Chapter Seven - The Lines Are Blurred
My smile fell. I didn’t have a lie stowed away for my parents. I didn’t have something ready to go.
“My dad was a teacher, he’s retired now and my Mom…” my words stuck like glue to the roof of my mouth. My Mom had been a teacher too, but I couldn’t get it out. I couldn’t explain what had happened.
I wanted Jaq to meet my Mom too, for reasons I didn’t understand, but it was impossible. Before I could stop myself tears began to roll down my cheeks and on to the front of my dress. I covered my face with my hands, embarrassed by my sudden breakdown in front of people I barely knew.
I wanted to tell them how wonderful my Mom was. How her smile lit up any room she walked in, how she taught me everything I know. But none of it vocalized itself. My heart just hurt.
I felt arms wrap around me, I could smell Brennan’s aftershave. I’d bought it enough times to be able to pick up the scent anywhere.
“Come on.” He whispered in my ear, so close I could feel his hot breath as it tickled against my skin. “I’m sorry.”
“I asked about her parents?” Jaq questioned, her tone was full of concern, which set me more at ease. At least she didn’t think I was too crazy.
“Grace’s Mom passed away a month ago.” Brennan said softly, still holding me. He helped me up and cupped my face in his hands. I had to give him props, he was committing to the devoted fiancee role on a level I hadn’t expected and right now I felt thankful for the comfort, however fake it was.
“I should have let them know, I’m sorry.”
He pulled me in close, against his chest. He was warmed and smelled good. His heart was thumping hard against his chest and I just barely stopped myself from lifting my hand and placing it over the top of the rhythmic beating.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” Jaq exclaimed, I could hear shuffling and moving about. Her hand was on my back.
“Take care of her Brennan.” She exclaimed before kissing her son on the cheek.
“I will.” He replied.
Brennan turned me around, but kept his arms around me. We walked slowly out of the cellar and back into the foyer of the house.
“I feel like an idiot.” I muttered through tears.
“You’re not.” He replied. “You’re grieving.”
The words coming from his lips caused me to come undone. I don’t know why, I’d known I was grieving from the moment I found out she had passed. I’d known every second since then that I was grieving and maybe I’d always feel like I was grieving. I broke down again, tears fell thick and fast and I felt a little unsteady on my feet. Before I really knew what was happening, Brennan swept me up off my feet. Holding me like he was going to carry me over the threshold. I looked up at him, probably looking like a puffy sobbing mess and wondered what was going through his mind.
We walked into a room that was almost larger than my entire apartment. I could tell by the scholarly awards on the walls with Brennan’s name on them, that this had been his room.
Brennan sat me down on the bed, a king sized bed… in his childhood bedroom. He walked over to my case and pulled it to the bed, lifting it up.
“Where are your PJ’s?” He asked innocently. The question seemed absurd, and yet he stood there standing over my half unzipped case.
“What are you doing?” I questioned.
“Taking care of you G. You’re upset.” he flipped the case open. My ‘PJs’ were sitting on the top. I’d packed a singlet and shorts, but as I now realized, by Brennan’s continued presence and his case over by where mine had just been.
We were rooming together.
My sleepwear was hardly scandalous, but I’d also be bearing more skin than I had in front of Brennan and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that. Brennan picked up the singlet and the shorts, correctly ascertaining they were my PJ’s. He walked to his bathroom and started the taps in the bath.
“Y-you’re running me a bath?” I stuttered.
“Yes.” He replied. “You don’t have to have it, but I’ve put some lavender oil in there.”
My apartment didn’t have a bath, the idea of lying in hot water and just relaxing sounded amazing.
“No, I’ll have a bath. Thank you Brennan.”
“And about sharing a room. Don’t worry I’ll sleep on the floor.”
I looked at the bed and let out a chuckle.
“Something funny?” he replied.
“Your bed almost needs its own area code. I’m pretty sure we can safely sleep in the bed and be nowhere near one another.”
The taps turned off and Brennan walked back out into the bedroom. He walked around to where I sat and then sat sort of beside me.
“Are you sure?” He said softly.
“We are both adults Brennan.” I responded. “Although I’m currently an emotional wreck of one.”
“You’re allowed to be. You lost your Mom.”
I nodded and chewed on the inside of my cheek to stop myself from crying, but it was to no avail, tears formed again. Brennan sighed and shook his head.
“Like you need reminding.”
“It’s always there Brennan. The hurt is just brimming at the surface waiting for something to push it over the top. Talking and thinking about her.” I stopped and took a deep breath willing myself to speak without falling apart. “It fills me with all the joy and the pain at once and I don’t know how to process it. But I need to process it Brennan. I need reminding.”
“What you don’t need is the ridiculous charade I’ve set up for us to play along with.” Brennan scoffed. “You’ve got enough going on, I just had to be a fucking asshole and force you to either serve your notice or pretend to love me.”
Brennan sounded angry, but I could tell it was with himself by the way he spoke, his hatred directed toward himself.
“Brennan.” I whispered. “I’m sad about my Mom. I think a part of me always will be.” I spoke of her without crying for the first time since she’d passed, but ignored that milestone in the moment because I couldn’t bear to let Brennan think I felt forced into any of this.
“But I didn’t say yes just because you said you’d forgive my notice period. I think I would have said yes even if I hadn’t handed in my resignation.”
“Because I’ve worked for you for three years and you haven’t been home once. Because despite how you feel, they’re family. I get that sometimes estranging yourself is something that needs to be done, for safety or sanity. You wanted to come home, and you thought this charade would make you feel more comfortable.”
Brennan smiled. He tilted his head. “Dad asked me how business was.” he paused. “He’s never asked that before, he’s never cared. I hate that it came to this, but even if its a lie, I’m glad for a weekend I can pretend I’m not a complete disappointment to them. So thank you, for being a loyal PA and friend.”
“We’re friends are we.” I replied with a smile.
“I hope so.” he replied. “I don’t think I want you out of my life forever.”
My stomach churned. What the hell did he mean by that? Once I was no longer his PA I’d expected we’d go our separate ways. We didn’t usually converse outside of the office so why would that change when I left. I chewed on my lip and studied him with far too much intensity for supposed friends. They’d change because they already had.
As soon as I’d agreed to this weekend they had changed.
“I don’t think I want that either.” I murmured. “We’re friends.”
“You should go have that bath.” Brennan smiled standing up, he held out his hand for me. “Before it gets cold.”
I nodded and slipped my hand in his to steady myself as I stood up. I hadn’t expected to be so close to him, our bodies were almost touching. I swallowed hard, and found myself resisting the urge to move my hand up his arm and place it on his chest. I wanted to be angry at myself for getting carried away with the ruse, but I had to focus all my energy on making sure I didn’t do anything that would make the rest of the weekend awkward.
I looked up at Brennan, intending to apologize for entering his personal bubble, not realizing how close we were when I’d stood but he was looking down at me, his breathing hitched and his mouth slightly open. He swallowed and then shook his head and stepped back, out of the space we’d just shared.
“I-I might go and uh, get a glass of water. Do You want anything?”
I shook my head and watched as Brennan darted out of the room before a word could escape my lips. I walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. It was hard to comprehend that this had once been Brennan’s bathroom. I idly wondered how many girls he’d brought back here in his younger years. Probably less than I’d had to let down, given he was a teenager when he left for college.
I sighed, annoyed with the thoughts my brain insisted on me having. I bent down and tested the water, it was the perfect temp and smelled amazing. I undressed and took Brennan’s ring off before stepping into the bathtub. I sat down and lay back, allowing the water to lap under my chin. Almost immediately I felt relaxed and calm, to the point I could have fallen asleep if there was no risk of drowning. I hung my hair back and let it sit in the water. It had been years since I’d had a real bath, I’d been a strictly shower girl for too long. I was going to need to make sure wherever I lived next had a bath.
Once my fingers began to prune, I got out of the bath and dried myself, before wrapping the towel around my torso and wiping my makeup off. I looked at my PJs on the vanity and bit my cheek. My toothbrush was still in my case, on the bed in the next room.
Without thinking I opened the door, with just the towel still wrapped around my torso while Brennan was very clearly getting himself changed. Luckily he was only topless and facing away, at least until I opened the door. He turned around and then realising I was only in a towel looked down at the ground.
“Shit sorry.” he murmured.
“It’s okay.” I replied, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “It’s just skin.”
I averted my eyes from him, scared that if I looked I might not be able to look away. I found my suitcase and opened it, grabbing my bag of bathroom products before walking back to the bathroom and closing the door.
The part of me hooked on romance books was reading way too much into the sexual tension bouncing between us. We were both adults in a really weird situation where we had to pretend to be a couple. Surely it was normal to encounter awkward moments.
I placed my bag down on the vanity next to my clothes, the ones Brennan had got out of the bag for me. Sighing I opened the small velour bag and pulled out my toothbrush and toothpaste. I stood there, lost in thought for probably far to long, brushing my teeth until I began to taste blood. I stopped and turned the tap on, washing the white froth off the brush.
I was so far in over my head. We’d only been here a matter of hours and I was already losing it. I wondered if I was falling under the same spell as all the other girls. The ones I’d had to let down, time and time again. I stared at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t going to be another girl. I wasn’t going to fall into that trap and be left contemplating my self worth. I had the benefit of knowing Brennan well enough to know that is exactly what I’d be doing if we went there.
I ran my hairbrush through my hair, usually I’d have blow dried it, but I hadn’t packed mine. It was warm out anyway so I didn’t mind. I pulled on my shorts and singlet, slipped on the ring and then put the towel and my clothes in the hamper. I pulled the plug out of the sink and then gingerly opened the bathroom door.
Brennan was over by his drawers. They had pictures and awards quite clearly from high school. I put my toiletries bag back in my suitcase and walked over to where he stood, though I kept a safe distance.
He had awards for Math and Science, top of his class and 1st place in school contests. I picked up the valedictorian award and ran my fingers over it.
“You were valedictorian?” I noted.
“Yeah.” He replied. “I was kind of a nerd in high school.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Brennan was in no way a nerd, he was tall, handsome, well built and broody. I bit my lip well aware I was already thirsting like someone lost in the desert.
“I struggle to believe that.” I said honestly.
Brennan chuckled and picked up a photo frame, he held it out to me so I put the valedictorian award down and took it. It was a Mathletics contest picture and I recognized Brennan right away. He was tall, slightly gangly wearing an oversize school jumper and thick black rimmed glasses. He still had his smile, that until now I hadn’t seen much of. He didn’t look like a nerd, but I understood that he’d felt like one.
“You’re cute.” I replied, realizing my mistake I sucked in a breath. “In high school I mean. I don’t see a nerd. I see you, a smart kid who was growing into his body and I mean look at you now.”
I stopped and handed the picture back, my face was red and I wanted to go and find a rock to climb under.
“I wish you’d been at my high school.” he said softly. “Well, when I was there. I think I just about got called every name under the sun. It didn’t help that everyone knew who I was because of my parents. By the time my brother started I was finished and for him and my sister it was cool that we were the kids of Wolf Wines.”
“So they were popular and you weren’t?” I had learned more about Brennan in the few hours we’d been out of town than I’d learned in 3 years and I was hungry for more information.
“I sound jealous. I know.” Brennan turned and walked over to the bed. I followed and zipped up my case.
“Hey, high school is shit B, I hated it too. I was invisible, no one cared enough about who I was to pick on me. You can be jealous about it, no judgement here.”
I pulled my case off the bed and put it back by Brennan's before pulling the covers back on the bed.
“It’s not even that I am jealous. I’m glad they had a better time than me. I just wish I’d had that too.”
I sat on the bed and sighed. I’d always assumed Brennan had life easy. I’d seen him as pretentious and arrogant. I’d decided he was the way he was for selfish reasons, and now I wasn’t so sure.
“So going to college and starting your own company wasn’t just about sticking it to your parents?” I asked.
Brennan pulled back his side of the blankets. He sat down, facing away from me. I lay down and rest my head on the pillow, facing him but on the edge of the bed.
“No. I wanted to reinvent myself. I still studied hard, I just… partied hard too. What about you G? We’re talking so much about me and why I’m so fucked up. Why are you so perfect.”
I frowned and propped myself up on my arm as Brennan lay down and turned over to face me. He had a smile on his face, he was joking.
“You really are so annoying.” I laughed lying back down.
“Tell me about you though. Your life.”
I wanted to ask why he wanted to know about my life, he didn’t need to know about me. Instead I found myself telling him.
“My parents were both elementary teachers, ever since I was a kid. My mom tried to get pregnant after me, but after many miscarriages they decided I was it. I was a no one in high school. Even my teachers forgot I was there sometimes. I dreamed of being someone in a big city. So I moved for college and then worked for you. At least I got the big city part right for a while at least and my life has been more privileged than most. I managed to escape lifelong trauma as a kid. I can’t complain about that.”
Brennan didn’t say anything or even make a noise for a while, at least a minute, until finally he sighed and turned off his beside light. I turned to turn mine off, but I couldn’t find the switch.
Before I could ask Brennan where it was he leaned across me, his arm grazing mine ever so slightly, something stirred within me. I turned back and rested my head on the pillow, ignoring that Brennan was so close I could see his pulse beating in his neck. He flicked the switch and the room fell into darkness. He moved away quickly, settling back on to his own pillow.
“Sorry. I just steamrolled over your personal space.” Brennan sounded angry, but not with me.
“It’s okay.” I replied, meaning it.
There was an awkward silence in the room and I could feel the tension radiating between Brennan and I. I pulled the blankets up to my neck and tried to ignore my confused thoughts and my wayward libido. This was all pretend and I needed to remember that. I closed my eyes and focused on falling asleep. It had been a long day, I wasn’t even sure what the time was, but I knew it was late. I needed to refresh, maybe that would make everything make sense again.
Just as I felt my body begin to relax and doze, Brennan’s voice whispered.
“You got the someone part right too.”
Too tired to ask what he meant I fell asleep.