Luanne hadn’t seen Christian since he left her frustrated and confused on her doorstep the other night. She had spoken to him on the phone and he had promised that he was thinking about her, wishing he could spend more time with her, but claiming that his brother’s wedding needed to be his main priority at the moment. Luanne wanted to believe this. She wanted to believe that her boyfriend was being honest for he had never given her reason to doubt him. But that gnawing doubt in the pit of her stomach just wasn’t going away and she was feeling herself getting desperate. Not necessarily desperate for Christian, but desperate for the truth.
With her head down, bracing herself against the bitter cold, she exited store where she was picking up the last of her Christmas presents for her friends back home and in Paris. Wishing she could use her hands to shield her face, she turned her head just slightly as a biting gust blew through the street. She caught her reflection in the window of a restaurant and had to smile. Her blue gloves holding her bags, her black double breasted jacket which hugged her in all the right places, her boots which she could barely walk in when she first purchased them but now strode down the sidewalk like a she was wearing a pair of sneakers, it all came together in a pleasing image which would have horrified her mother.
Luanne smiled at herself but then a familiar face on the other side of the glass caught her eye. She squinted and her gaze came to focus on Christian, his face smiling as he leaned close to whomever he was sitting with. Whoever she was, she was blonde and clearly seemed to be holding her boyfriend’s attention. There was a bottle of wine placed between them, empty dinner plates were pushed to the side.
Luanne was no longer cold. She stood there, in the middle of the sidewalk, like a child looking at a Christmas window display, her hands pressed against the glass, her breath fogging her view. She watched as her boyfriend smiled and then reached for the blonde’s face. He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and then leaned in closer, lightly grazing his lips against hers.
“Son of a bitch!” She found herself nearly screaming as she stormed into the restaurant. Like a woman possessed, she brushed past the hostess, ignoring her request to please wait to be seated, and stomped off to Christian’s table. His kiss with the blonde had ended but he had nearly pulled her into his lap as he whispered something in her ear.
Luanne stood by the table for only a few seconds before throwing her bags on the ground and putting her hand on her hips. Her foot started tapping and she looked at Christian expectantly as he raised his head from the blonde’s neck.
“Luanne!” Christian said with a start, throwing his date back to her seat and standing up. But his chair was pushed too close to the table and he stumbled as he tried to jump to his feet.
“Christian. Haven’t seen you in a while,” Luanne said, surprised at the calmness of her voice, though her Alabama accent was thicker than it had been in years.
“I’ve um, I’ve been busy. With the wedding,” he added quickly and Luanne stared at him, waiting for more.
Christian looked desperately between the blonde who was now staring at Luanne, and the redhead who was still glaring at him. He knew he had been caught but wasn’t about to give up.
“Luanne, this is Kate. She’s…”
“The wedding planner?” Luanne offered and Christian could hear the distain in her voice.
“No,” he mumbled. “She’s the nurse who took care of Sterling when he broke his wrist.”
Luanne’s expression didn’t change with that bit of knowledge.
“I was just talking to her about his physical therapy.”
Kate made a small disbelieving gasp and her head whipped around to Luanne. The two girls stared at each other, quickly taking the other in as Christian bumbled his way through his excuses.
“Christian?” Kate asked eventually. “Who is this?”
“Right,” Christian stammered. “This is Luanne. My friend from school.”
Now it was Luanne’s turn to gasp. “I’m Luanne. Christian’s girlfriend.”
“Luanne,” Christian said in a pleading tone, “We never actually put a title to anything... You just assumed…” But he didn’t finish his sentence. He let it hang in the air as more than a few tables around them had started to stare in wonder at the restaurant’s main event.
Luanne was fuming but she wasn’t about to let Christian get the better of her. Part of her was glad that the truth was finally coming out, the truth that she had known for some weeks now but refused to admit. She smiled as sweetly as she could at the boy who she used to believe was her boyfriend and then returned her attention to Kate.
“I’m sorry. Let me rephrase. I’m Luanne. The girl who Christian was allowing to believe was his girlfriend for the last four and a half months.”
“Is this true?” Kate turned to Christian with a confused look on her face.
“We never said we couldn’t date other people,” he defended himself with an unconvincing voice.
“Is this what you’ve been doing all those times you said you were helping with your brother’s wedding?”
“No, this is the first time…” Christian started but was quickly interrupted.
“This is our third date!” Kate said quickly, clearly having chosen not to take Christian’s side.
Luanne only nodded in understanding, her eyes still focused on Christian. “So all those times I introduced you as my boyfriend, all those times you said that we were perfect for each other, all those times we talked about the future, you didn’t think to mention that you were dating other women?”
“It’s not a conversation I wanted to have Luanne!” Christian was suddenly defensive. “I want this to work between us but you are so damn innocent. I can’t live my life like a monk, you see?”
“So what does that make me?” Kate suddenly asked. “A casual shag just to get you through the next couple of weeks because she has enough sense not to let you into her bed?”
“No,” Christian pleaded with Kate but she clearly didn’t believe him.
“I practically threw myself at you the other night, Christian!” Luanne was saying and his head started spinning. This was just too much. Juggling more than one woman at one time was trouble enough but having them in the same room together was going to be the end of him.
“I’m not going to corrupt you,” he directed at Luanne and then glanced at Kate, hoping to win some points for his valiancy but the blonde nurse wasn’t impressed.
“Damn right you’re not! You’ll never lay a hand on me again.”
“That goes for me too,” Kate announced, standing up and grabbing her purse. She gave Luanne a grateful yet pitiful glance as she passed and slipped out of the restaurant, one that didn’t go unnoticed by Christian. He would deal with her later. Or he would find someone else. Right now, he had to focus on Luanne, get her to see reason, get her to forgive him.
“Luanne, why don’t you sit down? We can talk about this?”
Luanne glared at the man she used to think so much of. He was no better than the rest, she thought. He was scum. “No. I don’t think I will.”
“Look,” Christian said, walking around the table so he could take her hand. “You know how I feel about you and I’m sorry if I allowed you to believe something that wasn’t true. But really, Luanne. You are so fanciful and there was no reason for you to believe…”
“Oh, don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining, Christian!”
He gave her a confused look but she continued, allowing her true southern roots to shine through. Scarlett O’Hara be damned.
“You knew all along how I was feeling and you could have, at any time, set me straight. You’re a selfish bastard and you don’t deserve me.”
“I know I don’t. But I love you, Luanne. You have to know that.”
“You don’t know the meaning of the word!” She said, picking up her bags and wrenching her arm from his grasp as he tried to stop her. “And maybe I don’t either. But I know that this is not love. This is a just a hot mess and I’m not going to waste any more of my time on it.”
“No. Goodbye, Christian.”
She started to leave but then realized she had one last question for him. She turned around and saw Christian giving her a hopeful look.
“Why did you do it?”
The look fell from his face. “What?”
“Why did you do it? Why did you even bother with me?”
“Luanne, you know…”
“I don’t know anything, Christian! What I thought I knew has now been proven false so be a man and give me and honest answer. For once, give me an honest answer!”
She saw something break inside of him and he gave her a defeated look. He glanced around at the faces of the other people in the restaurant, all giving him looks of disgust. She was right. She deserved an honest answer so he opened his heart for maybe the first time in his life and told her the truth. “I fell in love with the idea of you. The idea that I could find a life outside of London with a woman who thought the world of me, one who didn’t understand my games, one who would do nearly anything I wanted.”
Luanne felt a lump in her throat and she looked away from him as he continued his confession. He had been using her from the beginning, playing her for a fool in some twisted game only he knew the rules to.
“I wanted to be honest. I really did. I wanted this to work and I wanted to change. You’re brilliant, Luanne. You really are. And I was stupid to think I wouldn’t get caught. I was stupid to think that you would stay with me. I know it doesn’t matter now, but I am sorry. I am so sorry because you deserve someone who is going to respect you and love you for what really matters, not what they can gain from being with you.”
The two stared at each other for a long time and Luanne felt the tears rolling down her cheeks.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Christian broke the silence eventually and Luanne found her confidence again.
“I doubt there is anything more to say. I suppose every girl needs her heart broken at least once. I’m just sorry mine had to break over such an undeserving cowardly arrogant asshole.”
She waited only a second but the look on Christian’s face told her he was too shocked to respond. Luanne walked confidently to the door and nodded to the hostess who held it open for her. She kept her tears at bay until she had reached her flat and locked herself inside. But there she crumpled to the floor, her shopping bags surrounding her as she cried. Why had she been so stupid? Was she doomed to always allow men to use her, men like Will and men like Christian? She didn’t want to believe that it was something inside of her which drew that kind of deception her way, but at the moment there were no other reasonable explanations.
She cried on the floor of her apartment until she found the strength the stand. She stumbled into the kitchen and opened the freezer door, pulling out the tub of ice cream and grabbing a spoon on her way back to the tiled ground. Empty calories were at least better than cheating boyfriends.
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