I felt an ache rake across my chest, unfamiliar and brutal.
My eyes slid back to Joss and she had one eyebrow raised at me. ‘What you’re feeling … it’s called jealousy. It’s a vile emotion, I know. However, it also tells you that Cam is definitely more than just someone you’re attracted to.’
‘We barely know each other.’
‘From what you’ve told me, you know each other better than almost anyone else does.’
Somehow, this was the truth. I leaned forward on the bar, frowning at my friend. ‘Yeah, how did that happen?’
‘How did what happen?’ I turned my head to see Cam approaching, fastening his watch on his wrist. Becca and the other girl were gone. He waited for an answer, his eyes curious on mine.
I decided to hedge. ‘You really are a nosy bugger, aren’t you?’ I teased.
Cam tipped his head to the side, contemplating me. ‘Deflection?’ His eyes glittered as if something had just occurred to him. ‘You were talking about me, weren’t you?’
I wanted to wipe that cocky smile off his face.
Joss groaned. ‘You and Braden should be forced to join a club for men who need to get over themselves.’
My eyes slid to her in amusement. ‘Blatant displays of egotism will be punished in the form of making them wear Speedos in freezing-cold conditions.’
‘And possibly withholding food.’
‘No. Sex. Withholding sex.’
Joss bit her lip. ‘I don’t know if that would work for me.’
I eyed her incredulously. ‘Are you telling me you couldn’t go without sex for a few days?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Where is your willpower?’
My friend took a swig of her Diet Coke. ‘Hey, you haven’t had sex with Braden Carmichael.’
No, I hadn’t, although I almost blushed remembering I’d definitely tried to get myself into the position to do so. ‘Yeah, but I’ve had perfectly good sex and I could still abstain for a few days.’
‘Perfectly good sex?’ Cam interrupted us, drawing both our gazes. His voice was low with some unnamed emotion. ‘Abstain?’ His now heated eyes ran the length of me before returning to meet mine. ‘Then he isn’t doing it right.’
My heart puttered to a stop before choking and wheezing. When it got back up to speed, it took off in a drag race. All that sexual heat rolled over me and I felt my knickers grow damp with want.
‘Jesus C,’ Joss croaked. ‘Now I’m turned on.’ She jumped off her stool, checking her phone. ‘I think I’ll go home and see if Braden’s back from work.’
And just like that she left us simmering in our sexual chemistry.
I smiled weakly at Cam. ‘How’s Becca?’
A few customers approached the bar and we both moved to serve them. As we were preparing their drinks Cam answered tightly, ‘Becca’s fine. How’s Malcolm?’
‘Fine.’ He’d taken me for lunch during my break from work that day and I’d managed to convince him that everything was hunky-dory.
‘Cole text yet to say if he’s home?’
I found myself grinning like an idiot at his concern, and my customer grinned back at me, clearly thinking the look was for him. I quickly handed him his change and turned to Cam. ‘Yeah, he’s home.’
His eyes crinkled at the corners, adding another one of his expressions to my favourites. ‘Good.’
The rest of the night flew by. We worked, we talked, we joked, but the sexual undercurrent remained. When we walked home after our shift, we did so in utter silence. I could say it was just tiredness, but my whole body was vibrating like a tuning fork just strolling beside him. We said goodnight at his door, and as I took the stairs to my flat with his eyes on my back, I wished, not for the first time, for a different life – that Cam was single, that Malcolm wasn’t a part of my life that I cared about, and that for once I could do what I really wanted to do.
And what I really wanted to do was Cameron MacCabe.
I checked on Cole and found him sleeping peacefully in his room. I even checked on Mum just to make sure she hadn’t choked on her own vomit or anything like that, and I found her snoring away. That done, I changed into my PJs and crawled into bed. But I couldn’t fall asleep.
My blood felt as if it was on fire in my veins, my nerves were sparking at the very ends, and I couldn’t get the smell of Cam’s cologne out of my nostrils.
I was so turned on, it wasn’t funny.
How different would my night have been if Cam had followed me into Su’s office when I’d gone in there to leave her new stock information? What if he’d come up behind me, pushed my hair off my neck, and pressed his hot mouth to my skin as his hand skimmed around my waist and down to the buttons on my jeans …
… if he’d undone them, his long fingers sliding inside, beneath my underwear …
My own hand smoothed over my stomach, slipping under my pyjamas and knickers so I could bring myself to cli**x, fantasizing about Cam screwing me against Su’s desk.
I muffled my moan as I came and once the tremors stopped, I curled into my side, guilt cascading over me once again.
I was a terrible girlfriend.
A truth I hadn’t been willing to face pushed its way to the forefront of my life over the next few weeks. The truth was, for a number of years now every day had been the same – had been constrained, dulled, vivid colours muted beneath the shadow of a wall. And behind that wall I walked in the same uniform every day – if I wanted to be really melodramatic, I’d call it a dull orange jumpsuit. But as the days of those few weeks flew by, I felt that uniform melting away, shredding into tatters and scraped from my body as I climbed the wall to the other side.
The wall was moving further away now, the shadow lifting, the colours brightening.
All because I was spending time with Cam.
We hung out as much as possible on weekdays. Every night, in fact, he’d stop by for coffee or dinner before his work shift, even if I was out with Malcolm. We walked back and forth to work together, and had a laugh with Joss during our shifts. I didn’t see him at the weekends because he worked, trained at judo class with his friends and hung out with Becca. Last time, he’d taken Cole to watch the class, encouraging Cole to do more physical activity, and surprisingly, my brother was embracing the idea. My ears were bleeding from hearing about judo.
For me, Cam was a confidant. I told him more about my life and my hopes for Cole’s future. For Cole, Cam was a soul mate. They drew comics together, they discussed comics together, they liked the same music, the same movies, and from what I could read between the lines, Cam also answered all those questions Cole wouldn’t dare ask me.
We became this family unit, bonding quickly and strongly.
My feelings for Cam only grew deeper and I was in a constant battle with my conscience, arguing with it, pretending that it didn’t mean anything. Along with the emotional stuff, my body was almost at breaking point for want of him. I don’t know how I managed to hide it from him, but I did. I didn’t want anything to destroy our friendship.
That didn’t mean I didn’t find other outlets for my pent-up sexual frustration, and that outlet only added a whole other level of guilt and shame to my already considerable stack. I hadn’t seen Malcolm as much as I usually did, but three of the four times I did see him, we had sex … and the three times we had sex I …
… I did the unthinkable. I closed my eyes and imagined Cam.
I came each time.
Malcolm took this to mean he and I were back on track and whatever had been bothering me before was dealt with.
I was an awful, awful person.
Yup. My world was full of colour. Red for want. Yellow for shame.
Green for jealousy.
Yes, the green-eyed monster had also reared her ugly head in the last few weeks. Every time Cam mentioned Becca’s name I felt that little ache in my chest, an ache that ruptured into a full-blown bleed on Sunday.
Cole and I had had lunch with the Nicholses and had come home in a good mood. Cole had gone downstairs to invite Cam up for coffee and I was humming away like an idiot, my stomach already a riot of fluttery winged creatures in anticipation of seeing him, when Cole came back into the flat unaccompanied.
I frowned at him as I poured Cam’s coffee. ‘Is he just coming?’
Cole shook his head, his brows drawn together in what I took for bemusement.
Oh, dear God, the shrugging had returned. ‘Well?’
He leaned against the kitchen counter and sighed before he shot me a questioning look. ‘Are you and Cam just friends?’
I coughed up the lie quite easily these days. ‘Of course. I’m with Malcolm. Why?’
Two spots of colour appeared high on Cole’s cheeks and his mouth quirked up at the corners in amusement. ‘Because it definitely sounds like Cam’s too busy shagging some noisy bird to want to have coffee with us.’
My whole body froze as I stared at my brother, my heart pounding, a horribly uneasy feeling in my stomach as jealousy seized hold of me.
I frowned, grasping at a reason for my freeze. ‘Don’t say “shagging” and don’t say “bird”. Not “bird”, “chick”, “piece”. We’re “women” or “ladies” or “girls”.’
Cole grunted. ‘Thanks for the vocab lesson.’
I stared after him as he took off for the living room, my good mood annihilated by the thought of Cam and Becca hav**g s*x.
I guess in the end I couldn’t really cope with all the colour, and the following Thursday, before the crack of dawn, I stripped the wallpaper in the sitting room. I was taking time to find some calm. The night before I went on a date with Malcolm, but I ended up getting him to drop me off early at the flat, after making up some excuse about not feeling well. I hurried upstairs to check the Internet, found the sale I was looking for, reserved what I needed from the local store, and began priming the walls.
When Thursday morning broke, I got Cole ready for school, ignoring his grumblings about the stripped walls, and then I headed out to pick up what I’d reserved: three rolls of wallpaper. I also bought some paste and a box of doughnuts.
As soon as I changed into my paint-covered jeans and tee, scraped my long hair back into a ponytail, and put on my headscarf, I felt better. Calmer already. I was just putting up my pasting table when Mum appeared in the doorway.
We stared at each other.
We hadn’t spoken since my attack in the kitchen almost three weeks before.
Her tired eyes swept the living room – the dust sheets, the rolls of wallpaper, the bucket of paste. She grunted. ‘Again?’
Taking my cue from Cole, I shrugged in reply.
Mum sighed and shook her head wearily. ‘Any food?’
‘There’s leftover pasta from last night. Can you heat it up without burning down the flat?’
She waved off my caustic comment and moved towards the kitchen a little unsteadily. ‘I’ll eat it cold.’
A little while later she returned to her room. That was good. Despite what I considered my civility in light of the circumstances, I still found it hard not to throw a punch anytime I thought of her hitting Cole. Honestly, that’s all I really saw now when I looked at her.