Authors: Shelly Davis
“I think it’s a good idea. The team trainin’ area is just about ready to go. Y’all can be the first to try it out. Also, I’m interviewin’ a new trainer after our session and we’re talkin’ about hirin’ a couple other people. That’ll free Cade up even more.” I paused and took a deep breath. “We’re also thinkin’ about buyin’ another buildin’.”
“Another gym?” she asked with an excited lilt to her voice.
“No. Actually we’re lookin’ at a restaurant in the historic district.”
A squeal escaped and she launched herself at me. “I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed. “You’re finally openin’ a restaurant. Can I help? What can I do?”
“I don’t know yet,” I said, suddenly feeling more confident about this than before. “Cade and I are gonna meet up with Monique to look at the building next week, if you want to come.”
“I definitely want to be there. And you gotta let me help. I can give you the down payment or somethin’.”
“No way, ain’t happin’.”
She scowled, but didn’t argue, yet. Instead she went to another uncomfortable topic. “You still seein’ Monique?” Toni had expected a real relationship to come out of things with Monique.
“You know Monique and I aren’t like that, Toni. We’re friends.”
“With benefits,” she added. “I just don’t understand.”
“I love Monique, like I love you. It’s not romantic love. Besides, her work and her single life come first. I’m not willing to play second to anyone or anything.”
“I get it. But what about …” I didn’t know where she was going, but I cut her off immediately.
“There’s no one else, Toni,” I said firmly.
“Toni,” someone shouted across the gym. Toni turned to find Mia waving. “Toni!” Mia said again as she approached. “I didn’t know you had a session tonight.”
“Neither did Jake apparently,” Toni said sarcastically.
My low grumble made Toni turn her head and look at me. She smiled reassuringly, but looked like she had something to say. Instead she just nodded. “Why don’t you go grab us some water and I’ll meet you in the private area in a couple minutes.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
“Hi, Jake,” Mia said, a tentative smile graced her beautiful flushed face. She wore no makeup, and her long, curly hair was pulled to the top of her head. A few ringlets escaped the tie and clung to her sweat-soaked skin.
Hours, she’d been here for hours…
My mouth was dry when I attempted to speak. “Yeah. Hey, Mia,” I mumbled before walking away toward the office.
No matter how hard I tried, I still wanted her. I could still feel her in my arms. It was like she had seared my skin with her body, and now only her touch could satisfy my needs and desires. She was the only woman to ever make me feel like I was both sinking and flying at the same damn time.
I need to get the hell away from her.
“Okay,” Toni said as soon as Jake walked away. “Wanna tell me what the hell that was all about? He’s usually distant with you, but he looked down right uncomfortable.” Her accusing tone brought me back to when we were kids and I did something I shouldn’t have. Toni was always the good angel on my shoulder, doing her best to guide me in the right direction. When we were young, it was her voice I heard in my head when I was ready to do something stupid. Even now, I still heard her voice.
“He kinda helped me out a few nights ago. Grant got me to go to Viva Lounge with him …”
She cut me off immediately. “Wait, what? I thought you were done with Grant. Where the hell was I?”
“You were in another state gettin’ ready for a race, honey.” I smiled weakly. She always wanted to be there when I needed rescuing, but it was time for her to finally worry about herself and not fixing me. I told Toni the chain of events as they happened and how Grant continued to grope me despite my demands for him to stop. My stomach churned when I heard myself defending him yet again. I always did that, I needed to stop. “I guess Jake was there and saw from wherever he was. He came and made Grant back off.” I paused and took in a long, deep breath. “By the end of our dance, Jake and I were arguin’. Jake took off after. When I made it back to Grant, he was pissed and even drunker than before. I ended up drivin’ his ass home and took a cab back to our place.”
“Are you finally done with that idiot?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mia, come on. He’s a jerk. He treats you like shit, he’s emotionally abusive, and he’s arrogant as hell. I haven’t even met him yet and I already know this just by the way you talk about him. Is that what you want? Look around, there are men everywhere. You could probably have your pick. Why settle for an arrogant prick who screws with your head?”
“I don’t know,” I huffed. “He’s okay for now. It’s not like there’s anyone else.”
“But that’s the problem. You’re spendin’ energy on an asshole and not seein’ there are lots of other options. Or you could just spend some time alone.”
I flinched. She was right, I didn’t need to be with Grant, but I was sick of being alone.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a bitch. But you’re beautiful and kind. I don’t understand why you would spend time with a man who is so much less than you.”
Toni would never understand. Even after all she’d been through when we were younger, she still knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. I swore my desires changed from week to week or sometimes even day to day. How could I possibly know if I’d still love someone a month, year, or decade from now? And how the hell could I trust he would still love me years from now? I wasn’t about to go through what my mother went through.
The gym was full of men, my type of men – athletic, handsome, and built. I probably could find someone else, but I always managed to be attracted to the most arrogant and cocky of the group. The ones who believed they could do and act however they wanted. Those were the types men who always seemed make me feel like I wasn’t enough – like I was pathetic. But the problem was, Grant was worse. He made me feel much, much worse.
Instead of delving deeper into my trust issues, I decided to ask Toni the one question I needed answered. Before I could decide on anything with Grant, I needed to know what Jake thought or felt. And why exactly did he try to help me that night?
“Why do you think Jake came to my rescue at the club? He barely talks to me, and aside from when he helped me move here, that was the most we’d been alone in years.”
Toni paused and seemed to think for a few long moments. They seemed to be the longest moments I’d ever experienced. She remained quiet for so long I wondered if she would ever respond. Should I say something and change the subject? Maybe I made her uncomfortable. We never talked about Jake. One time, a long time ago, I told her what happened between us. She wanted me to talk to him, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d been terrible to him after he’d defended me.
When Toni finally took in a deep breath, I began to calm down. She never said anything without weighing the pros and cons about sharing what she thought. If she was going to tell me anything, it would be relevant but it might also break my heart.
“If I had to guess, Mia, I’d say he helped you because he cares. The same reason he helped you move to Mooresville, and was willing to give you a place to stay. He doesn’t want to see you uncomfortable or struggling. He would’ve helped you find an apartment and he would’ve helped you move. Jake’s not the indifferent prick he tries to be, but you know that. You’ve seen the real Jake, you knew the real Jake. He hasn’t changed. When he cares, he cares, no matter what.”
“But could he ever forgive me? Could we be friends again?” I asked. I met her eyes, and silently pleaded for her to tell me what I wanted to hear.
“Honestly, I think he would’ve forgiven you years ago had you actually talked to him. Perception is reality. He never talked about it, but he never understood what happened all those years ago and then suddenly you basically ignored him and treated him like he didn’t mean anything to you. No one ever questioned or tried to change his perception. And even though it was so long ago, it’s still matters to him. One thing I know for sure, Jake loved you.”
“He loved you, and he loved other people too. We were teenagers,” I argued. “Juniors in high school.”
“I’m his family. And what other people did he love, Mia? Jake doesn’t get close to that many people. Hell, even since we came to Mooresville he’s grown close and has remained friends with one person. She’s the only person he spends time with other than Cade and me.”
My heart sank. My stomach was in knots. He’d found another woman he was close to? But what the hell did I expect? Did I think he’d sit back and wait a lifetime for me? He’s too good a man to be alone forever. He’d have to find someone at some point. “She?”
“Monique LaRue. She’s owns a real-estate agency in town. She helped Cade and Jake find this building and both of their houses. She’s a great person, and we’ve become friends too. But she and Jake are very good friends. The emphasis is on friends. I think they had something going a while ago, but it seems to have passed. They are nothing more than friends now.” She paused and looked around. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jake walk from the office to the private exercise room. He looked at us but didn’t stop. When the door closed behind him, Toni continued. “Look, Mia. If you want something from Jake, you have to earn his trust again. Be honest with him. Tell him the truth. I know it’s history, but sometimes people need to forgive the sins of the past before they can move on.” She leaned in and hugged me. “I gotta go to my session with Jake. I’ll see you at home.”
Nodding, I watched her walk across the room toward the door where Jake had disappeared. I had a lot to think about. But the one thing I got from Toni’s speech, was to not give up hope, to have faith, and to own up to my mistakes. I could do that. I was definitely not too proud to own up to my mistakes.
Feeling lighter for the first time in a long time, I took in a deep breath. The smells of sweat, deodorant, and the metallic scents from the machines assaulted me. It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t all good either. But I loved this place, and knowing Jake could still care, I wouldn’t leave for anything.
I went to the next machine and worked hard. A plan – I needed to come up with a plan to earn his trust again. Exercising helped. I could always think more clearly when I was working out. I placed my earbuds in place and was immediately lost in my thoughts and the sounds of a recording of an endless thunderstorm that drowned out all other noise.
Even some of the noise in my head.
“You know, I’m sick of havin’ to keep my friendships with you and Mia separate,” Toni said the moment she burst through the private gym door. She paused, her brown eyes glared at me, and just waited. Probably waiting for me to make an excuse, but I had nothing to say. I tried to keep my face flat and not let her see what I was feeling. Toni didn’t need to know how much I still wanted Mia. And she definitely didn’t need to know how I could still feel her in my arms since our dance. She sighed and narrowed her eyes at me. “She’s seein’ someone, Jake.”
“Yeah, someone who is more worried about drinkin’, makin’ her uncomfortable, and lookin’ at other women,” I retorted harshly. I instantly felt bad for snapping at Toni. She didn’t deserve my shitty attitude. “I’m sorry, Toni. But, that asshole flirts with every woman in here. I saw them at the club the other night and he was all over her. She was obviously uncomfortable, but he didn’t give a shit. Then when I helped her out, I saw the asshole hittin’ on other women at the bar.”
Toni just smiled, she knew me better than anyone. Toni could always just read my moods, a long time ago, Mia also had that skill. “She told me you danced with her.” Toni paused a moment. For a silent moment I started to analyze what I was doing when it came to Mia. Then Toni’s next words hit home, hard. “Maybe it’s time for you to make a choice. Maybe it’s time to either move on or step up. You’re never gonna be happy if you’re always sittin’ there glowerin’ when she’s around.”
time to move on. The problem was, other than my friendships with Toni and Monique, I hadn’t met a single woman who I could deal with for more than a couple hours in a very long time. At least until Mia reappeared. Now I found myself looking for her. I wanted to see her and be around her, but I wanted to get as far away as possible. Self-preservation I guessed. “Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. I just don’t know if I can be friends with her. But I also don’t know if I can ignore her either.”
“I get why your feelings are so jumbled when it comes to Mia. For the record, I think she’s just as confused,” she paused. “Anyway, you ready to get started?”
One of the things I loved about Toni was her direct-to-the-point personality. She didn’t feel the need to harp. She said what was on her mind and let shit go. She knew I’d do what I wanted no matter how much she debated, so why argue.
“Yeah, let’s get your reps done, my interview is gonna be here soon.”
“Hey! Y’all in here?” a deep voice bellowed from the back entrance. Julius Fuller came through the door with a huge smile on his face. I sighed inwardly. It was always great to see Julius, but with all the interruptions, I knew I’d never get Toni’s workout done before my interview came.
“What’re you doin’ here?” Toni asked. The way she lit up when she saw her boyfriend made me proud. She’d been through so much in her life, so much violence and heartbreak, none of us were sure if she would ever be able to let go and trust again. But she proved us all wrong. She trusted and loved Julius and he adored her in return.
Maybe I needed to be more like Toni.
“Thought I’d come by for a workout. Ain’t I allowed?”
“I don’t know, this is my Jake time,” Toni said, hugging her boyfriend. Julius was only about six inches taller than Toni, but he enveloped her in his hug like she tiny. His dark brown eyes smiled when he looked at her.
“Hey now, no fightin’ over me. There’s plenty of Jake to go around,” I said spreading my arms and grinning.
“Really?” Toni turned and laughed at me. “Plenty of Jake? If there’s plenty of Jake to go around, does this mean you’re cookin’ for me tonight?”
“Well tonight probably ain’t gonna work. How about next week when y’all come back? We’ll have dinner at my place next Wednesday.”
Smiling, Toni said, “Sounds great. You can practice for your restaurant.”
“What restaurant?” Julius asked.
“Jake’s openin’ his own restaurant.”
“It’s not a done deal,” I insisted. Of course Toni would be excited about this venture and she’d start telling people.
“Well,” Julius said. “Let me know what I can do. I’m always looking for great investment opportunities.”
“Thanks, Jules,” I said. “Let’s get started before Gage gets here.”
Fifteen later, a knock sounded on the door, Faith, our receptionist, popped her head inside. When her eyes landed on me, a crooked smile crossed her face. She stood a little taller and stuck out her chest a little more. The hope I had for her to finally realize I wasn’t interested seemed completely wrong.
“Jake, there’s a guy named Gage Andrews up front lookin’ for you. You want me to send ‘im back?”
“Yeah, Faith. Thanks.” She winked before she turned.
“You got a thing goin’ with Faith?” Toni asked, a shocked look on her face.
“Hell no. She just won’t listen to reason. I assumed she finally understood I’m not interested, but apparently I was wrong.” If she didn’t keep the place runnin’ as well as she does, I probably would’ve gotten rid of her a while ago. But Faith was good at what she did and she kept the clients happy, even when I was a miserable bastard. And if I wanted my restaurant, we needed her to take on a more active role in running the business.