tagRomanceAnother Changed Life Ch. 02

Another Changed Life Ch. 02



* * * * * *

The worst part of nights when you get beyond drunk is never the night, it's the next morning. Falling over and throwing up doesn't hurt or disgust you when you are still drunk, but the effects the next day are not pleasant. My mouth was dry and I could taste things I really didn't want to know about, my body ached, and my head was pounding. I cracked one eye open, knowing I was going to have to face the world at some point. The first small check had me opening my eyes wide and trying to work out where the hell I was. In a bed, but certainly not mine.

Checking carefully, I discovered I was alone, and still had boxers and a t-shirt on. I was relieved that I hadn't managed to pick anyone up, because I'd have been amazed if I could get it up and disgusted with myself if I had spent the night mourning over Tess and had a quick and unimpressive shag to get over it. There was a glass of water and some painkillers on the bedside table, and I moved carefully to get them, my head swimming with even small movements. I couldn't be entirely sure at the moment, but there was a good chance that Mark and Charlie had brought me back to their house.

Figuring I was hungover but safe, after I'd taken the pills and downed as much of the water as I could cope with I rolled over and decided to go back to sleep, burying my head under the covers to get the light out of my eyes as far as possible. I didn't care what time it was, I would be no good to anyone right now, and I was pretty sure Mark would know that, even if I wasn't at his house and it was past the time I should be at work. Even in this state, I knew why I'd got so drunk, and it just made me feel worse when I remembered Tess. At least I could avoid that when I was sleeping.

It was probably another couple of hours before I woke again, this time to the sound of voices. They were soft and it didn't go through me too badly, the pills must have had some effect. There was a gentle tap at the door and I grunted as a response, causing the door to open. Through my half open eyes I could see Mark and Charlie were there, looking at me cautiously.

"You're still alive then," Mark said. "I expect you feel like shit right now, but you deserve to, the amount you put away last night. Would have been a lot more if we hadn't stopped you, and at least you threw a good bit up again. We've got to go to work now, don't even think about coming in. Help yourself to food and drink, and there's a bathroom opposite if you want a shower. Your clothes are in the tumble dryer in the kitchen, washed and all the vomit removed."

I groaned. That didn't sound good. He wasn't too pissed off with me, from the tone of his voice, but not finding it funny either.

"Did I do anything stupid last night?" I croaked out.

"Aside from attempting to drink the bar dry? I don't think you were capable of anything aside from falling over and throwing up. You do owe us for looking after you though, you weren't a pretty sight."

"He still isn't," Charlie added, laughing at me.

"I'm sorry. Thanks for taking care of me."

Mark looked concerned then. "What was that about Dan? I've seen you drunk before, but I've never seen you on such a mission to get that way. Is anything wrong?"

"No, I'm fine. Just got a bit carried away and forgot how much the morning after hurts. It won't happen again."

"Okay, but if there is anything bothering you, you know you can talk to me and I'll do what I can to help. Feel free to stay until you feel vaguely human again, and I will expect you back in work tomorrow."

"Thanks again," I muttered as they left me.

Alone with my thoughts again, I knew I couldn't talk to Mark about this, but I didn't know if talking would help me anyway. Certainly getting very drunk was not the answer. What I needed to do was get back to normal, but I had a horrible feeling that wasn't going to be possible, or at least was going to take some time. I needed to get her out of my head and convince myself that all it had been was great sex, nothing more. I couldn't have fallen for her, I just couldn't.

* * * * * *

Over the next couple of weeks I tried a new personal mantra. I am not in love with her. I am not in love with her. I did not have the most incredible night of my life with her. It was just sex, just like every other time and every other woman.

It was a shame I didn't believe myself.

It wasn't working and no matter how much I fought it, I still thought of her. I remembered how she felt, how she tasted, how her body responded to mine as we made love. I couldn't get hard unless I thought of our night together, but I tried not to because it hurt too much when my next thought was about how I had let her walk out on me. I deserved that pain, because I wasn't enough of a man to tell her how I was feeling either then or now.

I found out she had started dating the guy she'd been out with and I was amazed at how jealous and angry I felt, not at her but at some man I had never met. Charlie mentioned it in passing and almost seemed to be checking for my reaction to the news. I was just glad that the hurt inside me didn't show on the outside. As much as I hated the idea that someone else had her, it wasn't like I could expect her to sit home waiting for me to come to my senses, she'd never expect it.

It also showed how she felt about me and proved I needed to get over this obsession. If she felt anything that night, apart from pleasure, then she wouldn't have started dating so soon. I couldn't bring myself to even have some random sex because I knew it wouldn't make me feel any better, and I could hardly bear to think it, but she was probably sleeping with him. I just hoped that sooner rather than later I would feel some attraction to someone else because I knew that would be the first step back to normality.

I knew I wasn't behaving like I usually did and I was aware it had been noticed. Perhaps not so much by the staff in general, as they didn't know me so well, although they did note my lack of jokes in the kitchen and how much less forgiving I was of any mistakes. Mark was a different story. I saw his looks of concern, but I brushed him off if he tried to talk to me. He was my friend and I knew he cared, but there was no way I was going to let him in on my secret.

Seeing Mark just made things worse, not only because he knew there was something wrong with me, but also because I could see what he had with Charlie and I wanted that. They had kept their relationship secret for a while, but now it was common knowledge, and even to someone who didn't know it was obvious. When they were together, their little smiles at each other and gentle touches showed how much they were in love, and seeing it just made me ache for Tess even more.

I tried to keep my thoughts of her to the back of my mind, but as hard as I tried I couldn't help reliving our one night together when I was alone, and wishing I could go back to that night and talk to her properly about it, not let her leave me without explaining how much it had meant. I knew it could never happen, and I also knew I hadn't fully realised what she meant to me at the time either. It was only with the benefit of hindsight that I could wrap my arms around her and whisper in her ear that I loved her, that I needed her, and I would happily give up my playboy days if she would agree to us being together.

I was having those thoughts again, despite my best intentions, while at work another week later. I was trying to concentrate on the sauce I was making, but it came to me with thoughts of how good it would be to cook for her, make her moan with the delicious meals I could create. I managed a wry laugh about it, that I was thinking about domesticating myself for a woman. I heard the waiters talking to Mark about him taking a particular table and didn't think much of it. After all, he was the boss, if he wanted to serve a particular customer then he did.

It was only when I had a free moment to peer into the restaurant, enjoying the sight of people socialising over the food I had created, when I saw who he was serving. The sight of her made me smile, even though my heart seemed to be aching for her. The realisation she was there on a date, and watching the man she was with feed her some of his dinner, flirting with her, made me sick. I couldn't turn away though, I had a side view of the pair of them, and as much as it hurt, I needed to see her.

She was so beautiful, hair curled for the occasion, a gorgeous dark red dress just hinting at her cleavage, her eyes sparkling. She was laughing softly and obviously loving the company. It wasn't fair that she was there looking so wonderful but she wasn't there for me. I longed to go and talk to her but I knew I wouldn't be able to say anything sensible. I'd either end up as a tongue-tied idiot, or I'd start begging her for what I wanted.

I guess I needed to see him too, but it was for different reasons. The more I saw the more I failed to see why she would have anything to do with him. She was way out of his league, and she deserved so much better. Okay, so realistically the only man I thought should have a chance with her was me, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to march over there and tell him to get lost so I could have a romantic meal instead, but I knew that wouldn't happen even if I could. She'd made her choice, and judging by her smiles she was happy. Perhaps she even knew what she was doing and was trying to make me jealous?

I was miserable for the rest of the shift, resisting the urge to leave the stove again even as I wondered what I could lace his dinner with to get rid of him. Not that I would do it, both Mark and I would get in way too much trouble, but it helped to think about it. It was only once the place was shut that I dared to venture out into the restaurant, picturing her there smiling and laughing, only with me. I couldn't decide if the thought made me more happy or sad.

* * * * * *

I didn't know what to do. This situation was completely uncharted territory, and the more I tried to work out what I wanted the more confused I became. She should be mine, and as much as I had thought it was all about getting her into bed because her refusal had become a challenge to me, I now accepted it was far more than that.

Who would have thought one sexual encounter would make me want to turn from a player into a husband. Perhaps not right this minute, but I'd marry her if she'd let me. Not very likely given that she was not only avoiding me but coming out on dates to my place of work. If I wasn't in love with her I'd probably be calling her a bitch right now. I couldn't though. She thought she'd given me all I wanted, and I still had no idea how to make it clear that I wanted so much more.

I headed to Mark's office for our weekly meeting, my brain unable to stop thinking of Tess and the one incredible night we had spent together. I barely even managed to acknowledge Mark when I got into the room and sat down. He started to talk anyway, aware he didn't have my full attention.

"So, the first order of business is why you have been such a miserable sod this past couple of weeks. The kitchen staff don't know whether you're going to totally ignore them or bite their heads off if they ask any questions."

I looked up at him, not sure what to say, and surprised that my behaviour had so obviously changed, and been noticed.

"Sorry. I'll make sure I'm a bit friendlier from now on. I didn't realise."

"That's good. But as a friend Dan, what is up with you? You can talk to me about anything you know."

I considered that. The fact he used my real name rather than calling me Chef was enough of a surprise. The one thing was, he would not want to hear that I had slept with Tess, and she didn't want me telling him either. Perhaps I'd try the less obvious way of asking for help, because I did need some, my attempts weren't working. After all, he'd been as bad as me before he met Charlie, and he'd managed to convince him he'd changed.

"Okay Mark. Hypothetically, let's say that I've got myself worked up over a woman, and I don't know what to do."

I couldn't tell from his expression whether he was extremely surprised or trying not to burst into laughter.

"You do realise I'm far from an expert on women."

I gave him a sarcastic look. "I'm not asking for help with the biology. How did you get Charlie to believe you wanted just him and had given up playing the field?"

He looked at me very seriously then. "You found someone?"

I just nodded.

"It wasn't easy Dan. I assume she's heard about you not wanting a relationship or to settle down."

"Yep. She's well aware of that, which is why we have a problem. Thing is, I figured when I got her into bed that I didn't want anything more. She thought it would be a one off, and so did I. But then I had the most incredible night of my life. It wasn't just sex, it was making love, and then I was stupid enough not to tell her that and worse still, let her give me the brush off. I need to know how to fix it."

Mark let out a long sigh. Afterwards he was silent for what felt like forever, but was probably only a minute.

"You have to tell her. It might take time to convince her after that, it did for me, but you need to start by telling her the truth."

"What if she laughs in my face?"

"It's a possibility. If she knows about your past I doubt it will work straight away."

"So why tell her?"

Mark looked at me like I was an idiot. Mind you, I probably was right now. She'd done this to me and she had absolutely no idea.

"Unless she's psychic Dan, I don't see how else you can start to deal with this. She thinks you were after a one night stand, and you've had it. You have to tell her you want more."

"I know this is a bit personal Mark, but what happened when you told Charlie how you felt?"

Mark looked a little embarrassed. "He was convinced I was joking and that I was just lying to him about my feelings so I could get him into bed. And then when he decided I wasn't just teasing him he challenged me to prove it."

I was even more curious then. "How did you do that?"

Mark looked a lot more embarrassed. I figured he wasn't going to answer me and was going to let it drop until I heard Charlie's voice behind me, clearly enjoying teasing his lover.

"He sent me flowers. Every day for weeks. And little notes telling me how he felt."

Mark was practically squirming with embarrassment, but Charlie seemed unconcerned and walked round the desk to put a quick peck on his lips. Then he turned and grinned at me.

"So why are you asking about that?"

It was my turn to go red and shuffle in my seat, and Mark instantly perked up at the chance to tease me after his discomfort. He looked at me as he spoke to Charlie.

"It seems Dan is in love, and the object of his affections thinks he just wanted a quick shag."

"Wanted?" Charlie queried, looking at me too as I blushed bright red now and tried to stare a hole in the floor that I could drop through.

I kind of mumbled my response, and mentally kicked myself for not being my usual confident self.

"It wasn't a quick shag. It was a night of passionate love. Well, it was for me anyway. She didn't seem immune to my abilities at the time either. It was just the next morning when she hightailed it out of there. And now she won't return my calls and I think she's seeing someone else. She won't even give me a chance."

I wandered out of Mark's office afterwards surprised at my honesty, and glad that I hadn't dropped myself in it by admitting who this woman was. I knew I needed to talk to her, but I still hadn't got a clue how to do it, or whether she would welcome it in the slightest. What it came down to though was if I didn't find out I would never get over this. I hoped, I prayed, that she would want me too if I explained, but I feared it wouldn't be the case.

I was still thinking this over, trying to work out how to start, when Charlie caught up to me.

"You need to talk to Tess. This grumpy bastard you've become isn't doing any of us any good."

I looked at him shocked.

"Why Tess?" I asked, fairly sure he knew.

"She tells me things she wouldn't tell Mark. He would be pissed to hear you slept with her. Perhaps less so knowing what you've told him now, but probably still not happy."

"She's seeing some other guy Charlie. I think that says how she feels about the situation."

"It's not serious. Plus he's nowhere near as good in bed as you are."

I don't know what my expression said, I was beyond shocked, and also jealous that someone else had got to bed her.

"How do you know that?"

He just grinned. "She tells me lots of things. Now I'm settled down I have to get good gossip from someone. You score very highly!"

I went bright red. Normally I would have been immensely proud to hear something like that, but somehow that it was Charlie telling me about it had me totally embarrassed. I swear that woman cast some spell on me. I never did shame before she came along. Nor did I swallow my pride and ask someone to help me get the girl.

"Can you talk to her? Tell her what I want?"

He gave me a surprisingly stern look, especially since he had been teasing me a moment before.

"No. You have to do it yourself. Do you seriously think we can still deal with things like when we were in the playground? I refuse to go and tell her that my boss fancies her. She doesn't hate you, she'll talk to you. Whether you'll succeed straight away I don't know, but a knock back might not hurt."

"There's a bigger knock back than her bringing a date to my restaurant? Because if so I'm not sure I want to experience it."

"Idiot. She thinks you got exactly what you wanted, she's not trying to piss you off. She has no idea what you are thinking or she'd never have brought him here. Or probably gone out with him in the first place."

I smiled. "That suggests she'd be open to the idea of going out with me."

"I don't know. Why didn't you just tell her that morning how you felt, if things had changed for you."

"She was too busy giving me the brush off, and I was too scared."

"I repeat, you're an idiot. She's amazing. If I was straight I'd date her, and you just wanted a quick roll in the hay. It's kind of just desserts."

I found enough pride to defend myself. "It was not a 'quick' roll."

"I know," he said with a wink, walking off and leaving me wondering quite how much Tess had told him.

* * * * * *

I was actually shaking as I rang her doorbell, carrying a bunch of flowers and feeling like a complete idiot, much as Charlie had repeatedly accused me of being. I hadn't felt this nervous going to see a woman since I was about 17 and trying to woo my first girlfriend. In fact, my only girlfriend so far. When we broke up a couple of years later because I wanted to play the field I found the field was far too much fun to want to settle down again. Until now, until one night with her had changed me.

When she came to the door I took a sharp breath. She wasn't dressed up at all, a scrappy t-shirt and loose jogging bottoms, but she still looked amazing. I hadn't seen her properly for far too long it seemed and I drank in the sight, not even thinking too much about what was under those clothes, even though the image of that was safe in my mind. I wanted the reality again though. She smiled when she saw me, but it was only friendly and not enough. I handed over the flowers to a look of surprise.

"What are these for?"

"A peace offering. You didn't seem keen to talk to me so I thought a present would help."

"I'm not cross with you Dan. It's just I've been busy."

"I know," I practically growled at her, thinking about the bloke she had been busy with.

Her eyes widened in surprise at my reaction.

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