A brief vibration sent my phone skittering across the desk. Reaching for the distracting device, I typed my password in and checked the notifications.
Dragging the bar down, I glanced at the message, my breath stalling in my throat at the name; a name I hadn't thought about in years, a name that – as soon as my eyes skimmed it – conjured a thousand and one memories, some incredible and some heartbreakingly awful.
With shaking fingers, I tapped his name and read the message.
Hey Bella, it's been such a long time, I know, but your name popped up on my feed this morning and I don't know, it was almost like the universe told me it was time. It has been entirely too long since we've talked and…well, I miss you. I missed you, Bella. I know we didn't leave things on good terms the last time we saw each other, and I know that was my fault and I need you to know how incredibly sorry I am for that. I never should've left that way, never should have walked away from you that night. I'd like to see you, to apologize in person. I'll be in town for two weeks, let me know. I hope you're doing well.
My heart in my throat, I reread the message, twice, and just to be sure I wasn't crazy, a third time. When I was sure I hadn't hallucinated the whole thing, I closed the message and powered off my phone.
Jacob Black, the devil of my nightmares and angel of my daydreams. Why couldn't he go away permanently? I swear, just when I started to forget him something happened to remind me of everything we almost had and now never would.
Taking a deep breath to calm my raging heart, I slowly exhaled through my nose. God why now?
Because I'm completely miserable, that's why, I answered myself. Jake has a way of knowing when I'm miserable and ripe for the picking. He's got a goddamn bat signal that pings every time I'm unhappy and he swoops in to make it "better" but always leaves me more miserable than I began with.
The squeaking of wheels caught my attention and I turned, smiling automatically at the dark head peeking around the cubicle wall. "Hey neighbor, what's with all the huffing and puffing? Trying to blow the place down?"
I grinned at my best friend and cubicle neighbor. "Are you busy?"
Alice waved her hand dismissively in the direction of her computer and rolled into my space, coming to a stop next to me. "What's up?"
"I got a message," I said cryptically.
"From?" she asked with an arched eyebrow.
I tapped my fingers on the desktop. If I told Alice, that made it real, it meant I had to make a decision about what to do about Jake's message. I had to do something regardless, but I wanted it to be my decision, free of outside influence.
Tugging my lip between my teeth, I gnawed at it while she stared expectantly at me, her fingers picking at a loose thread on her pants. "Fine," I spit out. "It was from Jake. He said I popped up in his news feed this morning and that it's been too long since we talked-"
"No joke," she cut in. "You guys haven't talked in almost four years."
"So what, he just decided to drop you a note to see how you were?" she demanded.
I shook my head no, working my lip back between my teeth, then released it with a sigh. "He wants to apologize for that night four years ago. In person," I added.
Alice sucked in a breath and shook her head, her dark hair falling into her eyes. "No, Bella, I forbid it!"
I bit back a smile and said, "You can't forbid it, you're my friend, not my mom."
"As your friend, I can, and I do, forbid it. He is bad news. You know it, I know, hell even the universe knows it." Alice reached across the space between us and laid her hand on my arm. "Bad things happen when you two get together. And you're married now. It is a completely different ballgame between you two. Whatever you had is over, it's dead. It never was, and now it never can be."
Slowly I close my eyes and take a deep breath. She was right. Of course she was right. Jake was my personal drug of choice, the one thing I could never say no to, the only thing I wanted in the world more than I wanted my next breath. Opening my eyes, I took in my friend's concerned expression and nodded in agreement. "He is toxic to me," I admitted. "But what if he wants to be friends? I can be a friend to him, can't I?"
Alice shook her head no and said, "Sweetie, you guys started out as friends. Then all the lines became blurred, you fell for him, he fell for you. He fell for someone else, you never did. Even now, there is some miniscule part of you that still loves him." She sat back, folded her arms across her chest and stared at me, analyzing me. "I'm right, aren't I? That's why you have such a hard time being happy with Paul, because deep down you never got over Jake."
Behind us, a gravelly throat was cleared. "Ladies, I believe you're supposed to be working, not hanging out gossiping. Miss Brandon, if you'll please return to your cubicle. Ms. Lahote, I need those reports by the end of the day." Mr. Newton, our boss, turned crisply on his heel and stalked down the hall, stopping to harass a few of my coworkers on his way to his office.
Alice scooted her chair toward the opening of my cubicle, shooting me a look that said, "This conversation isn't over," as she rolled away.
Turning back to my computer, I tried to focus on the report open in front of me but my phone, sitting next to my keyboard, called to me like a siren to a sailor, the song tempting, pleading with me to crash the ship that was my life into the rocky shore that was Jake Black.
With trembling fingers, I reached for it, skimming the cool glass surface. The screen came to life, showing the time and prompting me to enter my password.
No! I thought, wrenching open a drawer and sweeping the device inside. Slamming the drawer shut, I shook my head and focused on my work. I could still feel the pull, the throbbing of my pulse at my neck, the desire to pull up his profile and snoop through the last four years of his life.
Tension built behind my eyes, the beginning of a headache forming. I rolled my neck, popping a few joints and rubbed my temples.
I can pretend he didn't contact me, I told myself. I can act like I never got the message. I don't need an apology from him. Everything Jake needed to say to me, he said four years ago and his message was received loud and clear.
I was okay without him, I told myself. I wasn't happy with Paul, that much was true, but it wasn't necessarily his fault. My feelings towards him were truly a case of 'it's not you, it's me.'
Paul was a good guy, I could admit that. He worked hard, he provided for me financially, he tried to provide emotionally, except there was always something that held his attention better than I ever could, despite my best efforts. And trust me; I have tried every trick listed in the book. I've strived to love him, but sadly, the best I could muster is a deep affection, like the kind for a dog or distant relative. I enjoyed his company; talking to him was something I could do for hours, he's an amazing conversationalist – when he tries - and a decent person; I just never felt 'it;' that spark, that burning desire to have him all to myself, the kind of fire that consumes your soul and leaves you decimated after the blaze dies.
I had it with Jake. Oh boy did I have it with Jake, but never Paul. He made me warm and tingly, Jake ignited me, I burned like a phoenix and rose from the destruction as this emotionless thing that could only fake the feelings.
Okay, I told myself, time to focus. No more thinking about Jake, or Paul.
With a determined nod, I delved into the reports piling up in my inbox and got to work.
I let myself into a dark and empty house that night. Flicking on the lights as I entered and locking the door behind me. In my purse, my phone rang. Digging it out, I swiped the screen and said, "Hey babe, how are you?" as I kicked off my shoes and dropped my bag down next to them.
Padding across the carpet to the kitchen, Paul's honeyed voice filtered across the miles and through the earpiece. I could hear the grumble of his boat in the background and a high pitched beeping.
"Hi sweetheart, I'm doing alright. How was your day?"
Pulling open the fridge, I peered inside. "It was…productive, I suppose. Newton yelled at Alice and me for talking, but then again what else is new."
Paul chuckled before cursing softly under his breath. "Goddamned swells," he grumbled. A heavy thumping drifted over the line accompanied by the faint whispers of a muttered, "Idiots."
"Is it a bad time?" I questioned.
"No, Bell, just one of the guys not watching what he's doing. Tell me more about your day."
Sighing quietly, I pull lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and a few other things out to make a salad. I hated this line of questioning. My days were always the same; get up, go to work, work, come home to an empty house, fix something for dinner, put on pajamas and veg out in front of the television until it was time to go to bed. "I got a message from an old friend," I told him, cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear as I washed the vegetables. Setting them aside, I turned the radio on and pulled out a cutting board.
"Anyone I know?" he asked.
"No," I replied, slicing the cucumber. "Just an old friend from high school who wants to get together and catch up."
Lie number one. And two.
"Well that sounds like it would be fun. You should get together with your friend," he suggested. "It might be good for you."
"I'll think about," I told him. "I haven't seen her in forever, it might be awkward."
Lie number three.
"You should see her, Bella," he insisted. "Alice is the only friend you have and I think you need more. You need to get out and do things when I'm not home."
"I do "do things,"" I exaggerated. "And I like having a tiny circle of friends; there's less drama that way."
I could practically hear Paul roll his eyes. "If you say so," he finally conceded.
I chopped in silence, tossing the vegetables into a bowl all the while listening to him breathe on the other end of the line. Finally I said, "Well, I'm getting ready to eat dinner. Do you want to stay on the phone?"
"No," he sighs. "I should probably go, the weather is pretty bad out here and some of the new guys aren't that great yet. I'll call you tomorrow night, okay?"
"Alright," I told him. "Love you."
"I love you too, bye."
"Bye." I disconnected the call and dropped my phone on the counter. Grabbing my dinner, I headed into the living room, sank down onto the couch, setting the plate down on the coffee table and grabbing my laptop.
Logging on, I pulled up Jake's message and read it for the fourth time. Then I clicked his name and pulled up his profile.
Dear Lord he was still gorgeous, I thought as his profile picture loaded. His onyx eyes stared straight into the camera as he sat in a bar, left hand curled around what was most likely a glass of Sam Adam's Boston Ale. A new to me tattoo peeked out from below the sleeve of the gray tee he wore. His strong, square jaw was covered by a thick dark beard that made my lady parts stand up and pay attention. The only thing that still resembled the Jake that I knew was his mahogany hair, cut in the same way he always wore it; long enough to run your fingers through and grab a small handful in the front and shorter in the back, faded on the sides.
Pointing my mouse over his picture, I clicked it and swiped to the next picture. Jake, shirtless and sporting a set of abs and a hip indention that made most women lose their minds. Clicking the next picture, I sucked in a breath as a photo of he and I appeared.
Leaning in closer, I stared at our young faces, squinting against the harsh glare of the summer sun reflecting off the ocean. We were sixteen in the picture, it was the end of the school year and I'd left school early after finishing an end of the year exam; instead of going home, I'd slid into the passenger seat of Jake's beat up pickup truck and gone to the beach.
Minutes before this picture was taken, he kissed me for the first time. With shaking fingers, I reached out and traced our faces on the screen, unwittingly, tears filled my eyes.
Quickly I swiped them away as they slid down my cheeks. My eyes filled again as pain ripped through my chest. Fifteen years of heartache spilled out of my heart. Fifteen years of waiting for him and wanting him, fifteen years of hoping and then being denied.
The pain subsided as an angry fire lit in my spirit. I want my apology, I thought bitterly. I want him to look me in the eye and tell me he was sorry for breaking my heart time after time.
Opening the browser again, I found my messages and started to compose one of my own in response.