Frenemies with Benefits Ch. 06bysultrylove©
For the prequels to this story, please see Frenemies With Benefits chapters 1-5
John was quiet. He'd never, ever been the quiet type. And here he was, completely avoiding her every single day for the last month. He wasn't just avoiding her. He had hardly spoken anything outside of business conversation to anyone. She'd kept tabs. She'd watched him when given the opportunity. He never really spoke to anyone. God, what had she done?
Today was the day for quarterly performance reviews. And guess who had to interview John Tate? Why, she did, of course. She was shaking like a leaf, a complete and total nervous wreck.
Knowing what she'd done... how she'd made him feel had completely wrecked her this last month. She'd cried and cried (and she was NOT a crier). She'd even gone to Mike, begging him to help her fix the situation. He'd done his best, trying to reason with his friend, but to no avail. John wasn't budging. At all.
Needless to say, it was going to be hard to sit in front of him, and be completely professional.
The reviews went quickly, and she even got to steal a not-so-business-like conversation with Heather. They whispered and wondered over John, and how he would react... if he would even say anything to her.
All too soon, John walked into her office, his suit fitting him just right, his brooding face looking ever so sexy, and yet his eyes looked so, so very sad. She wasn't going to get through this alive.
"Good afternoon Mr. Tate," she stood to shake his hand. He denied the gesture, and simply sat down, staring at her blankly.
She cleared her throat and sat down, her hands starting to shake as she ruffled through some evaluations.
"Well, Mr. Tate, we have received very good word from your office staff that you have been a wonderful leader, are very efficient, and have wonderful work ethic.."
He nodded stiffly, and sat silently waiting for her to continue.
Again, clearing her throat, she felt her face heat up, and her words began to stumble. She tried her best to make it through the review, but messed up nearly every single word, never making clear eye contact, and her face was only getting darker.
Finally, she stuttered, "In.. In conc-clusion, you will actually be.. um.. receiving a raise..."
Looking up to gauge his reaction, she saw him once again nod, and he mumbled, "Will that be all, Ms. Brandon?"
"No.. well.. Yes."
He stood slowly, and began walking toward the door when she gasped, "John..."
He turned only a little and said, "Don't you mean Mr. Tate?"
"No... John.. please don't leave."
"Do you need me for further review," his voice became strained.
"No.. I just.."
"Then I'm afraid I have work to do," his hand grasped the door knob, beginning to turn it.
"John.. come over tonight.. please? Let's just... talk.."
"I'm sorry, but I have a previous engagement. Goodbye Ms. Brandon."
She sat, nearly dumbfounded by his coldness. There had to be a way to fix this. Even if she didn't get him back, there had to be a way to show how sorry she was.
She sighed when her mind pulled up nothing for her to do, and dejectedly went on to the next review.
That had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. Ever. She looked... she was such a mess. Over him. Her eyes were sleepless, her hair undone, her face without make up, completely broke out... She was a mess. He hadn't really understood the effects of his aloofness..
But he couldn't go back. She'd hurt him.. so badly. What was to keep her from doing it again? Would she go out and fuck every single time they had a fight? Had she done that already?
Mike had tried to change John's mind several weeks ago. He'd said John couldn't expect her to not make mistakes, especially after how badly he'd messed up... But it was so different. John had never done anything to intentionally hurt her. That wasn't what he'd wanted at all. Yes, he'd been an ass, but never had he wanted to hurt her.
The way she'd looked at him that night in the club... Knowing he was going crazy watching her, seeing her with another man. She looked at him and knew she was hurting him, and did it anyways. How could she do that?
Though, she'd thought he was with another woman also. He couldn't really blame her for thinking that... still...
His cell phone buzzed, and he picked it up without a glance, "Hello?"
"John, this is Vanessa. I hope I'm not interrupting anything..."
Ooooh shit. He should have looked. "Oh hi. No, I'm not busy at the moment," even though that's not what he'd told Jennifer...
"Look... I was wondering if you wanted to meet up tonight. You know, Toby's or something. I... I miss you."
"Vanessa... I'm really in no position to be seeing another woman right now."
"Another? Are you seeing the girl that you... uh..."
"I was. A lot has... happened."
"Well, I promise, no strings. I just miss your company John. No worries, I won't be expecting anything."
"As long as you understand I have nothing to give, then I'll see you tonight at Toby's."
"Wow... she really did a number on you, eh?"
He paused for a long while, then mumbled, "I'll see you at seven."
Heather met her at her car at closing time, a light, very cold rain beginning to fall. It was supposed to be rainy all day. Heather was smiling in one of those "I feel sorry for you, so I'm going to try to make you feel better" ways.
"Heeyyy," she called out as Jennifer neared the vehicle, "Mike and I are getting drinks tonight at Toby's. Wanna come?"
"No thanks. I don't wanna be a third wheel."
"Geeze Jen, we're not going on a date or to a movie or anything. It's just drinks. We want you to come."
"...Well.. ok. I haven't been out in a while. I probably need to go."
"Yeah... just don't get smashed like that one time..."
"Shut up, Heather."
Heather smiled, still looking a little concerned, and asked, "Well.. how did it go?"
"Think worst case scenario."
"Oohh," she sighed, "I'm sorry..."
"It's ok. I deserved it, I guess. I just need to move on, and get over it, I suppose."
"Well... maybe I can set you up! I have a brother, you know... and a few cousins..."
That brought a laugh from Jennifer, and she shook her head, "No, no, no. It'll be a while before I start looking. I think I'm just gonna... chill for a while you know?"
"I understand... you know, that's what I was doing when I met your brother. Sometimes destiny has a weird way of.."
"None of that, Heather. I don't even want to think about destiny. I've already had enough of fate."
Heather laughed, "Ok, ok. Just sayin. So tonight? Seven? Do you want us to pick you up?"
"Hmm... I don't know if I'll be drinking, so that's probably best. I'll see you there."
Time seemed to speed by before she was walking into Toby's with Heather and Mike.
Mike and Heather ordered when Mike asked a dazed Jennifer, "Whatcha wanna drink, kiddo," Mike smiled at his endearment as the waitress waited for her order.
She faked a stern glance and growled, "No kiddo," smiling she added, "I'm good with a margarita right now," the waitress nodded, and left, and Jennifer smiled at her brother, "So how are you guys?"
Mike, of course, threw a glance at Heather and chuckled, "We're doin' pretty good. How are you doing? I know the last few weeks haven't been easy for you..."
"I'm fine, Mike. Really. I mean, I screwed up, you know? If I can't fix it... then I can't fix it. Just have to move on I guess."
"Well... you know you can always call me. I miss you anyways. You should come see me more often."
"After what happened last time? I don't know if you'll see me at mom and dad's again."
"Well, it's true, you do need to see mom and dad, but I was referring to my place. You know, you never even gave me a house warming gift," he threw her a grin.
"Oh, Mike! You found a job? Where? You got a house?!"
"Well, an apartment, actually. But yeah! I landed that job at Halmat! You know, that factory downtown.."
"Oh yeah! That's so great, Mike! Where's your apartment at?"
Mike and Heather had begun giving directions to his apartment, but the doors swung open to reveal John and... Vanessa?? Well shit.
Heather saw her look of dismay and turned. As she turned back, her face was grim, "Do you want to go somewhere else?"
"No, no. I have to get over it somehow, right? Just... suck it up," Jennifer smiled at them, "I'm a big girl. I can do it."
Her words, however, were much stronger than she felt. Inside, her heart just about shattered and she felt like she was having to search for adequate breath. If he was going back to Vanessa... she'd really screwed up big time.
He must have felt eyes on him, because he turned toward her, and looked at her. It was a deep look, like he was looking for something, then it turned embarrassed. He threw a quick glance at Vanessa, then turned completely away from Jennifer, his back on her.
Jennifer sighed, and turned, enveloping herself back into the conversation with Mike. She was just going to have to learn how to forget about him.
Mike interrupted himself, and mumbled, "I have two missed calls from mom..."
Jennifer automatically looked at hers as well, and right then her mother was calling a third time. She quickly picked it up, and answered, "Hello....?"
"Jen..." Her mom's voice broke before she continued, "Jennifer, it's your father. You need to come... to the hospital."
He watched as the three of them practically flew out the door. Well, that certainly wasn't because of him... what happened?
His gaze fell on Jennifer's retreating figure, and Vanessa murmured, "So that's her huh? The one with the lighter hair?"
His eyes snapped back to Vanessa, and he silently nodded.
"Well, at least you picked a pretty one. What happened?"
"I screwed up, and pissed her off. We broke it off, but we saw each other in a club a few weeks later, and she fucked some guy she didn't know. I mean we weren't really together then... but still..."
"And you're miserable?"
He glanced down, wondering whether he should be truthful, "Yeah. I'm a complete wreck."
"You wanna know what I think?"
"I don't know to be honest. I'm not sure you're one to go to for romance advice."
"Don't be a prick. Look, obviously, you have some crazy feelings for this girl. I know that you know I cheated on you...many times, and you were never even phased. This girl sleeps with someone else while you're not even together, and you are coming apart at the seams. Don't get me wrong, she was pretty messed up for that.. but to me it seems that it would have never happened if she hadn't seen you there. It's still wrong, but her motives were all about you... If you two can get yourselves together, you just might have something special. If you can't get yourselves together, then you need to stay as far away from each other as possible..."
"I don't know... What if she does it again, Vanessa? Is she just gonna cheat on me every time I piss her off? I can't be perfect.."
"And neither can she. If she feels about you the way you feel about her... then I really don't think she would even think about doing it again."
John sighed, his vulnerability practically shining through, "Burn me once..." he started, and slowly trailed off.
"Well," Vanessa began, "I completely understand why you wouldn't go back to her, but you could be missing out on something real. There's not a whole lot of 'real' left in this world anymore. Either way, you're playing with chance."
He considered that, but soon turned the conversation to a more pleasant topic...sort of, "So how's your love life?"
"Well, I met this guy..."
Conversation became dull, as it had always been with Vanessa, and around eleven he was ready to go home.
"Well," he stood, "It was nice catching up. I have to go home and get some shut eye."
"Yeah, well, I have plans tomorrow."
"Oh... well until next time, then. Good luck with everything John. I hope it turns out well."
"Yeah. You too."
He left, not looking back, and drove home in silence. Did Vanessa have a point? Jennifer did look pretty miserable herself... but didn't she deserve to be? Was she worth trying again..?
He'd just pulled into his driveway when he got a text from Mike. Oh, God... Mr. Brandon had a heart attack.
Her heart was racing as Mike drove them to the hospital. She was crying too hard to drive. Man, what was up with all the crying these days? This had to stop.
The three of them flew into the hospital. Jennifer had always hated hospitals. They had always really creeped her out.
They walked into her dad's room, and the color immediately drained from her face. He was so... lifeless looking. Her dad had always a strong, vibrant sort of man. She thought she would fall apart right then and there. She'd never called him after the night she'd last had dinner with them... The way she'd acted... Could she get anything right anymore?
Her mother ran into Mike's arms, sobbing, "I was at the grocery store... I came home to him lying on the ground... I should have been there..."
"It's not your fault mom... It's ok... He'll be ok.." Mike threw a wild glance at Jennifer, but she was completely dazed, so he looked to Heather for help, who'd been standing quietly in the corner.
She walked to them and put a hand on her back, rubbing softly, "It's ok, Mrs. Brandon. We're here.. and he'll be ok.."
"But he might not be," she wailed, "they said he may not make it through the night.."
Jennifer was still standing back, silent tears rolling down her face as she watched her father lie still. They all looked at her cautiously, but said nothing. Soon Mike was questioning their mother.
"Mom.. have you eaten..?"
"Well... no of course not. I've been with your father since I got home.."
"Mom, they have a great cafeteria here. Heather and I will go with you. You need to eat something. Not eating isn't going to help dad."
"But what about your father...."
"Jen will be here with him. I think she needs some time with him anyway.."
They all threw another glance at Jennifer before she nodded, "Ok... only if you two stay with me."
"Of course, Mrs. Brandon. We'll be right here with you," Heather reassured her.
They left the room quietly, and Jennifer sat down next to the crumpled image of her father.
She tentatively held his hand, and murmured, "Dad... Dad I am so... so sorry..."
He walked into the all too bright hospital room to see Jennifer sitting alone with her father, whimpering.
"I.. I really fucked up, Dad... Sorry.. I guess I shouldn't use that sort of language when you're on your potential death bed... Anyway.. Not just with you and Mom... with John.. my job.. everything. Ever since everything fell through last month.. I've been sluggish at work.. unproductive.. my boss knows... I think he's got me on a time line.. I could very well get fired...
"I hurt mom's feelings last time.. I never did apologize.. I always wondered why she never really accepted me.. but I never really gave her the chance, did I? I just... assumed because you both loved John so much that I had something to prove..
"John won't talk to me.. hell he won't even look at me. I don't guess I can blame him. He would have never done to me what I did to him... I hurt him really bad... I thought.. God it was all my pride. I just... I wanted him to think that I could easily get over him and live without him.. I guess to inspire him to come back to me... Wow that's so sick now that I've said it out loud. When I first went into that club... I.. Had John not been there I would have never.." She sighed and hung her head, the tears falling freely now.
He knew he should leave... He shouldn't be listening in on such an intimate moment, even if it was one sided...but he just couldn't... Jennifer was not a woman who openly poured out her emotions. If there was ever a moment when she was telling the truth, it would be now.
"The whole point was to prove to him that I could live just fine without him... but I can't. I'm trying so very hard to forget about him.. But seeing him every day.. seeing him with Vanessa... I can't do it.. I'm so, so very miserable. I'm even thinking about quitting my job..if I don't get fired first, that is. It's just too hard, seeing him every day..
"And now I'm losing you, too. I'm sure I've already lost Mom, the way I've hurt her, but I... You were always so strong... You showed me how to be strong... I don't know if I can lose you too.. I'm so sorry, Daddy... To you, to Mom, to Mike, to John... I've been such a prideful bitch to all of you... I'm so sorry... Please... Please don't leave me Dad."
She was going to quit.. because she couldn't stand seeing him.. and not being with him.. She was sorry. She really was.
John deliberately opened the door, and shut it hard enough for her to hear. She turned and looked at him, red eyed, and sniffling, then abruptly turned back around. He could sense that she was embarrassed, even though she had no idea that he'd heard.
"If you need me to leave.. that's ok...I can come back later..."
"No... no it's ok," she sniffled, getting up from the bedside chair, "He was a father to you, too. I know that.. I would never expect you to leave."
She offered the chair to him, but he declined, now standing next to her.
"Are.. are you ok?" He looked at her. She looked absolutely fragile. Actually, she looked beyond fragile. More like broken.
She paused a second, emotion welling up in her eyes, then slowly shook her head, a shaky, "No.." coming out of her lips as she tried to contain her tears.
Hesitantly, he took her into his arms and held her. She began to shake under him, and he could feel her warm tears begin to soak through his sweater. He held onto her, even when the door opened and the family came back in, eyeing them with curiosity and surprise.
They waited, and waited for several hours with no change from Mr. Brandon. Eventually, Mrs. Brandon tiredly murmured to the rest of the family, "Kids... you all need to go home and get some sleep. If anything changes, I'll call you, but until then, there's no need for all of us to be here."
They all tried to protest, but she wouldn't budge. "There's no point, guys. Just get home and rest."
Eventually, she won, and they all prepared to leave. Mike, cautiously eyeing John, yawned and mumbled, "John... do you think you can take Jennifer home? Heather and I are going to my apartment, and I think that's all I can manage right now."
John slowly nodded, glancing at Jennifer's wide eyed expression as she shook her head at Mike, "Yeah Mike, that's fine."
She watched the water trickle down the window as the reflection of street lights bounced off of it. John was quiet in the seat next to her, and there was no music playing, but she was far too tired to feel awkward right now.
He cleared his throat after a while, and mumbled, "So.. how have you been."
Not looking at him, she watched the lines pass on the street, "Fine. You?"
She turned to him with tired eyes, his focused on the road, as she said, "John, you don't have to talk to me. I know it's uncomfortable for you to be in this situation, anyway, so there's no need to talk. I understand. It's fine. I'm sorry Mike did this to you."
"I...I don't mind taking you home, Jennifer. You've... been through a lot today," he shifted uncomfortably.
"Ok. I was just letting you know."
Silence drifted back into the vehicle. After what seemed like an eternity, they were pulling into her driveway, the rain coming down harder. She turned and murmured, "Thank you for the ride John. I'll see you Monday."