The next morning, I'm sore from overworking my muscles during the game. I don't care either, because Brendon calls me once again in the middle of work to arrange our date. He makes me laugh with the way he has a hushed tone, especially when he starts to sing his own version of a spy theme like he's sneaking around.
He tells me his boss is standing at Jared's desk, but because he's a rebel he's calling me anyway. I'm just waiting for him to tell me he lost his job.
Maybe because he writes so beautifully they won't let him go. That's what I'm hoping, at least.
A few days pass like this, until it's time for us to have our date.
I spend an hour on my outfit again, checking the weather multiple times to make sure the warmer temperature is correct. Fall is so odd. Some days it's cold, some days it's warm. I pick my favorite shorts and T-shirt and arrange them with other accessories artfully, but I stick to a braid for my hair this time. Brendon seems like he admires my appearance just as much when I open the door, so I decide it isn't necessary to do something fancy most of the time.
He drives us to the outdoor mall, catching up with me on what's been happening the past few days, which hasn't been a lot. Maggie and Jason haven't called me again since I gave them the designs, but they haven't asked me to send them to the printing office either. That's a bad sign.
Brendon and I settle into a booth at a quaint pizza place to eat as he tells me more jokes.
"What did the pizza say when his girlfriend left him?"
"I feel like I'm going to hate you after you say this."
"I'm so pepperlonely."
"Yep. I hate you. I can see why you're lonely, telling jokes like that."
He sulks, pushing away my hand when I go to ruffle his hair.
"You're such a fun ruiner," he complains.
"That's because you tell dad jokes."
"Dad jokes are the root of all good humor."
"Wait, wait, I've got one more. What did the hair styling tool say to the-"
"Brendon, I will find some duct tape. Stop it."
My words are harsh, but I think he knows I'm only teasing. Mostly.
We finish our lunch as he disregards my threat, and I can't say that I mind. The puns are always stupid, but they make me laugh nonetheless. They're just so bad that they're funny.
My heart is light as we step back outside, and he interlocks our fingers. His hands are warm and soft. I missed the feeling when he was gone.
Which is ridiculous, as it's only been a few days. To be honest, I don't care. It's an absurd amount of fun going on dates with Brendon, and it's like the past week has been magical. This isn't going the way all of the others have. I already have a sense of security with the dark-haired man. He makes me laugh, and I always feel giddy when I'm with him. I guess I could just be in the crush phase, but it seems different.
My date tugs me along through the street, stopping along the sidewalk fountain in the center of the mall. Little kids run by, chasing and splashing each other.
Brendon takes off his shoes and socks.
"Come on," he urges.
"What? What do you want to do?"
"Come get your feet wet with me. It's warm out. Don't you want to play in the water?"
"Isn't there an age limit to this?"
"No. That would be silly."
"Oh, yes. I'm the one being silly."
"Jenna, please?" he whines, attempting to pull me in.
"I don't want to get soaked."
"You won't, don't worry. Just splash around a little."
When I don't move, he dips down to cup water into his hand. He flings it at me before I can understand what he's doing. I shriek as it hits my bare legs.
"You said I wouldn't get wet! You're paying for that one."
I strip off my shoes and socks as well, chasing after him. I manage to corner him by the water wall, and I push his head against it. He sulks when he frees himself from my grasp, pushing back his now wet hair from his face.
"I feel that was too much of a retaliation," he says.
"I don't. You started it."
"You're a horrible person."
I giggle, and he smiles in response.
Now that I'm used to the water, I have to admit it's kind of fun. I haven't splashed around in years. There's something inexplicably enjoyable about revisiting the childhood activity. Brendon makes it seem acceptable to do such a thing. I like that he doesn't mind what society thinks.
Since I'm now in a playful mood, I allow him to pull me into the world of our imagination. We walk along the wet ground, making up games. We pretend the porcelain frogs placed on the sidewalk for seating parents that didn't want to get in the water are rocks in a lava pool. We hop along them, laughing as the people around us give us strange looks. They're no fun.
Brendon holds my hand as we come together on the frogs, helping me jump to his side.
My foot is still wet when I go to step on his platform, and I slip.
He catches my wrist before I drop, but it only slows the fall enough it doesn't hurt.
I make gurgling noises as if I'm dying.
"Jenna! Are you okay?" he asks, frantic.
"The lava's got me now," I rasp. "You have to let go. I'm a goner."
He laughs, catching on that I'm continuing the game.
"But I can't! I told you, no man left behind! I mean woman!"
"My legs are burnt, I'm unable to continue. You have . . . to save . . . yourself."
I let go of his hand in a dramatic fashion, sinking down behind the frog.
"No!" he screeches to the sky, feigning grief. "Why? Why God? How could you do this to me? She was so young! She was supposed to live! Not me!"
Our laughter draws more attention, but I don't care as I join him on his perch.
We bask in the sunlight together, hands intertwined.
We are reluctant when we return to our shoes, but our feet are getting cold.
Still, Brendon slips his hand around mine as we continue to walk. That makes up for it.
"Let me tell you a real joke," I offer, smiling when he squeezes my hand.
"Pssh. I doubt it'll be funnier than mine, but go ahead."
"So a lady walks into a bar-"
I'm interrupted by the sound of his phone ringing.
My lip almost curls as he retracts his hand to pull the device out of his pocket. This is supposed to be our date.
I push aside the jealously as Brendon smiles at me, sheepish. He didn't plan for it to happen, Jenna. It just did. It'll probably only be for a few minutes.
"Hold that thought," he requests, picking up the phone with a worried look.
"What's wrong?" he asks as he steps a few feet away.
I wish he'd go further so I couldn't hear him. He obviously doesn't understand the capabilities of human hearing.
"Well, something must be wrong or you wouldn't be calling me," he says. "What? What do you mean? That's what you're calling me for? Honey, come on. I can't do everything for you. Are we out of them? Look by your bed, they're always there. Where am I? I'm, uh, I'm just on a break at work. Yeah, my business meeting is still going on, we're taking a recess. I'll be back before it's dark. Yeah. See you at home."
Excuse me? See you at home?
I thought he lived alone.
No, wait. He never said that. He could live with his brother or dad. But I wouldn't call either of those people honey. And I certainly wouldn't lie about being on a date with someone to them. What is going on?
"Who was that?" I ask as he hangs up and makes his way back to me.
I'm trying to make sense of the situation.
"Just a friend," he dismisses, reaching for my hand again.
He sounds nervous as he answers, and he avoids my questioning gaze.
The idea of him cheating invades my mind again.
No, Jenna. Don't. He wouldn't, he's not like that. Right?
But it makes sense. The stuffed animal and feminine products that day at the grocery store. The phone call when he had to go home for his "sweetheart." Now his lying about our date and another pet name. The time he rejected my idea to go to his apartment fits into place too. He wouldn't want me to show up where the other girl is. She obviously doesn't know. Neither did I.
My breath hitches, and I can feel something terrible spread across my heart. Pain and doubt starts to creep in, seeping through to the place it'll hurt the most. I've felt this before.
But this also doesn't make sense. Why has he been going at a slower pace? Why he would wait for a good moment to kiss me? In most cases I imagine he'd already be trying to get us to sleep together if he was cheating. Or is that not how this works?
The better question is why. Have I done something wrong? What would make him move on? Is it that I'm not open to letting people in? Or is it something more related to the fact we haven't even kissed? That's not my fault though. What happened with the last guy who did this? He never told me.
"Brendon, tell me something," I ask, trying to keep my voice calm.
I pull my hand from his so I don't give anything away.
"Are we moving too slow for you? Is there something you're dissatisfied with in our relationship?"
Is this even considered cheating? We've only been dating a week, and we never explicitly said we were exclusive. Oh my god. I should have thought of that.
Stay calm, Jenna. Give him a chance to explain. Maybe it really is something you did. Wait, no. There's no excuse for cheating, right? I'm starting to wonder, since this is the third time.
"What are you talking about?" he asks. "Are we moving too slow? Am I . . . not satisfied?"
I just nod, focusing on keeping my breathing steady.
"No, everything's fine," he replies, sounding lost. "There's nothing wrong. What brought this on? Is something the matter?"
He looks confused. I'm not sure if he's acting or not. Maybe he's a better liar than I thought. He sure fooled me with the shy act. The "I don't have another girlfriend" act. How could I have been so stupid? I knew something had to be wrong. I should have listened to my head and not my heart.
"Is there anything you want to tell me then?" I ask, still hiding my emotions.
I can at least see if he'll be honest and tell me. I think I deserve that.
"I still don't know what you're talking about," he replies. "What would I tell you?"
I have to clench my fists to stop from crying, digging my fingernails into my palms to distract myself.
So it's not me, but he doesn't want to admit he's dating someone else. A person there before me. I'm the one being cheated with. I almost hate myself, having been on the other side. I should have known the last week was too good to be true. Nobody has magic like that in their lives anymore. The person in front of me is just like the guy I dated in high school who cheated on me, and the one after that. I thought they were nice in the beginning too.
"Jenna?" Brendon calls, bringing me out of my thoughts.
"Who were you talking to on the phone?" I ask again. "Is it the same person that called you when we played soccer? The one that needed you to come home right away after she checked the bed?"
"You were listening to my phone call? Did you do that to this one too?"
He sounds like I've betrayed him. I can't believe it.
"It's kind of hard not to when you're standing five feet away," I growl. "So, was it her?"
I want him to say it. I feel I should be told the truth. He's going to admit it even if I have to pry it out of him.
"Like I said, it was a friend," he answers, looking defensive. "Since when are you so interested in who I'm talking to?"
His words only reaffirm he's purposely not telling me something.
"Since you're on the phone with them during our date, that's when," I snap. "I'll ask again. Who were you talking to, Brendon?"
He frowns, crossing his arms.
"I don't think I like your tone," he says, irritation seeping into his voice. "Are you saying I'm not allowed to speak to other people when I'm with you?"
"I'm saying that you should just tell me what's going on," I hiss. "Are you hiding something?"
I know I sound crazy. Like that jealous girlfriend who puts a microchip in their boyfriend's phone so they can track them. I know I'm being irrational with this situation. But all I can think about is how much this already hurts and he hasn't even told me yet. This is why I don't date a lot of people.
I made a promise to myself after my dad died to not let anyone ever be that close to me again. Eric just barely made the cutoff, except he wouldn't leave me alone so he now occupies a cozy corner in my right ventricle. But this situation is exactly why I have that rule.
A sharp pain lances through my heart when I breathe in, and I have to repress even more tears.
"Okay, that's it," Brendon snaps. "I don't know whatever weird thing is going on with you, Jenna, but stop it. I'm not hiding anything."
"Nothing weird is going on!" I shout, my voice finally matching my feelings. "I just asked you a question!"
People give me strange looks as I explode, hurrying past when I glare at them.
Brendon raises an eyebrow at me, like he thinks I'm being ridiculous. But there's a nervous look in his eyes that reassures me something isn't right.
"And as I've told you multiple times, it was my friend. I'm just as entitled to having friends as you. Sometimes they call me. Eric calls you."
"I don't talk to him when I'm on dates with you! We agreed no distractions this time!" I hiss, not sure what else I can say.
I hate the how he doesn't see where I'm coming from, the way a condescending look appears on his face.
"It only took a few minutes. You're really upset about that?"
"Jenna, you're acting childish."
"Well I'd rather be childish than be cheating!"
I hadn't meant to say the words outright like that. They just tumbled from my mouth. But they're out there now, even though I wish with all my heart they weren't.
Brendon's expression fills me with the urge to hide under a rock and never leave.
"Cheating?" he asks, and his voice makes me curl up inside of myself. "Is that what you think? That I'm cheating on you?"
I turn away, not strong enough to do this anymore without breaking down. I just want to go home and bury myself in my blankets. I don't care if I have to walk there, I'm not spending another moment in this man's presence.
My cheeks heat up in embarrassment as I leave. I'm so pathetic to be this upset. I should never have let my guard down, no matter how kind Brendon seemed.
He catches me not even five minutes later in an alley near the edge of the mall, his hand springing out to capture mine.
"Don't you dare run away," he growls.
"Let me go!" I shout, trying to jerk away.
"No! We're not done talking about this. Look at me!"
He pulls me back, using his arms to turn me around.
He seems astonished as he scrutinizes my face. Hot tears cascade down my cheeks, I can feel them, and I'm ashamed to have shown him my moment of weakness. He doesn't deserve to see me cry.
"Jenna?" he asks, quiet.
He lifts a hand to wipe them away, but I knock it back with an angry swat.
"Don't touch me!" I yell. "Just get off me! I'm going home."
I wish he didn't know where I lived.
His eyes become stony again, his grip not loosening.
I struggle against his hold, but it doesn't get me anywhere.
"I said let me-"
"I can't believe you think I'm cheating on you," he interrupts, incredulous.
"Just go home to your little girlfriend, okay? I'm not going to be part of this. If she knew any better she wouldn't either."
I try to break away again, but Brendon's arms are like a cage.
"Home to my girlfriend?" he asks, confused.
Then something clicks, a look of realization appearing on his face.
"Oh, you think . . . but that's-"
He is not about to use some sort of excuse with me.
"Don't you dare use the 'it's not what you think' line! Just leave me alone!"
I shove him, the jolt of the impact shaking him off me. I only make it a few long strides before he's got my wrist again.
"Shut up," he seethes. "Don't say another word."
I almost recoil at his tone, barely holding back the flinch when I see the fire in his eyes.
"You're following me to my apartment," he orders, dragging me along. "I obviously need to show you something I should have a long time ago."
I tug at my wrist, trying to escape his grasp. His tight hold doesn't hurt, but it's proving difficult to escape from.
He whips around when I start to protest, invading my personal space. His breath is against my face he's so close.
"Do you remember when we met again at the grocery store?" he asks, a blazing inferno still in his eyes. "You kidnapped me and took me outside to prove you weren't dating Eric. I let you do that. So you're going to let me prove to you I'm not cheating."
He drags me again until we stop at his car in the parking lot. He uses his other hand to open the door. He lets go of me to gesture to the passenger seat, but still blocks my exit.
"Get in the car, Jenna."
"No," I reply, defiant.
"Get. In. The. Car."
Seeing no other real option besides calling the police for kidnapping, I slump into the seat. So much for liking this car. Brendon closes the door. Slams it, actually.
He walks around the vehicle to get to the other side. The idea to make a break for it passes through my mind, but I dismiss it. He'd catch me before I could get anywhere and then he'd be even angrier.
I don't say anything to him on the ride to his house. If he's going to hold me against my will, he doesn't deserve my words.
He pulls up to his building, turning off the engine and getting out.
When he comes around and opens my door, I don't move. I'm not going to make this easier for him. I don't want to hear whatever his explanation for being with two people is anymore.
"Out," he barks.
"Why?" I ask, snarling. "What are you going to show me, huh? Fancy lingerie sets so both of your girls can match?"
I regret the snarky question when something livid sparks in his eyes. Why is he so upset? Isn't that supposed to be my thing in this situation?
"Do I have to carry you?" he asks through gritted teeth, voice thick with controlled emotion. "Because I will. I'm showing you that you're wrong whether you like it or not."
I believe the threat, so I get out and brush past him even though I don't know where I'm heading. If we're going to do this, I don't want him to lead me to it. Or carry me. He catches up to me in a few strides, carefully positioning himself close enough he can stop me if I try to flee again.
We make it to his apartment, both fuming the whole climb up three flights of stairs.
Brendon violently jams his key in the lock, shoving open the door and then holding it so it doesn't close. His gaze burns a hole into me as he makes it obvious I'm supposed to step inside.
I do, glaring at him. He drops his keys on the kitchen counter a few feet from the door, dragging a hand down his face. He takes a deep breath, exhaling in a sigh.
Why does he look so tired?
"Taylor!" he calls into the apartment. "Can I see you for a minute?"
"Brendon? You're back?” I hear a feminine voice ask from another room, voice muffled by the wall.
"Yes. Come here."
"I want you to meet someone."
"Okay. Give me, like, one second."
I don't want to see this Taylor. This is his idea? Introduce us? Does he think that'll make me okay with it? That I'll just suddenly be fine with sharing my boyfriend now that I know the other girl? Please.
But the person that appears in the hallway is not the one I expect to see. She's not a voluptuous woman wearing Brendon's shirt, or something like I'd been imagining. No, she's a teenage girl.
To say I'm surprised would be the understatement of the century.
Her long black hair lays across her back in waves, framing a delicate face. Her almond-shaped eyes are dark brown. She has a dainty form, decked out entirely in black and white. She's holding her phone in her hand, a headphone cord running up to one of her ears.
Can my life just go back to making sense again? Please?