a style I would ever consider for myself, but…” He looks a little sheepish, his eyes darting over me and then away again quickly. “I like that look, I guess?”

Liv sighs deeply. “I love James’ tats, but I’d never get any myself. Makes him look all…”

“Sexy bad boy,” I finish for her. “That’s great and all, but I already know James is a tatted sex God with a pierced dick, honey. Let Andre tell his tale.”

“Pierced dick?” Andre repeats, whistling. “My my, officer Tyson is quite the enigma, isn’t he? All serious on the outside, freak on the inside.”

“You have no idea. He and his ex once recorded a p-” I shut up when I see Liv’s look. “Sorry, I will shut up now.” Too bad it’s not my story to tell. I bet Andre would get a kick out of it, and all our other friends know about James’ little porn adventure already. I get it though. It’s not something he’s proud of, and I admire Liv’s protectiveness of her fiancé. I will shut my big mouth for once and try to have a bit of a filter.

“Okay…” Andre shakes his head when it becomes clear Liv and I are not going to explain my unfinished remark. “So yeah, Eric and I were good for a few months. I moved in with him, and that’s when he started to buy me clothes, and move my old stuff to the back of the closet. He kept telling me I should get back to college, and he made comments about my weight, signing me up for his gym without even consulting me. He did it in a really sneaky way, though. One step at a time, and always giving me a little something in return. Sex, sometimes, or coming along to see my parents - which he hated to do, so each time felt like a gift - or him stopping by my place of work to compliment my coffee or something like that. Every time I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with what he was doing, he somehow made it seem like he was doing it for me, and I believed him. I was young and naive.”

“You were with him for two years, right?” I ask, wondering how and why he got out of that relationship.

“Yeah. I didn’t realize how much I’d lost myself and how much he had isolated me until one night we had a huge fight, I walked out of our apartment, and realized I had nowhere to go. I hadn’t seen my parents in six months, I’d alienated all my friends because they kept warning me that Eric wasn’t good for me, and I had no one to turn to.” He pulls off his baseball cap to run a hand through his short hair. “That was an eye-opener for me. I called Ivan, who I hadn’t seen in months either, and he picked me up even though I’d been a really shitty friend. I crashed on his couch for weeks, trying to reason with Eric so I could go get my stuff without him making a scene.”

“Making a scene?” Liv asks softly.

“Yeah, he’d cry, plead, or even threaten me. Things turned ugly for a bit.” Andre shudders. “I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s ages ago. It doesn’t matter what he did. When I told Ivan what went down, he broke into the place when Eric wasn’t home, and the two of us basically robbed my own apartment. Eric had changed the locks the second I walked out on him, you see. Once I had all my stuff, I boarded up the window, got my name taken off the lease, and never looked back.”

Fuck. That sounds terrible. I have a feeling that the part Andre doesn’t want to talk about involved violence, and that thought makes me feel quite violent myself. What kind of monster would hit his ex? A guy like Andre, no less, all sunshine and kindness?

“I’m not saying Kian is like that,” he ends his story, meeting my gaze. “Not at all. I’m just saying to be careful when someone doesn’t seem to accept you, and you feel like you need to change. When someone isn’t involved in your social and family life. When the person who supposedly loves you doesn’t make you feel very loved anymore. It took me a year to get back on my feet, so he basically took three years from me. Two years of relationship, and one year of healing from his shit.”

“I’m sorry that happened.” I don’t know what else to say. “You didn’t deserve that. I’m glad you got out. But Kian isn’t like that. I hear you loud and clear, but he’d never do that.”

“Good.” Andre’s voice is tight. “Because it fucking sucks.”

“Okay, more coffee?” Liv asks, rubbing both of our backs in that motherly way of hers. That baby in her belly is so lucky. “I think you need more coffee.”

“And one of those cupcakes?” I plead, batting my lashes at her.

She laughs and gets one for me. “You’d live on these if you could, wouldn’t you?”

Damn right I would.

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