I’m only three blocks away from her apartment when my phone rings. I figure its Emerson, wondering what’s taking me so long, but it’s not her. Brennan’s name flashes on my screen and my heart stops.
“Hey,” I answer.
“Hey, beautiful. I thought you’d call me last night, but then I remembered you telling me about working extra shifts.”
“Yeah, I did last night,” I reply, tightening up my jacket. It’s freezing outside. “Just got off work a few minutes ago. I’m on my way to Emerson’s for breakfast.”
“Nice. What all have you been doing besides work? I feel like we haven’t really spoken much the past week and a half. I’ve missed you.”
And that right there is what gives me misguided hope. Maybe it’s just words for him, but I really do miss him. “Well,” I start, “when I’m not working, I’m usually shopping or doing something with Emerson. My life isn’t as exciting as yours.”
Brennan snorts. “Trust me, Nat, I’d give anything to be normal, to have privacy.”
“I understand that. So, what all have you been up to?” I ask, wondering if he’ll tell me the truth about being with Halle Fulton.
He groans. “Oh, Nat, you won’t believe this shit. I go to record a new song yesterday and it’s the worst fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I’m talking career suicide.”
“I thought you wrote your own music.”
“I do. It’s a long story, but I walked out of the studio.”
I cross the street to Emerson’s apartment building. “Are you going to get in trouble?”
He huffs. “Honestly, I don’t care. I can’t do it. It’s not me.”
“Good for you.”
The line goes silent and I bite my lip. There’s so much I want to say, but I’m afraid. I love the time I had with him, but maybe that’s all it’s ever going to be … memories. I hate myself for wanting more.
“Nat, are you okay? You don’t sound right.”
Shivering, I hurry inside the building and sit down on one of the couches in the lobby. “I’m sorry,” I murmur, “it’s been a long night. What else did you do yesterday besides walk away from a song?”
He chuckles. “I went to the Lakers and Celtics game. Had to root for my hometown.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say, waiting for his reaction. There’s only dead silence and I hate it. “I saw you.”
“So, that’s why you’re being short with me. You saw me with Halle Fulton.”
I shrug even though he can’t see me. “It’s okay. I get it.”
“Obviously, you don’t. You’re pissed at me.”
Taking a deep breath, I glance quickly around the lobby to make sure no one’s around. “No, I’m not. You’re Brennan McLean. If you’re not going to be seen with Rayna, it has to be someone else, right?”
“It’s not like that, Natalie. She’s with the agency and my manager wanted my help to get her more exposure.”
“And you got it. You’re all over the internet together. You two looked mighty cozy.” He sighs, but I laugh and brush it off. “It’s okay, Bren. You have to keep up an image. Our time together isn’t going to change that, and I understand.” It just hurts, but I can’t tell him how much. It’s best to end this before I really get hurt. I can’t pretend that everything’s okay when I see him on TV with countless other women.
“What are you saying, Natalie?” Brennan asks, his voice tense.
Eyes burning, I stand and walk slowly over to the elevators, making sure my voice remains upbeat. “Nothing at all,” I say, laughing to lighten the mood. I press the elevator button. “I’m about to get on the elevator, but hopefully, we can talk soon. Good luck with the whole song fiasco. I hope you don’t get into too much trouble.”
“Natalie, wait. Don’t hang up.”
The elevator doors open, and I step inside. “Bren, I have to go. I’m in the elevator. Be safe out there, okay?” With those final words, I hang up and the tears come falling down. I shut off my phone and shove it into my purse. He’s probably not going to call back anyway.
It’s undoubtedly for the best.
My plan was to talk to Natalie for a bit and then fall asleep. There’s nothing like sleeping during the day and avoiding the sun like the plague, and now that I’m off the phone with her, sleep is going to evade me completely because I know she’s upset. This is exactly why I don’t do relationships. There’s too much drama. Too much distance. Too many chances for people to make assumptions that aren’t there. Much like Natalie and the way she was on the phone. She thinks I’m with Halle because we went to the game last night. She doesn’t understand, it’s a job, a favor. I’m helping Halle out and someday she’ll return the favor. It’s all business, nothing personal. But Natalie doesn’t totally understand all this, and now I can easily see why as I scroll through the barrage of photos of Halle and me. Most of them we didn’t even pose for. I click on a couple and expand, marveling at the photoshop work by whoever uploaded the images. According to the internet, Halle and I have been carrying on a relationship for some time now, long before she was discovered in the coffee shop, and it seems she’s to thank me for her career now.