Love Realized (The Real Love Series)
Author:Melanie Codina

chapter NINE

The atmosphere at Hooley’s was always an inviting one. The dark wood was everywhere, from floor to ceiling. The high booths against the walls provided a perimeter, which allowed a person to sit back and enjoy the entertainment in the corner on weekend nights and whatever games might be on the screens above the bar, depending on what season it was. On the weekdays, the atmosphere was a bit tamer, but still a great hangout. They also had a restaurant for people to enjoy with their families during the day, when the craving for good fish ‘n’ chips should arise.

This was where the guys from the station house loved to come to unwind. It was in a great location. Not only was there a movie theater next door for date nights, but the YMCA that was just built butted right up against the parking lot. There were adult softball leagues and indoor soccer leagues that a lot of his friends participated in, so Hooley’s was where they always seemed to end up. He had just sat down and ordered a beer when his partner Eddie came in and sat next to him. Signaling the bartender for one of what Jake was having, they both settled in to unwind from their day.

“So, what’s going on with you?” Eddie asked as he finished taking his first sip of the cold beer in front of him.

Jake thought it was an odd question, considering they had just spent an entire shift together. “Um, nothing much…” Jake replied with an amused tone as the bartender came to see if they wanted to order food. Never one to turn down an opportunity to get his hands on some hot wings, they placed a double order. Lifting his beer to his lips for another drink, he heard his friend and partner sigh next to him, and he looked over in time to see him shake his head side to side before looking at Jake.

“No man, I wasn’t asking how your day was. I was asking you why you’ve been moping around with your head up your ass for weeks?” Pausing to take a sip of his drink before he continued, “I’ve worked with you a long time, Jake, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something is clearly bothering you. That being said, I'm gonna try my hardest to not sound like a chick when I say, you can talk to me if you need to man.” Eddie said this last part while giving a good manly pat to the back.

“I'm sure two guys talking about their feelings is less girly when there is beer and hot wings involved. Maybe we should scratch our junk and burp a few times afterward for good measure,” Jake said, laughing at the inner visual he had of the scene.

“Works for me man. Although it would be a lot more masculine if there were strippers on this bar, but I'm secure enough to know I'm all man. So let’s have it … what the hell has been going on with you?”

Jake looked at his friend and weighed his options in regards to spilling his inner turmoil. It wasn’t really something he felt like he could discuss with the inner circle of friends that included Logan, Sean, and Jason. Specifically, because Gillian would be at the center of that discussion, and it might be awkward with all parties involved.

Eddie knew Gillian and all, but Jake didn’t think it would be weird to discuss it with him. And damn would it be nice to get this off his chest. Taking a deep breath, he asked his friend, “You sure you want to hear me whine like a little bitch?” He smiled at the memory of Allie calling him that, which in turn reminded him of Gillian, which then reminded him of later that night and listening to her talk to Logan in the driveway. Every thought he had circled its way back to Gillian. Damn! He needed to talk about this with his friend or hire a therapist … quickly!

When Eddie nodded at him, he decided he had no choice but to spill it all. “All right, you asked for it … you know my friend, Gillian?”

Before he could continue, Eddie interrupted him, “Yeah, of course I know who Gillian is. She’s your friend you’ve been hung up on for years.” The shock at Eddie’s statement must have been crystal clear on Jake’s face because he continued, “Don’t look so shocked, man. I’ve seen the two of you together and the way you look at her. Especially since she left her husband. You think I don’t know the reason we have to stop at the Medical Center on a daily basis?”

Seriously? Was he that transparent? Eddie continued, “What I don’t understand, though, is what your problem is? She’s single now.”

Jake could answer that one. “Dude, we’ve been friends since junior year in high school. She was married to one of my best friends for seventeen years. Our families are connected and intertwined in such a way that it is almost impossible for them to come apart. My obsession with her is a little inappropriate, don’t you think?”

Eddie laughed at Jake’s comment and was about to respond when the waiter showed up with their orders and placed a platter full of hot wings in between them. Eddie dug in and started eating, which only made Jake want to smack the chicken wing out of his hand and make him answer the question. He had been dying to talk to someone about this, and now that he had a listener, the guy thought it was more important to stuff his face? He was about three seconds away from actually doing it, and Eddie must have noticed, because he set the bone down and turned to face Jake.

“Guess you’re waiting for an answer … No, I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. Did you break up their marriage?” he asked.

“Hell no!” flew out of his mouth with an irritated tone that was intended to clearly inform Eddie that he was not like that.

“Calm down, dude. Seriously, I know you wouldn’t do that; I am only trying to make a point.” When Jake visibly calmed, Eddie proceeded, “How long have you had a thing for Gillian?” he asked, stuffing another chicken wing in his mouth, while waiting for Jake to answer.

Resolved to spill it all, so he could get an honest opinion, Jake recalled the first time he saw her. “From the moment I saw her swinging a bat in PE our junior year.” Eddie looked at him and raised his eyebrows in question, so Jake continued, “I saw her first period—we had to pick teams, and she was on mine. She swung a bat like she could play, and I thought to myself how cool she was. I watched her all period and even talked to her a little bit at the end of class. At lunch, I pointed her out to my brother and Logan, which was the biggest mistake of my life. After school, I went to go find her and see if she needed a ride home from school or something, and I saw her getting into Logan’s car. He had beat me to her; I didn’t even get the chance to try.”

He took a swallow of his beer in an attempt to wash out the nasty taste in his mouth he always seemed to acquire whenever he remembered or talked about that day. He had confronted Logan the next day, demanding to know why he did that. He gave him a shove into a locker, and was going for a second shove when his brother, Jason, jumped in and stopped him. Logan’s defense was that Jake never said he liked her; he only pointed her out to them and said she could really play softball. Which, unfortunately, was true. At that point, all the fight had left Jake, and he quietly decided that he would wait until Gillian dumped Logan, and then he could have a shot. Little did he know, that it would take eighteen years.

“She was pregnant within six months, and then married to him a year after their son was born. She was happy with him, and I was sufficiently placed in the friend zone.”

“And you’ve been pining away for her all these years?”

“No, it’s not like that. More like carrying a torch for her? She seems to be the one I compare all women to. She’s one of my best friends, if not the best, and I have been fine with that over the years. But man, the night all the shit went down with her and Logan …” He shook his head at himself just remembering his inappropriate reaction. “I got to hold her. I mean really hold her. And she looked to me for support—she needed me. I don’t know what, but something just switched over in my head, and I haven’t been able to turn it off since.”

Feeling the same disgust at himself for his uncontrollable reaction to her that night, he picked up his beer and took a long drink to calm himself down before continuing, “She was literally breaking up with her husband, in her driveway, surrounded by friends and family, and I was standing their watching it happen with a freaking hard-on just listening to her.”

“Dude, you got a hard-on listening to a chick yell at her husband?”

Jake laughed a little at that. “No, it wasn’t that she was yelling, it was what she was saying. She was clearly trying to inflict pain on him, for sure. She was telling Logan to imagine her being naked with another man, to imagine another man touching her, being deep inside of her … I was imagining myself as that man.” He groaned as he propped his elbows on the bar and dropped his head into his hands.

“And that makes you a bad guy in what way?” Jake looked up at Eddie, confused. “Man, of course you had that kind of reaction. Hell, I'm sure if I heard it coming from a woman, I would, too. It’s not like you walked up to her in the middle of the break up and said, ‘I can show you what that would look like, so you don’t have to imagine it.’ So give yourself a break.”

He sat up straighter and asked his suddenly wise friend, “What the hell do I do about it?”

Eddie shrugged as he finished another wing and licked his fingers while he looked like he was thinking about it. “She left her husband because he cheated on her?” Jake nodded. “You have provided emotional support for her since?” Jake nodded again. “Is she still crying about her husband? Is there a chance they are going to get back together?”

“Last I saw her cry was two weeks ago. She was drinking a bit and feeling down on herself. I told her she was wrong and being hard on herself …” Jake trailed off as he remembered that night. How he had been so close to her, and once he had finally gotten her to smile, she leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek, but he turned his head so that his lips met hers.

He shook his head to dispel the memory and continued, “No, there is no chance they’re getting back together. They have permanently separated and are living in different places. She made it pretty clear that there was no chance.”

“Then I think you’re in the clear, man. Once she is ready to date, feel her out—see if you can get yourself out of the friend zone. Can’t you get some help from Allie … I’m sure she would be able to tell you if Gillian was ready to date, and if she thought it was a bad idea. I do think it’s worth a try … it’s been eighteen years, man, so you either need to light that fire or put out that torch you’ve been carrying.” And with that last comment, Eddie proceeded to belch before he reached down and adjusted his package.

“All right, I feel more like a man now,” he said as he looked over at Jake. “You better eat those wings. I just saw Brooks come in. Your food is as good as gone when he gets over here.”

“Thanks man, I appreciate the advice.” Jake patted Eddie on the back, then turned forward to tackle the rest of the wings on his plate. A hand came from behind him and proceeded to grab his wings, piling them onto a small plate. He looked back to see Brooks, one of the guys from the station, loading the plate.

“What are you two girls talking about?” Brooks managed to mumble while gnawing on one of Jake’s hot wings. Again filled with the desire to knock a wing out of another man’s hand, Jake restrained himself. Brooks was a bit obnoxious at times, but he was still a good guy. Jake just knew he was on edge about Gillian and what he thought were his inappropriate feelings. But according to Eddie, he needed to do something about it. Taking a chance, he thought he should see what Brooks thought.

“Hey Brooks, since you are enjoying my wings, maybe you can answer a question for me.”

With a mouth full of wings, Brooks said, “Shoot.”

“Would you date a woman who was getting divorced, before her divorce was final?”

“Sure, why not? If she put herself back out there, she’s fair game,” he managed to finish his words before another wing found its way into his mouth.

He was about to follow up with asking Brooks if he would date someone who was an old friend, but stopped. What Brooks said had an effect on him. Jake didn’t like the sound of Gillian being referred to as “game,” but again, Brooks had no idea who he was referring to. But it gave him pause when he realized that if Gillian did decide to put herself out there, she could be exposed to guys like Brooks. And he really did not like the thought of that.

“Dude, why the hell do you look like you’re gonna choke me out … I’ll get you more wings, man,” Brooks mumbled as he started to back away. Jake realized his reaction to what his friend said was a bit extreme, but he felt it nonetheless. His irrational emotions continued as he was suddenly swamped with the need to see her.

“Sorry, man, got a lot on my mind,” he mumbled to Brooks as he downed the last of his beer and began to stand up. He reached for his wallet and tossed a twenty on the bar in front of his partner. “I gotta go, man.”

“Tell her I said hi,” Eddie said with a smirk on his face, which just made Jake shake his head. He had no idea he was so transparent.

“It’s really that obvious?”

Eddie gave a gentle nod of his head and responded with an “Oh yeah,” out of the side of his half-turned up smile.

Jake had no idea when he became such a pussy. Maybe it was all that time he spent with Gillian and Allie in those days after she left Logan. They had all joked about it, but maybe he was turning into a chick. With that final thought, Jake patted Eddie on the shoulder and said thanks one final time before saying goodnight to Brooks and heading out the door. Looking at his watch, he noticed that the game was about to start, and he knew just where he would find her.