Okay, so I was harbouring some bitterness.
I guess sometimes people simply refused to see the truth even when all the signs were staring them right in the face. They wanted the lie far too desperately. It was probably why all those online romance scams managed to lure people in.
The thought of Neil desperately wanting a picture-perfect happy ending with Annabelle cut through me like the new sword TheBigSix had just won for himself after a wager with a ghoul in Greenforest Tavern. My minor crush had clearly transformed into something much, much more serious, and I was feeling particularly morose about it.
I chatted some more with TheBigSix about our planned trip to Cornwall, then logged off for the evening. I had a headache, and my mind was racing, which usually meant I needed some time offline to clear my head. I’d just hit play on my guided meditation app when there was a knock on my door, followed by Sarita announcing, “You have a visitor.”
I bolted upright in my bed. “Who is it?”
“It’s Neil,” came a voice I hadn’t heard in two days.
Just like that, my body filled with nervous energy as I forced myself to lie back down. Feigning nonchalance, I replied, “It’s okay, Sarita, you can send him in.”
“I’m not your butler,” she grumbled while I closed my eyes and followed the mediation, taking measured breaths in and out. I heard my door open and close a moment before Neil asked, “What are you doing?”
“I could ask you the same question,” I replied evenly.
I heard him emit a tired sigh before I felt a weight lower onto my bed. “I came to apologise. I was an idiot, and I’m prepared to grovel for forgiveness.”
Well, that was quite the statement.
I opened my eyes. Neil sat on the edge of my bed, his shoulders slumped. My phone continued to emit the sounds of a trickling stream, leaves rustling in the wind, and birds chirping in the distance.
He looked like he hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep. He’d clearly been agonising over something, our argument most likely, and I had to resist the urge to pull him into my arms and hug him tight. I hated seeing him so sad.
“You were right about Annabelle,” he said, looking forlorn.
By contrast, relief filled me, but I kept my composure.
“What brought you to this conclusion?”
His gaze finally met mine. I’d missed those brown eyes. “She came to the gym today to share lunch with me.”
A brief, sharp stab of jealousy went through me, but I tamped it down. Clearly, their lunch date hadn’t gone well, given the fact he was here now apologising.
“I designed it as a bit of a trap if I’m being honest. I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said about her using me to get close to Callum, so I decided to test the theory. I invited her to the gym for lunch, and things were going fine. Then, Callum and Isaac came out having just finished their training and invited us to join them at the café down the street. It was clear we’d already eaten, but Annabelle practically jumped at the chance, saying she was in the mood for dessert.”
I scoffed. “I’ll bet she was.”
Neil frowned. “Again, I feel like such a fool for not going with my gut and listening to you in the first place. I was too busy being flattered by her acceptance like an idiot. We arrived at the café, and Annabelle sat right up close to Callum, peppering him with endless questions and even asking him about his relationship with Leanne. I was mortified. Even Isaac said it was obvious that Annabelle had a thing for Callum. Callum didn’t seem to notice, probably because he’s used to women being all over him. Anyway, after we ate, we parted ways. Annabelle mentioned coming to the gym for lunch again next week, and I panicked and agreed. She’s clearly using me to spend time around Callum, and now I have no idea how to cut ties with her. She has too much dirt on me.”
“Well, if you ask me, she sounds like an absolute bitch.”
“Afric, I’m still the one in the wrong—”
“You came clean to her, and now she’s using the situation to her advantage. She’s a manipulative bitch, plain and simple. She clearly sees that you’re too nice and too scared of her outing you to refuse her.”
“Maybe I should just tell Callum the truth and face whatever consequences come after.”
“You could do that. I’d advise you to take a few days to think about it first, though. Confessing is a big step.”
Neil nodded, his face drawn in thought. A long moment of quiet fell before he asked, “What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Nothing. I’ve been fuming mad, of course, but I do get why you didn’t listen to me. You wanted the fairy-tale.” Bitterness pinched at my gut. “Annabelle is beautiful and sexy, and she said she wanted to date you. I can’t fault you for saying yes.”