“No, that’s fine. I have to stream later today, so I should be getting back, too.”
He glanced down at me, and he must’ve sensed something was off because his eyebrows drew together. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” I lied. “I think sleeping on the flat ground has just made me feel a little worse for wear.”
“Right. Me, too. Next time, we’ll have to invest in an air mattress or something.”
“Next time?” I asked. “You actually intend on going camping again?”
“Of course. I’ve enjoyed this,” Neil said, eyes focusing on me curiously. I stepped away from him a small distance, clearing my throat.
“Well, just give me a few minutes to say goodbye to Adam and the others, and then I should be ready to go,” I said, and he nodded, eyebrows furrowed as he returned his attention to packing away the tent.
“Take your time. We’re not in a big hurry.”
When I went over to Adam’s tent, he was sitting inside chatting with his friend, Milly.
“Hey, Neil and I are going to head off now. I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“You’re leaving already? Was it something I said?”
“No, nothing like that. I wish we could stay longer, but Neil needs to get back for work.”
“Well, in that case, come here and give me a hug,” Adam said, drawing me into a tight embrace before releasing me. “Neil seems like a good bloke. Hang on to him.”
“I’ll try,” I said while my heart gave a sharp thud. Adam had no idea how difficult it was for me to hang on to people, specifically boyfriends. I told him I’d talk to him soon, online obviously, then headed back to Neil.
Half an hour later, we were on the road on our way home to London. The drive was silent, but my mind was loud. I’d never been so freaked out over a man before. Last night, he’d gazed at me like I hung the moon and stars, and the prospect of losing his adoration was paralysing. My feelings for him had grown in an insidiously quiet way, and now, he was in my heart and soul. He was a vital part that I couldn’t bear to lose.
We were back in the city when Neil’s phone, which he’d placed in a holder near the gear stick, silently lit up with an incoming text. He didn’t see it because he was focused on driving, but I did, and the preview that showed on the screen made my heart sink.
It was from Annabelle.
Hi Neil! So good to hear from you. I’d love to meet up again. Just name the time and place. xxx
After the night we’d shared, he’d messaged Annabelle asking to meet up? What the actual fuck? I was horrified. Heartbroken. Bereft. Normally, I might have yelled at him and demanded to know what had turned him off me so completely that he was running back to a woman who was only using him to get to someone else. But right now, I wasn’t in a normal state of mind. I was too upset to speak.
When we arrived outside my building, I fled the car like my arse was on fire.
“Afric, wait,” Neil said, emerging, too.
I paused and glanced back at him. He opened the boot and removed my bag before holding it out to me. “You almost forgot this,” he said, eyes searching mine.
“Right, thanks,” I mumbled.
Neil sighed, placing his hands on his hips. “Okay, what’s going on? You’ve been quiet for most of the car journey, and now, you’re running into your flat like you can’t get away from me fast enough.”
Impulsiveness and fear had me deciding to distance myself from him at that moment. If only to protect my heart from further pain. “I just need some space,” I said, making a concerted effort to keep my voice even.
Neil studied me, his features drawn in thought. There was silence for several moments before he ran his hand over the stubble on his cheek, a look of understanding on his face. “Okay, I get that last night might’ve been too fast for you. Can I come over later to talk?”
“I’ll probably be streaming.”
He frowned. “Well, let me know if you finish early, and I’ll stop by.”
“Okay,” I said and turned to go.
I didn’t look back as I went inside, doing my best to hold in the tears that were welling behind my eyes and in the back of my throat.
So, Afric was freaking out over the kiss; that much was clear. I didn’t want to be pushy, so I gave her the space she requested. Besides, once I got this meeting with Annabelle over and done with, I could focus all my attention on Afric and figure out what exactly had her acting so out of character.
Currently, I was sitting at a table in the café waiting for Annabelle to arrive. Several minutes ticked by before the door opened, and in she walked. She wore a thick duffle coat, her long hair up in a ponytail. Windswept strands framed her pretty, feminine face. I took a nervous sip of my coffee, then stood as she approached.