What He Really Feels
© 2013 Lisa Suzanne
© 2013 Lisa Suzanne
They say hindsight is 20/20. And, unfortunately, they are right.
In hindsight, it wasn’t great timing for me to tell Julianne Becker that I had loved her for most of my life given the fact that the love of her life had just dumped her.
Waiting might’ve been the smarter move.
But I hadn’t waited. I’d had a few too many beers, and it gave me enough liquid courage to tell her how I really felt. And, apparently, she’d had a few too many beers, too, because she gave into something that sober Jules would’ve been smart enough to stop.
I was a goddamn idiot to think that it would work out, but my drunken mind tricked me into thinking that she would feel the same. I had loved her forever, and she had been sending me signals all night.
Turns out what I misinterpreted as “signals” was really just one friend leaning on another friend.
Sleeping together had been an obvious mistake, but I didn’t realize it right away. No, I awoke the next morning thinking that we were actually going to be together. I celebrated. I took the day off work and hung out at her apartment, lost in bliss as I took in the familiar surroundings that looked different through the eyes of a man whose love was returned. I was so blinded by that love I had for her that I couldn’t see the truth staring me in the face. She loved Nick. She would never love me, at least not the way I loved her.
She might not have made the best decisions, but with that stupid hindsight thing, I hadn’t, either. Looking back, I can see that pursuing a woman who wasn’t available was pretty fucking stupid. The outcome was tragic and painful, and I fully blamed Jules for using me, but I was starting to see that it may have been a little bit my fault, too.
I had made other bad choices, like going out to the bar with Dan when he was visiting from San Diego and using it to make Jules jealous. But I was hurt, and I acted foolishly out of pain. I knew her well enough to predict how she would feel when I told her that I’d messed around with a girl at the bar. She was hurting, and I had used that to make her jealous.
Deep down, I think I knew that my chances were slim. Once I had her, I had to use whatever ammunition I could to keep her. But it all backfired when the douche bag decided that he wanted her back.
That was the one thing that I had zero ammo against. She was obsessed with him and in love with him, and no matter how much she loved me and cared about me, I was no match for him in the quest for her heart.
And so I had to get out.
The one good decision I made was moving to San Diego. After that night when Jules called things off with me and took back Douche Bag Nick (as I liked to refer to him in my mind), I was broken. I liked to think of myself as a guy’s guy, a manly man… but what she did had killed a part of me and left me feeling empty and alone.
I needed to get away, and San Diego was apparently my answer.
A little over a week earlier, the words “Julianne Becker” and her beautiful face lit up my cell phone screen. I still couldn’t believe it had happened. After years of being in love with her, I finally gathered the courage to tell her how I felt, and I was met with the outcome I had been hoping for. Jules and I were officially an item.
“Hey,” I answered my phone, smiling to hear from her as I finished folding a load of laundry that had been long neglected.
“I need to see you.” Her voice was strained, probably because she needed me on top of her.
“Be right over.” I grabbed the bag containing the necklace I had purchased for her, wanting to give it to her to mark the official beginning of the change in our relationship. She had pointed it out just before Christmas, and its class and elegance reminded me a lot of the woman who would wear it.
It had been expensive, draining the better part of one of my savings accounts, but somehow I had been blessed with a shrewd mind for finances and I had been saving for years. In fact, I was hoping to design and build a house sometime in the near future with all I had saved, and the thought that Jules and I could do that together excited me.
Maybe I was getting ahead of myself in thinking like that, but Jules and I had known each other for a lifetime. We didn’t need to go through the stupid early stages of a relationship because we already had.
I took the steps from my apartment to my parking lot two at a time and pulled into Jules’s parking lot a few minutes later. I took a deep breath, still not believing that this had happened.
We were back together.
I had spent a very long time praying for this moment, and here it was.
Someone was walking out of her building as I walked up, and she held the door open for me. I felt her eyes on me, giving me an appreciative once-over, but I ignored it. Women seemed to find my dark hair and brown eyes irresistible, as evidenced by the many women who had fallen at my feet offering me a night of excitement. But tonight, I was here for Jules, and I didn’t have eyes for anybody else. I hadn’t, really, for the better part of fifteen years.
I knocked on her door, and she opened it. She was a vision of beauty in front of me, her long hair flowing like strands of silk down her back. I thought back to the night I had made love to her and that hair whipped around as she moved wildly beneath me. I was hoping for a chance to see that again that very night. I assumed that’s why she called me over, and I knew my little gift would seal that deal, even though that hadn’t been my motivation in purchasing it.
I set the bag down on the table and pulled her hand into mine. We walked over to the couch, and I leaned in for a kiss only to be pushed away.
“We need to talk,” she said.
Shit. That was never something a guy wanted to hear.
Hadn’t we done plenty of talking over the past several days?
“What’s the matter?” A frisson of panic pierced my stomach at the look in her eyes.
“Trav, you know how much I value you and our friendship. You are one of the most important people in my life. But I can’t do this with you. My heart belongs to Nick.” Her words were blunt, but she tried to mask them with a gentle tone.
It didn’t work.
Her words felt like a slap across the face.
What the fuck?
Earlier that very day, she had said she wanted me, and now she was telling me that she didn’t.
I was monumentally confused. I wasn’t hurt or angry or upset yet; no, that would come later.
Was she fucking with me? She couldn’t be serious. A person couldn’t just change her mind that quickly.
“What about what you said earlier?” I asked, trying to find some way out of the situation that I suddenly found myself in.
“I said a lot of things earlier.” True, she had. But the only thing I could remember at that moment was that she said we were more than friends.
“But most importantly, I said that I need some time. I said that I need you to be my friend. Can you just be my friend?” she asked.
I couldn’t. I knew for sure that after I had told her I loved her and she had slept with me, our relationship had changed and it would never be the same again.
It wasn’t like when we were in college and we’d fallen into bed together. Back then, I’d kept my real feelings to myself. But now she knew what I really felt for her, and I couldn’t just go back to being friends. Not after I’d made love to her. Not after I’d held her in my arms and not after she knew my real feelings.
I was in love with her, had been for as long as I could remember, and I knew that her ending it would shatter me. I wouldn’t be able to look at her the same way with the understanding that she knew the truth about my feelings and didn’t return them.
“I don’t know,” I said, knowing the truth in my heart. I kept it together in front of her. I don’t know how, but I did. “Remember what I said, too. I can’t wait around for you forever.”
It wasn’t true; I would wait forever. But I had to say something that would hurt her in that moment.
I had waited a very long time for her, and why I chose the moment she had been dumped to tell her, I’ll never quite understand. If she could’ve given me an ounce of hope that we could salvage things between us, maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to strike back. But she didn’t. Her tone was sad, but her eyes were explicit. There was no mistaking that it was over between us. She was going back to Nick, and I was going to end up alone.
I stood up, needing to get out of there before I lost it in front of her. I wasn’t being much of a man, but this woman had broken me one too many times.
“Travis, wait.” She tried to get me to stop, but I couldn’t. I was on a mission for the door. I felt unfamiliar tears pricking behind my eyes, and I was positive that I was going to start crying.
I took a deep breath and didn’t allow the heat behind my eyes to form into tears. “No, Julianne,” I finally said, using her full name instead of my nickname for her. “I’ve waited long enough.” I opened the door and practically ran to the parking lot, needing to get away from her and from the words that I still couldn’t believe.
Somehow she had taken my heart and smashed it beyond recognition.
And through the pile of shit that I now had to deal with, a thought occurred to me: Had she and Nick already gotten back together? She had said that her heart belonged to Nick; was it because she had somehow patched things up with him?
If she had, she would’ve called him, and he would be on his way over.
I knew her as well as she knew me.
I walked over to a dark corner of the parking lot and sat on the curb. I don’t know why I felt the need to torture myself, but I had to know.
And my suspicion was confirmed as I sat there in the back of the parking lot after she had broken things off with me and I saw Nick’s classy Beemer pull into a spot a few minutes later. I saw him rush out of his car toward the building, and I saw him disappear inside a moment later.
Presumably he was running over to comfort her, to kiss her, to fuck her. He was there, replacing me. He got to be with her, while I got to live with the torment of getting so close and totally missing the boat.
I headed to my car and got in. Each motion was mechanical and automatic. I turned the key in the ignition and drove home. I arrived, dropped my keys and wallet on my kitchen counter, and crawled into bed.
And then, I did something I hadn’t done since my uncle had died six years earlier.
Sleep had always been my friend. A good friend. Maybe even a best friend. Our relationship was one of give and take; sleep gave to me and I took it freely. I could sleep through an earthquake (in fact, I had once). I could sleep through construction. I could sleep through a woman leaving my bed to save me from an awkward goodbye.
But it turns out that I couldn’t sleep through a broken heart.
I tossed and turned all night, unable to greet my friend, unable to give into the only thing that would help me forget about the hell I was in.
I finally caught an hour or two just after dawn, the jarring sound of my cell phone ringing waking me up far too early. I opened my eyes, and they burned in the daylight. I hadn’t thought to close the blinds in my despair the night before, and sunlight streamed into my bedroom, attacking my swollen eyes with a vengeance.
I glanced at my phone and saw her name and her familiar face lighting up my screen: “Julianne Becker.”
Of all the goddamn things to wake up to after losing an entire night’s sleep over her.
I didn’t have it in me to talk to her. I knew that she felt bad about what she did, but I wasn’t in a place where I could even hear her voice at that moment. I needed some time apart from her, time to figure things out. I was done living my life for her. That anger that I hadn’t felt when she had first told me she didn’t want to be with me was starting to rear its ugly head.
I was ready to just be selfish for awhile, and that meant not answering the phone.
I sent the call to voicemail after a few rings. She would know I purposely hadn’t answered, and maybe that would upset her. But I didn’t give a fuck if it upset her. No; that’s not true. I wanted it to upset her. I wanted her to hurt inside as much as I was hurting. But she had Nick to take care of her; she had someone to lean on, while I was left alone in the dust. She left a voicemail, which, to torture myself further, I listened to immediately. “Trav, it’s me. I had to call to see how you are doing. I’m just… I’m sorry about everything. Call me. I need to hear your voice.”
Too bad for her that I couldn’t alleviate that need for her.
My phone buzzed again, this time with a text from my buddy Dan: San Diego women are fucking ridiculous.
Women everywhere were fucking ridiculous.
Good ridiculous? Or bad? I texted back.
Spectacular. When you coming out?
I thought about it. Daniel Larson and I went all the way back to grad school. We had a ton of classes together, and through study sessions and bitching about professors, he had become my best friend. He also, incidentally, made a great wingman when I needed it, and I always provided him the same service.
Dan’s lifelong dream had been to live near a beach, so after we finished our degrees, he moved to San Diego. My dad didn’t want him to be competition for his company – he was that good at design – so my dad poached Dan from another company to help start a subsidiary in San Diego. Dan visited often because he still had family in Arizona and my dad held various trainings and meetings at the headquarter offices in Phoenix.
A plan formed in my head.
What if I moved there? I texted.
Dan’s reply came in the form of a phone call. “Seriously? D and T back together? We would tear this fucking town up, dude.”
I wanted to laugh, but I was too depressed. “Yeah. Seriously.” Certainly he could sense the depression in my tone.
“Shit went down with Jules.”
I knew he’d understand. He had been my friend for a long time, and he knew about that part of my life. He was the only person outside of my family who knew every detail about my love for Julianne. Well, as much detail as guys share with each other about their emotions.
“Want to talk about it?”
No. I didn’t do that touchy-feely shit. “Thanks but no thanks.”
He laughed. “Gotcha.”
And then I started talking. That was our thing. We could never admit to wanting to talk about something, but he was a good enough friend to listen.
“I finally told Julianne how I felt, some shit went down, and in the end, she wrote me off for another guy. It’s officially over. I don’t even think I can be her friend anymore.”
“Maybe you’re better off without her.”
“What made you finally tell her?” he asked.
“I was drunk, she was single. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“It wasn’t,” I confirmed.
“So now what?”
“Maybe San Diego?”
“My roommate moved out last month. I’ve got room if you need somewhere to stay.”
“I may take you up on that.”
I went into work to get my mind off of shit, but it didn’t work. At least the fucking waterworks were over, and I was thankful for that. I threw myself into a new project and stayed late working on it. I was working on a hotel design. I preferred clean, sleek lines, and I was sketching out the building by hand first. A lot of architects went right to the computer, but I liked seeing my ideas on paper first. Once I was happy with the basic design, I moved over to the computer and fired up autoCAD for my 3D design.
When I said I stayed late, I meant later than I’d ever stayed before in my career. It was a little after midnight when I got home, and I crashed, my friend sleep coming for a brief visit but not staying as long as usual. I may have gotten a good three hours that night.
Friday was more of the same. I was in robot mode, trying everything I could to just put her out of my mind and focus on work.
My work phone rang a little before lunchtime. “Travis Miller,” I answered automatically.
“T, it’s dad. Are you free for lunch?”
My dad had nearly retired, but he did occasionally do business on the golf course, and he still came in to check on his staff a few times a week. It wasn’t rare for him to take me out to lunch, but I wasn’t in a good frame of mind for sitting around shooting the shit.
“I’m in the middle of a project, Pops.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer.”
“Why’d you bother asking, then?” I grumbled.
He laughed. “Meet me in twenty minutes.”
“The usual?” The usual was Denny’s. My mom hated Denny’s, so anytime my dad and I went out by ourselves, we hit up our favorite place. It didn’t hurt that it was a four minute walk from my office, either.
“Yeah. See ya in twenty, kid.”
I walked into the restaurant crowded with a lunch rush, my dad already having claimed a table. I spotted him and slid into the booth across from him.
“Hey, kid.” He glanced up from the menu at me, and he held his gaze on me for a moment, studying me. “You okay?” The concern in his voice was evident, affection written across his features.
“You look tired.”
I blew out a frustrated breath and looked down at the menu. It was a charade for us both; we both always ordered the exact same meal when we went to Denny’s: a Grand Slam with scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes, but looking at the menu gave me somewhere to look besides my dad’s prying eyes.
“I’ll take that as a no. But I will also take it that you don’t want to talk about it.”
I drummed my fingers on the table, a nervous habit that I had picked up from the very man sitting across from me. “Thanks.”
The waitress came by, saving me from a conversation I didn’t want to have. It was hard enough dealing with it on my own, but Jules was like family to my family. Despite my anger, I still inexplicably felt the need to keep her reputation untarnished in the Miller household. And telling my dad that she had slept with me and then dumped me would certainly tarnish her squeaky-clean image.
We ordered our usual, but I opted for a glass of orange juice instead of my usual coffee. I was already wired up on caffeine from a fitful night’s sleep and any more would’ve just made my hands shaky. Try designing a hotel with shaky hands; it’s not easy. But, unfortunately, any tiny deviation in my usual meal at Denny’s caught my dad’s concern.
“Orange juice?” he asked after the waitress turned around. I studied her ass as she bounced away. She was cute. Maybe early forties – a little old for me, but I’d been with a handful of cougars. They were usually pretty wild in bed, but I wasn’t ready for sex. I couldn’t think about anyone except Jules as it was; I wasn’t sure what would happen if I got a woman in my bed. I’d probably break down in tears or some stupid shit.
“Yeah. I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m already wired on caffeine.”
“Understood. Mind if I ask why you didn’t sleep well?”
“Yeah, I mind. But I have a feeling you’re not letting me out of it.”
“Jules and I are over.”
A flicker of shock passed across his face, but he masked it well. “Didn’t that just start?”
I nodded. “It’s a long story. Suffice it to say, it didn’t end well and I already miss her like crazy.”
“I’m sorry, kid.”
I swallowed past the lump in my throat. “Thanks. Can we, uh, talk about something else?”
“Sure thing. This actually may work out better than I first thought.”
I glanced up at him. “What might?”
“I have some openings in San Diego. I haven’t told anybody this yet, but things are about to explode down there. We’ve got new structures left and right, lots of redesign and some new builds. A lot of retail, some hotels, and a multi-tainment center. I was going to ask your opinion on a few different projects, and I had planned on using Dan as a key in hiring some new people, but what if you two worked together?”
“Like via Skype?”
“No. Like via the same office.”
“You want me to move to San Diego?”
“The thought just occurred to me. I know you’ve always wanted to stay here for a lot of different reasons, but what if one of those reasons just gave you the motivation to spread your wings a little?”
“Huh,” was all I could muster. This was too weird.
“Think about it this weekend. The hours will be a little firmer than the freedom I’ve given you here, but you’ll also have a little independence from your father.”
I stared at him, thinking how weirdly coincidental it was that I had literally just spoken to Dan about this same possibility.
“I’ll need to know by Monday.”
“I can give you my answer now.”
The waitress dropped off our drinks, and my dad poured two creamers into his coffee, stirred it, and took a sip before looking me in the eye. “Well?”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Sign me up. I need to get the hell out of this town for awhile.”
“Your mother is going to kill me.”
I shrugged. “She’ll be okay.”
Sometimes it’s best to just start over.
That was the guiding thought that led me to click “Check Out” on the U-Haul website, confirming my rental of a fourteen foot truck that I would pick up the following Saturday.
I randomly told Dan that I was thinking about moving to San Diego, and then my dad told me about an opportunity for a job there? Sounded meant to be to me. The stars aligned or some sappy shit like that. The “why” didn’t matter; what did matter was that I was ready just to be there.
My next move was to hit up Home Depot for boxes and packing tape. I would be starting my new job in San Diego in a couple of weeks, so I didn’t have much time to kill.
I was listening to a CD that Jules had made for me as I packed up my kitchen. Ironic, I know. It had all of her favorite songs from 2007 on it.
I had already packed my iPod docking station and all of my CDs (yes, I still had CDs), so I was forced to listen to the only CD that I could find, the one that was already in the CD player of my under-the-counter stereo in my kitchen that I hadn’t disassembled yet. Emerson Hart belted out, “I Wish the Best for You.”
I liked Emerson’s sentiment, but I wasn’t sure I shared it.
Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder” came on next, and the lyric, “And it really makes me wonder if I ever gave a fuck about you” hit a little too close to home for my comfort. I thought about that from her perspective. Did she ever give a fuck about me? Or had she used me to get the comfort she needed?
With a friendship that went back as far as ours did, I had to believe that she cared about me and that she was just confused. I knew I had hit her with my confession of feelings at a low point for her, but I had hoped that she would be so overcome with the realization that she loved me, too, that she would just forget about what’s-his-name.
Turns out that didn’t happen.
I pulled my plates off of a shelf and separated them with packing paper, wondering why I was torturing myself even more with this CD.
The next song was Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around.” I chuckled to myself, the first sign of laughter I had felt in days. It would serve both of them right. I wasn’t malicious, but I was hurting.
And the CD was like a goddamn soundtrack of my life. They kept coming: Avril Lavigne’s “Keep Holding On” (no thanks… done with that shit), Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” (Jules did have some amazing lips), Kelly Clarkson’s “Never Again” (damn right, Kelly), and finally, Nickelback’s “Rockstar.”
Okay, the last one didn’t have any significance to my situation with Jules, but I wanted to be a rockstar, too. Who didn’t?
The irony wasn’t lost on me, and I finally decided to turn the damn CD off. It’d be easier packing in fucking silence than listening to all of the songs that reminded me of her. The whole point of this exercise in packing and moving was to get her off of my mind, anyway. It was time for a fresh start and something new, and getting the hell out of Arizona seemed like my only option. After the long history I shared with Jules, there were just too many reminders around me of what broke my heart and of what I could never have.
My phone rang, and I picked it up when I saw who it was. “Hey, Mom.”
“Dad filled me in. How are you doing, T?”
I wondered briefly what exactly my dad had told her. I had confided in him certain details about my sex life, in particular that Jules and I had slept together. My mom, not so much. She was too… motherly to share those details with. I assumed he just shared the details about Jules and me breaking it off and the whole moving to San Diego thing. “I’m okay,” I answered, scrubbing my hand down my face. I hated lying to my mom, but I didn’t want her to worry.
“It’s not like her.”
“No, it’s not. But she was hurting. She did what she thought was right.” I realized that I was defending her. I was defending her decision to fuck me and then dump me to go back to Nick. What kind of idiot was I?
“I guess. I’m just so sorry.”
“So you’re really moving?” she asked.
“Yeah. I just need to get away.” That damn lump was back in my throat.
“How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know. We’ll see how San Diego works out for me. Maybe a few weeks or a month, or maybe a year. Years. I don’t know.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I know, Mom. I’ll miss you, too.”
“Call me every day.”
I chuckled. “We’ll see.”
“Then text me every day.”
“You’re such a mom.”
“Yes, I am. Your mom. And I love you and just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I will be. Thanks for calling. I love you.”
“Love you, Travie.”
I fucking hated the name “Travie,” but she was my mom. She was the only person in the world allowed to use that nickname.
I hung up with my mom and finished packing my kitchen, leaving out a few random items for last-minute supplies. I headed to bed, still completely crushed by Julianne’s betrayal, but feeling the tiniest spark of hope knowing that I was moving to San Diego, a place that would provide me with a fresh start.
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