The Mistakes We Make

Joanne is lost in love with Jonathan, but he is head over heels for Alysse. Will he come around and be her knight in shining armour? Or will another knight steal her heart away?

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1. Joanne

She stared at me from across the room. Her eyes were full of smoke and lazy seduction. That one look whispered across my mind, sending tendrils stroking over the deepest recesses of my brain. I shivered and looked away, the over-crowded and over-heated room suddenly cold and forbidding. There was no denying that she was beautiful. She was pretty in a way that all women secretly want to be, with curves in all the right proportions and a body that seemed to flow with any situation. Her hair was a mix of honey and sunlight and her eyes were such a deep shade of green that ‘emerald’ was too tame a word to use to describe them. For all that, there was something about her that rubbed me raw.

Others would say I’m just jealous. She has what I had been secretly pining after for months, years even. Jonathan. It’s true, and I am a terrible liar, too shy to say anything to him, but so blatantly transparent that my crush was never going to be a secret. But the feeling of wrongness emanating from her has always been there, before I even knew she would be the instrument used to break my heart.

It might have been easier to brush off the feeling if she were as horrible as my mind conjures her to be. If she smirked at me in triumph even once, I might feel some measure of relief. I could just say that it was her true nature showing through, but she smiles, acts and lives sweetly. There is not a single person around her with anything other than glowing admiration.

Glancing back at her, I cringed away from the sight. Her body was pressed flush against Jon’s and they were moving together, eyes closed and expressions of rapture on their faces. His dark hair had grown since he had started seeing her, it was starting to curl slightly at the ends and I longed to run my fingers through the strands, to feel his body sheltering mine the way he sheltered hers. A pang of loneliness hit me hard in the gut and I stumbled back into the cooler concrete of the wall.

It was a mistake to have come to the party. Nothing ever good came of it, but I couldn’t stop myself from seeing him, even now he has this hold on me that I can’t escape. I looked down at the drink in my hand and set it down roughly on a small table before starting to shove my way out of the packed room. Air, I needed air. And distance, time, space, a large cavernous hole to open up at my feet and swallow me whole…

The crisp night air seared as I gulped it down, but I didn’t care. It felt like I hadn’t taken a breath in years and now I was greedy for it, the fresh taste washing away the smell of stale beer and sweat.

“Joanne?” A soft voice asked me. Her hand closed around my arm and I fought the instinct to pull away.

“I’m fine, Alysse.” I said politely, stepping away from her. I refused to meet her eyes again, staring at my shoes instead.

“Are you sure?” She asked, closing the space I had managed to create between us.

Risking a look at her face, I saw nothing but concern, and it made me sick to my stomach. There had to be something to this feeling, there had to. It couldn’t just be jealousy, because that would mean it was all in my head, that I was imagining things.

“I’m fine.” I repeated, my voice slightly more hoarse and sharp than I had intended.

She looked a little confused and hurt, but nodded and went back inside. Back to Jon.

 

“What is your problem?” Jon demanded, face flushed with anger. He had just walked straight up to my desk, planted both hands on the cluttered surface and leaned in over me.

I shrank away, hurt and confused. I hadn’t even seen him come in the house and there he was, loud and angry.

“It’s been two months, you would think you could be grown up enough to deal with my relationship with Alysse.” He continued, eyes blazing and muscles clenched with restraint.

So that was what this was all about. I opened my mouth to say something, what I don’t know, but something. He kept going. “I don’t care what sort of kid crush you might have had on me, but you need to face reality. It was never going to happen.”

My mouth snapped shut and I swallowed past the lump that had formed in my throat.

“I don’t see why you can’t just be an adult and treat Alysse with the respect she deserves. She has never been anything but kind to you and you keep treating her like some sort of enemy. All she’s wanted is to be your friend and I am sick of seeing her hurt by your childishness.” He stopped for breath and I tried to think of something to say. Something that would make him understand what she made me feel, but all I could think about was those horrible words, ‘it was never going to happen’.

When I didn’t respond, he stood up and all his anger seemed to drain away. He looked at me with this cold expression that I had never seen on him before and wiped his hands on his jeans, like touching anything of mine was worthy of that action. “Get over yourself. If you insist on being a bitch, you can forget about hanging out with Sam and Michelle. If it comes down to me or you, who do you think they will pick?” With that he turned around and stalked out of the house.

I shivered in my office chair for a while and then got up the nerve to walk to my front door, close and lock it. Then I did the same for the back door before locking myself in the bathroom and letting the tears I had refused to let him see come, slowly as I ran a bath. I could barely understand what had just happened. I had done everything I could to at least be civil to his girlfriend, hadn’t I?

A part of me had always fantasised about him storming into my house – we were neighbours after all, and had been for the past four years – but it had never been like that. For the millionth time in the past two months, I thought about finding another place to live. I could do it, it wouldn’t be easy, but I would manage, and my job allowed me to work from anywhere.

Sucking in a long, wracking breath, I shut off the taps and stared into the steaming water. Choking on a soft, hiccupping sob, I pulled the plug and went back to my small office. My laptop was still open and running, and it was a matter of seconds for me to find my way to a property site, tears running down my cheeks still.

My mouse hovered over a small apartment that looked as appealing as any of the others and I screwed my eyes shut against the high-pitched giggle that floated over from next door. I could feel myself moments away from curling up in a small ball and refusing to move until the hurt had faded away. Shaking, I turned on the small, ratty old CD player that I had always promised myself I would upgrade and went back to my search, hoping the music would cover up the sound of Alysse getting everything that I ever wanted.

 

“I can’t believe you are moving!” Michelle said, throwing another random piece of junk into a cardboard box. “You’ve been here forever, why would you want to?”

Jon stormed through the living room and I looked at the book I had held in my hands until I heard the front door slam into something.

“Oh.” She said. “Right. He’s been a major asshole lately. You shouldn’t have to move because of it though.”

He stormed back through, scooping up another completed box and hauling it out to the moving van.

“I just need a change of scenery.” I lied through my teeth.

“Yeah, and I am the queen of orgasms.” Michelle replied happily. “If Jon was being a dick, all you had to do was say something. My brother needs the occasional ass-kicking.”

I looked away again, biting the inside of my mouth against the urge to repeat what he had threatened. Because he had been right, if it came down to a choice between me and him, there was no way his brother and sister would choose me.

We could hear yelling from outside and against my better judgement, I edged closer to the front door. Sam was facing down his older brother on my front lawn, in plain view of the entire street and they were really getting into things.

“Jesus, Jon, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Sam asked, arms crossed over his chest.

“She’s being a bitch.” He replied flatly. I winced and almost turned away, but something held me there.

“What the hell has she done?” Sam asked. “And it better be good or I’ll get dad down here to kick your ass all over the place.”

“She’s jealous and taking it out on Alysse.” He said, his voice starting to flicker with the anger that was written all over him.

“Sorry, have you been to the same parties I have? Joanne hasn’t been a bitch, she’s been a bit distant, but given everything it’s understandable.”

“Alysse deserves better than ‘distant’!”

“Oh, so because she hasn’t fallen all over herself in adoration for your girlfriend, she has to go, is that it?” Sam’s eyebrows rose in challenge.

“What are you saying?” Jon asked, stepping closer.

“Nothing, obviously.” Sam threw his hands up in frustration. “I can’t can I? Anyone who doesn’t love your perfect Alysse is not worthy of your time. I’m not even going to mention that little meeting you pulled me and Mish into, you know the one where you demanded we stop seeing one of our best friends because you were being a dick. You know what? Piss off. I can’t even look at you right now.”

“Why are you still defending her?” Jon asked.

“Because she’s done nothing wrong!”

“She’s a silly little girl with a crush that she needs to get over. I don’t know why she would think anything would ever happen there.”

“Oh, really? Am I the only one who remembers that little talk we had Christmas day? You – ”

“That’s enough.” Jon said. He stormed off, kicking one of the boxes out of his way before disappearing around the fence.

I collected myself and started to go back to the packing that was left when I was tackled from behind. Michelle looked paler than usual and her eyes were shimmering when she finally let me up for air. “I’m so sorry, Jo.” She said tearily. “I don’t know what’s happened to him.”

“Is he right, though?” I asked. “Am I just taking out my jealousy on her? I don’t know any more.”

She shifted uncomfortably and my chest tightened. “Forget it.” I said, walking back into the living room.

“No, Jo, look he’s being a dick now, but he does have a little bit of a point. I mean Alysse is cool, would it really be that bad getting to know her?”

I shook my head and kept working.

 

“Thanks Sam.” I said tiredly as we got the last of the boxes into the right rooms.

“No problem.” He said. “I should probably get going then, let you settle in.” He went to leave, but hesitated. “About Jon.” He started.

I raised a hand to stop him. “Not now, please.” I begged. “I can’t sit through another ‘he’s a dick, but a little bit right’ speech tonight.”

“Whoever was saying that is an idiot.” Sam said. “Jon is a major dick and he always has been. He and Alysse deserve each other.”

I blinked, my tired brain sluggishly trying to take in the words that had been said. “Huh?” Was my eloquent response.

Sam ran a hand through his hair. “Look, I never said anything before because I knew you were in love with him and I had hoped… well I had hoped he would finally wake up and see what he was missing – and that it would help even him out a bit. But Jon has always been a dick and you have always deserved better than how he would have treated you. I know he doesn’t seem like one usually, but he is, and nobody wants to see it. Do you remember that summer by the lake?” He asked.

I nodded slowly.

“That thing you walked in on, I was all wet and he was laughing?” Shadows crossed his eyes. “We brushed it off, but he had been trying to make a point. I can usually hold my own, I’ve had to growing up, but that was the closest he had ever gotten to actually killing me.” He drew in a ragged breath. “I knew then that I had to do something. I’ve been learning self-defence and spending most of my time at the gym. That was great for my physical health and confidence, but the more I thought about him, the more I thought about, well, you.” He paced along my new wall for a few seconds before looking back at me. “Last Christmas, I was going to tell him that I wanted to ask you out. He had had plenty of time to act on your feelings for him, and he hadn’t. But then before I could say anything, he said he had started to see you as something else. I backed off, but I kept thinking about what would happen if he actually started seeing you. I wanted so badly for it to temper him out, for him to fall in love, but I couldn’t stand the thought that you might get hurt. I was almost relieved when he found Alysse.”

He was off in his own world and I tried frantically to come to grips with the picture he was painting. Jon, nearly killing him? My first reaction was to scream no! He would never do that! But a cold, logical part of my mind started asking me how well I actually knew the man. I thought back to that day, with Sam sputtering, soaking wet and skin flushed a deep red. He had still been fully clothed, even wearing shoes. I hadn’t even blinked when Jon had smiled and said they had been playing around, just accepted it and shyly run off.

“I think you’re right about her too.” Sam continued, looking me straight in the eye now. “I couldn’t see what you were talking about at first, but the more time I spent around her. She just, she feels fake, plastic. Her responses are too perfect. She reminds me a lot of Jonathan.”

The more he talked, the more a sort of buzzing pressure built up inside my head. Finally I snapped and walked up to him, grabbed him by his shirt and said, “Sam, shut up.” I yanked him down towards me and pressed my lips to him. He was stunned for a few seconds before responding, his arms going around me and drawing me closer. His mouth opened and slanted over mine, tongue sweeping against my own. Warmth shot through my body and I felt myself relax fully for the first time in four years. Everything seemed to snap into place and I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. I could feel the toned muscle beneath his shirt, his warmth radiating into my body. He had been there every time I needed him. Every dark, depressed day, every hard decision. Kissing him felt like coming home. In that moment, I let go of everything and everyone but him.

“Are you sure?” He asked, coming up for air.

I smiled and said. “Surprisingly, yes.”

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