Cole drove all the way from Newcrest to Brindleton Bay with Duke as his lone companion. It took three days, but gave him a lot of time to think. He and Yasmine had talked after their argument, but their conversations were stilted. He didn’t ask her about Jay, nor did she offer any additional reasons for why she did what she did. He could feel her putting distance between them, and it hurt.
Cole had finally gotten the nerve to confide in Avery. She already knew half the conversation anyway, since she walked in on the end of it. Avery suggested he should cut his losses before he got in too deep. What she said made sense, but he was worried he was already in too deep. Regardless, he decided he would redouble his efforts with his studies, and try to forget about relationships. Especially those with benefits. By the time he arrived at the duplex, he had convinced himself – and Duke – that Yasmine would be nothing more than an acquaintance. He wouldn’t even call her a friend.
Over the summer he also learned a lot about his family’s business. The Murdocks still owned a large amount of real estate that was yet to be developed. Part of it had been zoned for retail, which meant new jobs and shopping, which in turn helped to make Newcrest an even more attractive location for potential buyers. That and it’s proximity between Willow Creek and San Myshuno.
The economics of everything was really pretty interesting. He stood to become very wealthy as long as it was properly managed. If he wasn’t already 100% invested in veterinary medicine, he might have considered a degree in finance. He was glad his minor was in business. That only made sense, given his future goal to own a veterinary practice. He figured he would most likely wind up with a practice in Newcrest at some point, even if he didn’t start out there.
When Cole finally arrived in Brindleton Bay, and pulled up next to Landon’s pickup, he thought he would feel like he was home, especially considering how he had felt when he first arrived back in Newcrest. But he didn’t. It was a strange feeling. He had longed to come back to his little room and Yasmine. But Yasmine had made it clear she really didn’t want him for anything more than a friend. And now Newcrest, and his ‘guest room’, actually felt more like home.
Landon had been excited when Cole told him he was bringing Duke. Truth be told, he was probably more excited Cole was bringing back his own car so he wouldn’t have to borrow Landon’s pickup all the time.
As Cole was getting ready to go inside, Yasmine came out of her side of the duplex. She stopped when she saw him. “Cole! Hi….” she said pleasantly.
Then, when she saw Duke coming up to her, she stopped short and backed up, her eyes wide. “You brought a dog?”
“Come here Duke and leave her alone,” commanded Cole. The old dog looked at both of them and came to sit by Cole.
As soon as Cole saw Yasmine, and heard her voice, his resolve to be no more than friends went right out the window. He wanted her in his arms – right now. He said a silent thank you to Duke for giving him something else to focus on. “Hi Yasmine. It’s good to see you. Meet Duke. He’s mine. Remember? My dog? He’s come to live with me. I couldn’t leave him again. He won’t bite. I promise. He’s a yellow lab. They are super friendly dogs. Think they are people.” He was rambling, and abruptly stopped talking.
The dog sat there obediently, tail wagging 90 miles an hour. Duke looked at Yasmine and let out a ‘woof’ when Cole stopped talking, breaking the awkward silence. Cole laughed.
“Duke says ‘hey’. He likes you already. Can’t say that I blame him,” he turned to Duke and continued, “What’s not to like, huh Duke.” Stupid … why does my brain turn to mush around her? he wondered.
Yasmine’s face slowly transformed from a scowl to a barely concealed smile. “Should I pet him?” she asked.
Cole looked at Yasmine and smiled back. “Yes,” he said, “but prepare for a kiss.” Yasmine looked at Cole with a question on her face and he realized the misunderstanding. “From Duke,” he quickly added.
“Right,” she said and quickly bent down to pet the dog.
Landon and Blake came outside, apparently hearing the commotion. “Welcome back Cole – Oh – and this must be Duke!” said Landon. He walked over and took Yasmine’s place and began to pet the dog. “Now look here Duke, I am Cole’s best bud, so you have to share – okay man?”
“Cole, he’s gorgeous. How old is he?” asked Blake.
“He getting up there. I got him when I was 10. He was a puppy though. Doc helped me train him.”
“So he’s still got a few good years left,” said Landon when he stood up, “Probably good you brought him with you though.”
“He’s going to be sooo spoiled,” said Blake with a laugh.
Cole needed to get inside and away from Yasmine so he picked up his suitcase and went to his room, Duke following along behind him. He bent down and started to unpack when there was a soft knock on the door behind him.
He turned around and Yasmine was standing in the doorway. He caught his breath. She was all kinds of gorgeous, yet she looked so sad. “Hi,” was all he could manage to force out.
“Cole, can we talk?” she asked softly.
“Yasmine…..I…” Cole hadn’t been prepared for the onslaught of feeling he had when he saw her earlier. And now, here she was in his room. He had no idea know what to do, or what to say. But he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to hold her in his arms and make that sadness disappear.
“Cole….please, just listen before you say anything,” she said obviously uncomfortable. “I want to apologize for leading you on and making you think we could be more. I got comfortable having you around. It was … easy I guess.” She paused, her eyes full of pain. “I never meant to hurt you. I knew better going in. Guys like you … they want more. And I already told you, I simply don’t have more to give. I’m so sorry.”
“I – Yasmine – but why not?” he stammered. Her words stung. But then again, wasn’t this what he had convinced himself he wanted on the way back here? But his stupid heart didn’t agree. Right now, he just needed to understand what was causing her to pull away.
“It’s okay Cole,” she said, “I promise. It’s not you. You’re sweet. Can’t we just, please, leave it at that?”
Cole was sure now. He wanted to put his arms around her and make whatever was hurting her go away. “No, it’s not okay…” he said as he took a step towards her to do exactly that.
She put her hands up to stop him. “No. Don’t. We can’t do this anymore,” she said, then turned around and left the room.
Cole flopped down on the bed in defeat. He could hear her footfalls on the stairs as she ran away from him, and finally, the front door closing as she left the duplex. He was confused. He had already decided on the way back to town they wouldn’t continue their FWB relationship, yet his heart was breaking anyway.
Over the next month, Yasmine stayed on her side of the duplex. He stayed on his. It was easier that way. Cole was really glad he had brought Duke with him. The dog temporarily filled his need to be needed, and provided him with unconditional love. Taking him for runs helped his stress level.
Since his accounting classes had finally clicked, it made things so much easier. He didn’t really need Yasmine’s help, but it was sad doing it without her making it fun.
What he looked forward to the most were his veterinary medicine classes. The students had been asked to volunteer at local animal shelters as part of their education. They examined the animals to make sure they were healthy in addition to any odd jobs that needed to be done.
The volunteer work kept him busy. He didn’t mind putting in a lot of extra hours just to keep from coming home. He was allowed to bring Duke with him as a socialization pet so he didn’t have to feel bad about leaving him alone.
Nights were hardest. Laying in his bed, alone, he was reminded of the times he woke up with Yasmine next to him, and they would make love to each other. He had no doubt she was making love to him in those quiet, intimate moments. He still missed her badly.
When Cole came home that evening, Landon and Blake were sitting in the kitchen talking. He started to head upstairs and they stopped him. “Hey, we are going to the bar tonight,” said Landon, “why don’t you go with us? You have been working and studying non-stop.”
That did sound good. He needed to have some fun. The past month had been hard. “Okay,” agreed Cole, “I think I will. You’re sure you don’t mind me tagging along?”
“Nope. And who knows maybe you’ll meet someone and stop moping around,” said Landon.
“Not gonna happen. I’m swearing off of relationships. My luck sucks. And I’m not moping. I’ll go shower and get ready. 15 minutes?”
The two of them congratulated each other as Cole went upstairs.
When he came back down, Yasmine was with them. “Oh. Hi Cole,” she said awkwardly, then turned to Blake and Landon, “Let’s go guys.”
Cole was confused. “Wait? You’re going too?” he asked.
“Too?” repeated Yasmine, then glared at Blake, “You didn’t tell me HE was coming. You guys have fun. I’m outta here.” She slid off the stool and turned on her heel to leave.
“Wait! Yasmine!” called out Cole, “You go, I’ll stay.”
“This is bullshit!” said Landon before Yasmine could leave, “How old are you two? Twelve? Grow the fuck up.”
Both Yasmine and Cole looked at their mutual friends in shock. Blake looked like she wanted the floor to swallow her up, but Landon was just pissed.
“You did this on purpose!” said Yasmine, glaring at Landon.
“Yes, WE did,” retorted Landon, “Blake and I are both sick of the way you two are acting. Get the hell over yourselves. Either fuck or be friends, I don’t care which, but stop avoiding each other. You are both miserable. Now get your asses in the car and let’s go have fun.”
“I don’t think…” said Cole, still trying to get out of it.
“Shut up Cole – and get in the car! Now! Both of you!” demanded Landon.
Cole shot Yasmine an apologetic glance. She looked in worse shape than him.
“I’m sorry Yas,” said Blake softly.
“No, you’re not,” snapped Landon, “this is for everyone’s sanity.”
Landon and Blake got up and herded Cole and Yasmine towards the door. “I’ll drive,” offered Cole, “I have the roomiest vehicle.” And it would give him something to do other than be stuck in the backseat next to Yasmine.
When they got to the bar, Landon and Blake disappeared leaving Cole and Yasmine alone, so they took a table in the corner. “Wow, they totally just ditched us,” said Yasmine with a laugh as she watched Blake and Landon hit the dance floor.
Cole was thankful she had calmed down on the ride to the bar.
He sighed at her comment. “Yeah, they did. So, what would you like to drink, Red or White? I’ll get it,” said Cole.
“Red, thanks,” she said and smiled weakly.
Cole came back with their drinks and sat down. “Yas, I’m sorry about this. Honestly, I had no idea,” he said.
Yasmine looked at him, sadness etched in her face. “I know. Maybe we should try to get along – for ‘Blakedon’s’ sake.”
“What about what you want?” he asked.
“I didn’t want to lead you on anymore. It will go nowhere and you’ll only get hurt.”
“You could have told me.”
She looked at her glass before finally answering. “I did sweetie. You chose not to listen.” She lifted her glass and took a drink, avoiding his gaze.
Cole did the same, and thought about what she had just said. She did tell him, that part was right. But what she said and what she did, those were two different things.
Finally he looked up and met her gaze. “Truce then? No more avoiding each other?” he asked.
“Truce,” said Yasmine and gave him a hint of a smile.
Cole was totally captivated by her. She looked so beautiful and exotic in the candlelight. He couldn’t help but stare.
“What?” she said finally, “Do I have food in my teeth?”
Cole laughed. He was busted. “Just admiring the view. I missed it.”
Yasmine rolled her eyes and looked him over. “The view is nice across the table too. New tattoo?”
“Hmm?” he asked, caught off guard by the question. He pointed to his arm. “Oh – Yes it is. Noah, my best friend in Willow Creek, he figured I needed one. Actually, it’s in honor of my both my mothers.”
Yasmine’s eyes clouded for a minute before she recovered her composure and smiled. “I like it. You have a wonderful family Cole. Don’t ever forget it. A lot of people don’t even have one good mother. You have two.”
He knew she wasn’t super close with her family and wanted to distract her. “Dance with me? It’ll make ‘Blakedon’ happy,” he sang out.
“You said Blakedon!” she exclaimed and laughed. He had missed her laugh.
“Well, together they are a force to be reckoned with. They deserve a stupid ship name,” said Cole as he rolled his eyes.
“Okay. Let’s dance…” she said and narrowed her eyes, “but no fucking.”
“Damn,” he said playfully.
“Cole…” said Yasmine with a warning look.
“I’m only kidding Yasmine,” he said and crossed his fingers on his right hand under the table where she couldn’t see. He owed ‘Blakedon’ big time. He was getting a another shot with Yasmine. And no, there wouldn’t be any fucking … but there never had been. He had only made love to her. He would go slow this time. As slow as she needed, and eventually she would let her guard down, and trust him with her secrets.