Discover more from Elle Fielding
Game of Hearts: Chapter 3
Change is in the Wind
"What's going on?" Bernadette asks as we begin closing up the rooms in the neighbourhood house.
"What do you mean?" I reply, my mind preoccupied.
"You've been miserable ever since Aaron left," she says, concern evident in her voice.
"I haven't had time to be miserable, Bernadette," I respond, trying to brush off her observation.
A new facilitator came in after lunch and wanted to go through her course in excessive detail, including the payment amount she was hoping to receive. Then there was the summer holiday program for single parents. It's been a hectic day.
Bernadette purses her lips, studying me closely. "You look like you've just lost your best friend,"
It's an ironic choice of words, and I can't help but let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah, something like that," I mutter.
"Someone’s overfilled our bin, by the way," Bernadette adds.
"That's just great," I mutter, not really caring about overflowing rubbish at the moment.
The bell above the door jangles as Carly Frost walks in, her arms full of clothes in plastic bags. Every Friday, Carly picks up her dry-cleaning from the shop next door and then drops by to say hello. Carly, Bernadette, and I became fast friends in university when we took a business class together as an elective.
"What's happening?" Carly asks, noticing the sombre atmosphere.
"Not much," Bernadette replies, trying to keep things light.
"How's work?" I ask Carly.
"Website's gone down again, and I had a man ask for a refund because his date lied about her height on her profile page," Carly says with a sigh, sharing her own challenges.
Carly runs a dating service on the other side of town. Not only does she have to compete with the influx of new dating apps that flood the market constantly, but her customers can be very demanding and often have ridiculously high standards she must contend with.
"Tough day, then?" Bernadette asks sympathetically.
Carly nods. "I wish you two would reconsider letting me put your profiles online. I really could use some fresh meat right now."
I grimace at being referred to as "fresh meat." "Sorry, Carly. It's not my style."
"You mean anyone that doesn't have medium brown hair, brown eyes, and a leather jacket isn't your style," Bernadette jokes, trying to lighten the mood.
"How is Aaron?" Carly asks curiously.
"Fine," I reply curtly, not wanting to delve into the topic.
Bernadette waggles her eyebrows at Carly. "He's taking Gabby away on holiday with him."
Carly's eyes light up with curiosity.
I shake my head quickly. "It's not what you think," I clarify, not wanting to entertain any romantic notions.
"What I think," Carly says mischievously, "is that he can finally see what's been right in front of him all along."
"And that's where you'd be wrong," I tell her firmly. "Aaron wants me to go with him to make Jenna-Lee jealous."
"What!" Carly screeches.
"It was my idea," I quickly interject, feeling the need to take responsibility. Both of them are looking at me like I've lost my damn mind. Perhaps I have. "He's in love with her."
"You're kidding?" Carly asks, still processing the revelation.
"I'm not," I reply.
"That's it then?" Carly asks, crossing her arms. "You're just going to give up so easily?"
"Give up?" I shake my head, the weight of years of unrequited feelings heavy on my shoulders. "Carly, I've been waiting for years for Aaron to see me as more than a friend. I'm tired of waiting for him to notice me."
"When have you ever done anything to make him see you differently?" Bernadette asks, her voice filled with a mix of concern and challenge.
I pause, realizing she has a point. I've been too passive, hoping that one day he would wake up and realize what he had in front of him. But the truth is, he's been so set on keeping emotional distance from any woman he gets involved with. And now, he's fallen in love with Jenna-Lee.
I sigh and rest my hands on the desk in front of me. "You know what? It doesn't matter. I'm getting over him."
"In that case, you'll let me put your profile up on my site," Carly says, suggesting a way to move forward.
I glare at her momentarily, resisting the idea. "I don't need a man in my life to move on. What century are we in?"
Bernadette stops what she's doing and chimes in, her voice soft and supportive. "You’re right. Of course, you don’t need a man. But it couldn’t hurt to try, right? If you're serious about moving on, it's not a bad idea."
"I am serious," I assure them.
They both look at me sceptically, understanding the depth of my feelings for Aaron. I hold up my hands, surrendering to their persistence. "Fine. Put it up. Let's see what happens."
Bernadette smiles, and Carly pumps her fist with enthusiasm.
Carly looks me up and down, assessing my appearance. "And while we're at it, maybe we can update your wardrobe too."
I roll my eyes, knowing their penchant for makeovers. "Sure, why not?" I respond, willing to make changes in my life.
Carly's smile widens. "You never know, we may just shock Aaron into seeing you differently after all."
I doubt it, but I'm done holding my breath and waiting for him. It's time to embrace the possibility of someone new in my life and let go of the hope that Aaron will ever reciprocate my feelings.
I step up to Gabby's doorstep, taking a moment to appreciate the beautiful blue skies and the gentle breeze. It's a perfect day for our flight to Heaven’s Isle, and I'm eagerly anticipating the week ahead with Gabby. We always have an amazing time together.
Glancing at my watch to ensure we have ample time to reach the airport, Gabby opens the door. "Ready to..." I begin to say, but my words trail off as I take in her appearance.
Even though I've always kept my feelings for Gabby in check because we're best friends, I've always been aware of how gorgeous she is. Gabby has dark brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, framing her fine bone structure. Her brown eyes have hints of amber, giving them a warm and inviting quality. Standing at a petite 5'6" with a slim figure, her toned and tanned arms and legs further enhance her beauty. Despite her striking appearance, Gabby typically prefers to downplay her looks. Perhaps that's why it's such a shock to see her the way she is.
Today, everything is different. Wearing a ruby red top that accentuates her generous breasts on a slim frame and a black short skirt emitting a highly flirtatious vibe, it's hard to reconcile this new side of Gabby with her usual understated style. The addition of ruby lipstick and matching heels further enhances her appearance, giving her an almost sex kittenish appeal.
I've always known that it wouldn't be beneficial for either of us if I let my physical desires complicate our friendship. I value our bond too much to risk ruining it. However, as she turns around and walks into the house, the way she moves in her matching heels draws my gaze to her backside and makes me feel far too hot. It leaves me desperate to cling to the image of her as my best friend, the one person I should never cross that line with.
"New outfit?" I ask, my voice sounding strange, even to me. She leans over to pick up her case, and her skirt rides up, revealing her toned and tanned thighs. Damn. I quickly take the case from her, needing something to keep my hands occupied. Gabby is my best friend, I remind myself. Off-limits.
"Carly and Bernadette took me shopping to buy some new outfits," she tells me.
I eye her suitcase suspiciously, hoping it doesn't contain more of these seductive outfits.
"Ready?" I ask, needing to create some distance between us.
She nods and says, "Let's go to heaven."
I want to show her heaven alright—between the sheets, in my arms, with my mouth exploring her body. Stop! Gabby is my best friend. I shouldn't think about her that way. I'm not supposed to think about her that way. She would be horrified if she knew what I'm imagining right now. Besides, I'm in love with Jenna-Lee, not Gabby. I remind myself. Never Gabby. You don't mess around with your best friend. It's a big mistake.
Upon arriving at the airport, I notice that I'm not the only one struggling to keep my eyes off Gabby. Men of all ages turn to look at her. Some openly stare, while others attempt to be discreet, especially those accompanied by their wives or partners. I grip the handles of the suitcases I'm carrying a little tighter, feeling a mix of protectiveness and possessiveness.
We finally reach the boarding gate for our flight and receive instructions on how to proceed onto the tarmac when I spot Jenna-Lee and August approaching us, pushing a trolley loaded with luggage. As soon as Jenna-Lee notices me, I slide my arm around Gabby's waist and pull her close, resting my hand on her hip. Confusion fills Gabby's eyes as she looks at me. I nod my head in the direction of the approaching couple. While Jenna-Lee and August were initially the reason I pulled Gabby to me, the sensation of her pressed against me now feels overwhelmingly good.
"Oh," Gabby utters softly.
"August. Jenna-Lee," I greet them casually.
Gabby's plan already seems to be working, evident from Jenna-Lee's gaze towards her. However, I didn't anticipate August's reaction to my friend. The way he leers at her triggers an intense urge to punch him in the face. It reminds me of the first time August met Gabby. Back then, August and I were on friendlier terms, and when he expressed interest in asking Gabby out, I discouraged him. Since then, our rivalry has overshadowed any friendship we had, and he hasn't brought it up or pursued Gabby, thankfully. Probably because he's been too preoccupied competing with me for women.
"It's good to see you again, Gabby," August says, accompanied by one of his typical smarmy smiles.
Jenna-Lee glares at me. "Why is she here? It's supposed to be partners only."
"Gabby and I are together now," I inform her smugly.
"Since when? You told me she'd never be more than a friend."
Jenna-Lee shifts her attention to Gabby. "So you finally managed to catch his eye. How clichéd, using a whole makeover ploy to get his attention."
"Well, I had to try something," Gabby responds, glancing up at me. "I've been in love with him since high school."
Gabby's serious expression briefly causes my heart to ache against my chest, as if she's speaking the truth. But then I remember—I asked her to play a role in this charade. Of course, she isn't in love with me. She's simply telling a convincing lie.
"I told you she was in love with you. You never believed me," Jenna-Lee accuses me.
"Seems I should have listened to you, Jen."
"I finally gathered the courage to confess my feelings to Aaron," Gabby says, still looking at me.
If Gabby can be convincing, then so can I.
"And I realized I felt the same way." I subtly tighten my fingers on her hip, causing Gabby to catch her breath as she comprehends what I'm about to do. Leaning in, I gently brush my lips against hers.
My intention is for the kiss to appear innocent and affectionate, but the surge of electricity coursing through me and the immediate rush of blood to my groin leave me momentarily dizzy. The impulse to hold her even closer, to feel her pressed against me, threatens to overpower me. It's clear that Gabby's outfit and my earlier fantasies are to blame for my intense reaction. However, I need to regain control immediately because this is Gabby we're talking about.
"I suppose I should say I'm happy for you," Jenna-Lee says to us.
She's clearly not happy, and I experience a brief moment of satisfaction before noticing how August's gaze once again lingers on my friend. By bringing Gabby along as my date, I've reignited August's interest in her, and now he regards Gabby as if she's some sort of prize to be won. It makes me feel sick. By using Gabby to win Jenna-Lee back, I've inadvertently set the stage for August to see Gabby's affection as yet another competition.
"It's nice you'll be joining us anyway, Gabby," August says.
Just then, our work colleague Tim Mackenzie and his wife Colette join us, sparing August from further scrutiny. Gabby isn't a game, and I have no intention of allowing my friend to become a conquest for August. After exchanging greetings, the six of us make our way down to the tarmac and board the plane. I make sure we sit at the back of the small aircraft, as far away from Jenna-Lee and August as possible since they are seated near the front.
"That went well," Gabby says to me, reaching up to stow her carry-on in the overhead compartment.
"Yes, it did," I respond.
"Jenna-Lee seemed to buy it," she adds.
"Well, you were very convincing," I say, stealing a glance at her from the corner of my eye as I place my own bag in the overhead bin.
"We needed her to believe it," Gabby agrees.
"The whole 'loving me since high school' thing was a nice touch," I say, closing the compartment and finally looking at her directly.
"Never let it be said I'm not creative," Gabby says, offering a small smile.
"The outfit worked too. She thought it was part of an elaborate makeover plan," I add.
Gabby laughs. "Well, it was part of a makeover plan."
"Carly and Bernadette thought I should buy some new outfits for all the dates I'm supposedly going to get through Carly's dating agency."
"Carly has finally convinced me to put my profile up on her website."
It feels like a punch to the gut, sudden and jarring. It's unexpected. While I'm aware that Gabby has had a few casual flings over the years, it's never seemed like she actively pursued dating. At least, not to my knowledge. Gabby is stunning, so it's not due to a lack of attention. I always assumed her disinterest stemmed from the same fear of loving someone and losing them, just like me. Especially given the losses she's experienced in her life. So why is she now joining Carly's agency? She's been declining Carly's offers for ages.
"This is sudden, Gab."
She shrugs and averts her gaze. "I realized I don't want to spend the rest of my life alone; I want to share it with someone."
It makes complete sense when she says it, and deep down, I always knew there would come a point when she'd want to settle down. But... I guess I never really thought about it. The idea of us not being the two of us anymore, the thought of another man by her side, it's hard for me to fathom. I can't picture it. Or maybe I just don't want to. I struggle with change, and this revelation feels like it came out of nowhere. Normally, she talks to me about everything. Something feels off. Something triggered this.
"When did you realize this?" I ask.
"Since I realized the person I'm in love with will never see me the way I want them to."
Her words hit me like a tidal wave, shock reverberating through my entire being. I turn my body fully to face her. "You're in love? With whom? Since when?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm getting over him."
She doesn't want to tell me. Another wave of shock washes over me. As she looks away, irritation seeps into my veins. We share everything. Or at least, I thought we did.
"Gabby, come on. You can't drop a bomb like that and not tell me who it is."
She crosses her arms and turns away, fixing her gaze on the window as she takes her seat. I sigh and sit down next to her. Why won't she look at me?
"Why won't you tell me?" I plead, my voice softening.
"Because it doesn't matter, and I'm getting over him."
My heart sinks. "You never even mentioned anything," I say, trying to comprehend the betrayal churning in my gut.
"You've been... preoccupied."
Now, I feel hurt. Yes, I was upset about Jenna-Lee. Devastated, even. But I always want to know what's happening with my friend. I'm here for her, always interested. The fact that she thinks I'm too consumed by Jenna-Lee to care about her falling in love stings like hell.
I search my memory, trying to recall our recent conversations. Surely, I must have asked her how she's doing at some point, but right now, I'm struggling to think of a single conversation that didn't revolve around Jenna-Lee. Maybe I have been a little self-involved, but I've been going through something too. Clearly, she has as well. Yet, here she is, helping me despite her own heartache over some guy. Some jackass whom I can't even confront on her behalf. Who wouldn't want Gabby? Who wouldn't be interested in her? She's too good for most of the guys I know.
I need to make it up to her. Yes, we're here to make Jenna-Lee jealous and for work, but it gives me the perfect opportunity to make amends. If she wants to move on from this guy, I'll ensure she has the best week of her life. I'll make sure she's so busy having fun that he won't cross her mind even once. And maybe then, we can mend our friendship, because right now, it feels like she's creating some sort of distance between us. She's holding back, and I don't like it one bit.