Discover more from Elle Fielding
Game of Hearts: Chapter 2
Come to Heaven With Me
I close my eyes against the sun streaming through the window, feeling the after-effects of last night's tequila binge with Gabby. Why do I feel so damn awful? Right, I let Gabby talk me into shot after shot. She was smart enough to stop, but I kept going. Now, I have a pounding headache and no desire to go to work.
I grab the painkillers from the cupboard in the kitchen, giving myself a pep talk. August has been after the same highly prized Brewis Beer campaign as I have, and I can't let that smug jerk get the edge by taking today off. Regret floods my thoughts as I remember introducing him to Jenna-Lee at that work dinner a month ago. The consequences of that decision weigh heavily on me.
Work functions are a constant in my calendar, thanks to Saxby and Saxby Advertising. Edward and Cain Saxby believe in bonding and make it mandatory for all employees to attend monthly dinners and a yearly working vacation at their private island, "Heaven's Isle." Despite their eccentricities, I put up with these mandatory events because the company is the best in the business.
At least partners are allowed on the weeklong working vacation. With high hopes, I asked Jenna-Lee to come with me. It would have been an opportunity to rekindle our connection. However, she's going with August. Every time I remember that, it’s a knife through the gut. Cain and Edward have always encouraged August and me to compete over everything, including women. What was once light-hearted rivalry has transformed into an all-out war. Jenna-Lee was supposed to be my tie-breaker, but the game ceased to matter at all to me when I was with her. She made me forget everything else whenever we spent time together, and now I miss her.
That must be love, right? I’ve never missed a woman before. It figures that the first woman I fall for would leave me, just like my mother left my father years ago. But I won't make the same mistake my father did. I'll win Jenna-Lee back, with Gabby's help.
Gabby is the greatest friend a guy could ever ask for. She knows me better than anyone and still accepts me, calls me out on my BS, and I'm lucky to have her in my life.
I smile as I step under the hot spray of the shower, thinking back to my first meeting with Gabby. I was hassling Billy Grayson for his lunch money. After my mum left, my dad fell apart and became a weak, pathetic alcoholic who left me to fend for myself. The only way I ate was by taking food or money from other kids at school.
Gabby tried to stop me from bullying Billy on our first day of meeting. She marched up to me, kicked me hard in the shin, causing me to drop Billy and turn on her. But instead of backing down, she stood her ground and told me off.
"You'll pay for that," I said, backing her up against the wall in the empty corridor.
"Pick on someone your own size!"
"I'll do what I want."
"You're a bully."
"Didn't your mother ever teach you any manners?"
"My mother's dead."
That wasn't the whole truth, but she may as well have died when she left me with my father without even a goodbye.
"My mother is dead too, but I don't go around hurting other people."
"I wasn't hurting him."
She raised an eyebrow, and I shrugged. "Well, I wouldn't have hurt him if he'd given me his money."
"Why do you need money?"
"So I can buy cigarettes," I lied.
I wasn't about to tell some girl that I hadn't eaten in close to twenty-four hours, even if she was a little pretty.
I took her bag in my hand. "Now I'll just have to take your money."
"I don't have any."
I rummaged through her bag, finding nothing except for a sandwich.
"Fine, I'll just take this," I said, shoving the bag back into her hands. At least I wouldn't go hungry today.
"That's my lunch."
"Now it's mine."
"Get your own sandwich."
"I just did."
"I don't have anything else to eat."
"Do I look like I care?"
"Please," she pleaded as I started walking away.
I still don't know why I turned around that day. But I did. I saw her lip quiver as she tried to hold back her tears. Before I could think twice, I tore open the packaging, took half of the sandwich, and handed it to her. The thought of her being as hungry as I was suddenly made me feel uneasy. For some reason, the girl got to me.
"Thank you," she said, eating her half before I could change my mind and take it back. "I hate being hungry. My stomach rumbles. It's embarrassing. My foster parents don't give me much to eat."
"Well, I don't get anything to eat," I admitted, surprised that I was sharing something I'd never told anyone before.
"That must be awful."
It was awful, but I got by when I didn't have some girl sticking her nose in my business. Her look of concern was almost too much. I didn't want to spend another minute with her.
"My foster parents are awful," she said. "When they find my aunt, I can finally leave here."
I didn't care. I really didn't care to hear her ramble on about her life, her aunt, or her own hunger.
"Maybe you can show me around. This is my first day here, and I don't know where my next class is," she said tentatively, her cheeks blushing with a light shade of pink.
I stared at her incredulously. Had she not just witnessed me dangling Billy by the foot? As if I, Big Bad Van-Ray, as I was notorious around school, would ever consider playing the role of a tour guide for some girl just because I had shared half of her sandwich.
"Maybe you can get lost."
I walked away, kicking a trash can on the way out. I wasn't about to let some stupid girl ruin my reputation. First, she interfered in my business, then she suggested I actually help her. I didn't help anyone but myself.
In the coming weeks, however, I proved myself a liar.
When Darrell McKinnon tried to sneak his dope into Gabby's bag before a bag check, I kicked his ass, telling myself it was just for fun. When Amber Jacobs spread a rumour that Gabby cheated on a test and took Amber's spot at the top of the class, I put the biggest spider I could find in Amber's locker, telling myself it was just for my own amusement. And when I caught Hunter Maddington hassling Gabby and telling her to show him her tits, I gave him a bloody nose because it just felt good. That last one resulted in me getting suspended.
After I came back from suspension, Gabby sought me out to tell me that the Department of Human Services had finally tracked down her aunt, and that her aunt had moved to Magpie Grove over the weekend. I was about to tell her I didn't care when Gabby put her brown paper bag in my hands.
"I don't want your stupid..." I scowled.
She walked away before I could finish the sentence.
Over the months that followed, Gabby continued to give me her lunches, and eventually, I stopped denying that I wanted them. When she insisted I come over for dinner one night, I hardly protested at all. One night turned into two, and soon it became a regular occurrence. From that point on, we were inseparable.
Gabby had endured a lot of loss in her life, from losing her mother and father to being shuffled through multiple foster homes before finally moving in with Aunt Brenna. But when she lost Brenna too, it nearly broke her. Losing anyone else would be too much for her, so she keeps everyone at arm's length, except for me.
What we have is strong and dependable. We're always there for each other, and I trust her completely. If she thinks making Jenna-Lee jealous will help me get her back, I'm willing to try. The work holiday I invited Jenna-Lee to is only a couple of weeks away, and I'm expected to bring someone. It’s the perfect place to put Gabby’s idea into action. I'll go see Gabby on my lunch break today, and I can't wait to see her reaction when I tell her my plan.
Taking an overdue break from my work at the Magpie Grove Neighbourhood House that I manage, I grab my cheese and tomato sandwich out of the fridge in the kitchenette and bite into it, savouring the flavour of the relish and basil I decided to add at the last minute.
“Tasty?” I jump at the familiar voice.
Turning, I notice Aaron has quietly entered the room. His usual heart-stopping grin spreads across his face as he takes a step closer. Dressed in dark denim jeans, boots, and a khaki shirt that accentuates the colour of his eyes, his slightly dishevelled hair adds to his irresistible charm. The softness in his gaze causes my stomach to flutter and soar simultaneously.
"What are you doing here?" I ask him a little breathlessly, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"I was in the neighbourhood. Thought I'd drop by."
"Aaron, you're never just in the neighbourhood."
"Bernadette said you guys have been quiet lately."
"Eh, things aren't too bad, though Hannah hasn't had too many shifts since we hired her."
I feel a pang of concern for Hannah, the girl we recently brought on board to assist at the neighbourhood house. We were anticipating more community events and activities over the summer, but they haven't picked up as expected, so Hannah hasn't had much work to do.
"Well, her luck is about to change."
"Why?" I ask him warily.
"I want you to come to Heaven's Isle with me in a couple of weeks."
"To your yearly work thingy?"
"Five days, six nights on Saxby's Island. Sun, white sand beaches, sunsets-"
"And work dinners, bonding exercises, and Cain and Edward Saxby."
He shrugs, flashing me his grin once again. "So you take the good with the bad."
The Saxby Brothers are over the top and far too passionate about advertising. Plus, the way they set Aaron and August against each other while preaching about workplace cohesiveness has always bothered me. Over the years, I've attended quite a few of Aaron's work events with him, but he's never asked me to go on holiday with him. It's normally a partners-only holiday.
"It's the perfect place to make Jenna-Lee jealous," he adds.
My heart sinks. He remembers my advice from last night. For a fleeting moment, I allowed myself to believe that he wanted me to join him for the pleasure of my company. But now, it's clear that I am merely a means to an end, a pawn in his game with August, all orchestrated to make Jenna-Lee jealous. The bitter taste of disappointment mingles with resignation, yet I can't even be angry with him for considering the idea, since it was my own stupid suggestion.
"I can't just leave for a week. I have responsibilities here at the neighbourhood house," I tell him.
At that moment, Bernadette joins us in the small kitchenette at the back of the house.
"Hannah can handle things here for that week," Bernadette tells me. "If you want to go on holiday, now is the perfect time. You know things will pick up when school goes back."
"You discussed this with Bernadette?" I ask Aaron, feeling more trapped by the second.
"Yes, I thought it would be easier if we both knew what was going on," Aaron says, giving Bernadette another grateful look.
He looks at me, wholly relieved, as he slings an arm around my shoulders and pulls me close, making me feel and appreciate everything I'm destined never to have.
"You and me in Heaven, Gab. What could be better?"
Bernadette rolls her eyes. "Very corny."
When Bernadette walks out, Aaron starts talking about how great our holiday is going to be.
I have to stop doing this—I have to stop torturing myself. He just doesn't feel that way about me. I've waited years for him to realize he doesn't want to keep all women at a distance and that he doesn't want to walk out the moment he feels something for a woman he's seeing. Now that he has finally realized that, however, he still doesn't want me. It's Jenna-Lee who has turned his whole world upside down. It's Jenna-Lee who he's let himself fall in love with.
I want Aaron in my life, I need him in my life, but the truth is finally starting to sink in. No matter how much I've hoped otherwise, Aaron and I will never be more than friends. I have to stop pining after him like some lovesick puppy. He's never going to look at me the way I look at him, and if I want to keep our friendship, it's time to move on. It's time to get over my best friend once and for all.