They had agreed to next talk the following morning, so when Cameron's phone unexpectedly lit up that very same night, he knew his already-terrible day was about to descend into newfound depths of unpleasantry.
She wants to play the victim some more, he thought sourly, watching his phone rattle and hum on the table beside his half-finished Big Mac. He wasn't sure which was the least appealing prospect - another conversation with Chantelle or demolishing what was left of his dinner. There was a McDonalds just up the road from the motel he was staying at, and although he'd opted to go there on the basis of convenience, he'd have been better off eating the mothballs in the closet. They'd have been tastier. Probably more nutritious, too. We said tomorrow, the only reason she'd be calling now would be to cry on my shoulder. She wants to say she's sorry, to say she wants me back, to say she'll never be unfaithful again.
He knew his girlfriend, emotional creature that she was. She'd have been wracked with guilt all afternoon, probably crying herself silly into her hospital pillow and irritating everyone else in the ward with her victim complex. It was easy to feel remorse after you got caught, after all. Did he really want to indulge Chantelle right now, considering his current emotional state?
No. He did not.
Cameron answered the phone anyway.
"Hello?" The voice that greeted him didn't belong to his girlfriend. It was much deeper than Chantelle's, almost masculine, and there was a noticeable undercurrent of apprehension beneath those two syllables. "Is this Cameron?"
He'd been steeling himself for Chantelle's histrionics, but he didn't even recognise the voice. Cameron hesitated. Why would someone else have his girlfriend's phone? "Yes?"
He received his answer a moment a later. "Yes, hi. I'm sorry to be calling you from Telly's phone, but I didn't know how else to get in touch with you." The woman on the other end of the line hesitated, then added, "My name's Isla, and I'm...well, I guess I'm the one you walked in on earlier this afternoon. You know, at the hospital."
It took Cameron a moment longer to put two and two together. "And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Isla?" He rose from the table and began to pace up and down the short length of his motel room. The bedside lamp threw frantic, dancing shadows across the bare brick walls. "I have to admit, I wasn't expecting to hear from you. I'd be blind drunk right now if I was."
Isla snorted. It was loud enough to make the line clip. "Well, that makes two of us."
"That's fantastic. I'm glad we have more in common than the fact that we're both fucking my girlfriend." Cameron clenched a fist and cast a dour glance back at what remained of his burger. "If you don't mind, I'm in the middle of a dinner for the ages, so if you could disappear, that would be - "
"Charming." His replacement made no effort to hide her disdain. "I just want a minute of your time. Telly - "
"You've had your minute. Goodnight." Cameron hung up on his girlfriend's mistress so forcefully the plastic beneath his hand creaked in protest.
The nerve. The nerve. Cameron's hands were shaking as he flung the offending device onto the bedspread and stalked back to the table, throwing himself into his seat hard enough to make him instantly regret doing so. This skank had the balls to call him from his girlfriend's phone just to...to what? Mock him? Apologise? Both options were as bad as each other, and he wasn't interesting in hearing either. What gave her the right to use his pet-name for Chantelle? What gave her the right to call him, full stop? Who did she think she was?
Why, she thinks that she's your replacement. Who else?
He was crushing his Big Mac. With some disgust, he threw it back into its box, watching as it exploded into a mass of lettuce, pickles and something that was presumably meat. He didn't give one solitary fuck about who Isla thought she was. He didn't give one solitary fuck about her apologies or her ribbing or whatever it was she wanted. The person his girlfriend was having an affair with was the very last individual who could ever conceive wanting to talk to.
Cameron was in the process of digging through the debris of his burger for something salvageable when the phone started ringing again.
A vein throbbed high upon his brow as stormed back to the bed. "I swear to God, if you don't...what, what do you want?"
"I just told you what I want. Did I need to ask for two minutes instead of one?" There was a melodic lilt to Isla’s voice that implied she was enjoying this. “I must say, first impressions aren't your thing."
Had his antagonist been in the room with him there and then, there was no doubt in Cameron's mind that he would have done her grievous injury. "It's not bad enough that I flew halfway across the world to watch you have your way with my girlfriend, I also have to put up with...this?" He sat down on the edge of the bed and attempted to reign himself in. He was creating a spectacle for his audience of shadows, and although they may not care, he certainly did. He was better than that. "You have the nerve to steal my girlfriend and call me up with the sole purpose of rubbing it in my face? What makes you think you have the damnedest right to - "
"I didn't even know you existed prior to this afternoon, Cameron. I wouldn't have got involved with her otherwise."
He stopped mid-sentence. "What?"
"You're not the only one who got a shock today. Do I need to throw a tantrum too, or are you happy to take my word for it?"
He ignored the jab. "How could she not tell you? You...you're..."
"I'm what?" He could hear the amusement in his nemesis' voice. "The mistress that breaks up happy couples for a cheap Saturday night thrill? I'm in the exact same situation as you, believe it or not. You're as much the mistress as I am." She paused to let that sink in, then added, "We're on the same side. I didn't call to kick you while you're down. I've already broken up with her, if that makes you feel any better." She sounded almost kind.
They...they broke up?
It certainly didn't make him feel any better, but if Isla was telling the truth, then his fight wasn't with her. She wasn't the one that had wronged him.
"What do you want, then?" Cameron kicked up his legs and sank into the bed, feeling the stress of the day weighing heavily upon him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so tired. "Why are you telling me this? To help yourself sleep tonight?" He shook his head. "Is that was this is all about?"
It was her turn to ignore the sally. "I'm telling you because you deserve to know. Would you rather I left you in the dark?" She gave him a second to consider that before ploughing on. "Chantelle rang me up late this afternoon, in tears, to tell me that she'd been having an affair with a certain someone called Cameron Rose...only you weren't the affair, I was, and she was just using me to scratch an itch that you apparently wouldn't. Stupid me has spent the last few months thinking I'd found something special. Lovely, isn't it?" Isla sighed. "You know the itch I'm referring to, right? The whole reason she's done all this?"
He most certainly did not. "Um," Cameron began uncertainly, glancing towards his phone. "Well...seeing as we're long distance, we don't really have much of an opportunity to...well, you know..."
Confused, Cameron looked about the room. There were no answers to be found on his walls. "Is it because she wanted to try something with a chick? I didn't even - "
"She hasn't told you. Well, that's just grand." The girl's frustration was almost palpable. "Forget it. Look, we’ve just got done talking to the doctors. They’ve said she's clear to leave first thing tomorrow morning, and we were thinking that maybe you could swing by her place afterwards. We can all talk it out then. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, and I’m...well, I’m the one to answer them.”
He most certainly did have a lot of questions...such as why had Chantelle invited Isla back to the hospital but neglected to extend the same offer to her boyfriend? Was he understanding the timeline right? "I thought you broke up with her,” Cameron remarked dryly. “But it sounds like the two of are still awfully close. You’re at the hospital? Again?”
"I did break up with her.” He could almost hear Isla shrug. "And yes, I’m at the hospital again. See, this is why we need to talk. There’re a lot of things you still don’t know, and there’s a lot of things that are going to change because of it. We need to talk about where you fit into what’s to come.”
The only thing he wanted to fit into was his seat on the plane home. "I don't want to fit into anything. I was going to break up with - "
"I'm not talking about breaking up with her."
He was starting to get annoyed again. "Then what are you - "
"Ten o'clock sounds fine to me. Does that work for you? At Telly’s place?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Fantastic, I'll see you then. Have a good night, Cameron."
And with that, the line went dead, leaving one very confused and irritated lover alone with the shadows of his motel room.
Chantelle lived on the outskirts of Angel Bay in a small, secluded cottage with two cats named Left and Right, the ugliest and second-ugliest animals Cameron had ever encountered. He could still remember the way he'd laughed when he'd been introduced to the hideous pair on Skype, Left with his squashed face and Right with his rolls and rolls of fat, both clawing at his girlfriend's arms and attempting to flee to anywhere she wasn't. He'd laughed at their names, he'd laughed at their faces, and he'd laughed at the way Chantelle's face had darkened as she tried to defend the strays she'd brought home from the pound. She always turned red when she was self-conscious. He couldn't remember the justifications anymore - something about the warden at the pound being a dick - but he would always remember her red, red face. She was cute when she was flustered.
He wondered how red her face would be when she tried to defend her affair. He suspected it would put her girlfriend's hair to shame.
If he was being honest with himself, Cameron wasn't entirely sure why he'd come. Even beyond facing his girlfriend and the woman she'd been seeing, it was a frightfully cold morning, with frost on the grass and a dismal fog rolling off the ocean. There was the entire town between him and the water, but the mist had flooded even the remotest extremities of the depression that Angel Bay sat in. There was no escaping the chill, and if he hadn't been aware of it before he left the warmth of the motel, he certainly was now, shivering on Chantelle's front porch. His breath was visible in the air before him, and even with his hands crammed into his armpits, he was losing sensation in his fingertips. It was as if the weather itself was telling him that it was in his best interests to go back to where he'd come from, to forget that he'd ever been in love, to forget about Angel Bay and Chantelle and Isla. Did he really care to find out what this supposed itch was? Why was he here, trying to motivate himself to knock on the door?
Because you owe her a proper goodbye, he told himself for the hundredth time. After however many years of a happy relationship, you owe her a proper goodbye.
He was too nice a guy. That was the crux of the issue.
Cameron sighed and knocked on the door.
Although both cats were there to greet him, Chantelle herself was not. In her place was a girl that was all too familiar to Cameron. She wasn't wearing any of her exotic jewellery, but there was no mistaking Isla's shock of red hair, frazzled though it may be. She was dressed in a pink singlet that left her midriff exposed, a matching pair of trackies, and a smile that Cameron did not care for one bit. It only grew at the sight of his discomfort. "G'morning," she bubbled pleasantly, absently throwing her hair over her shoulder. It appeared more black than red in the gloom of the morning. "Sleep well?"
Is that a joke? "As well as you'd expect," he answered stiffly, shifting from one foot to the next in an attempt to stay warm. "Do I want to know why you're so happy this morning?"
"Not yet you don't. That would spoil the surprise." Isla stepped back and pulled the door open, nudging the cats out of the way as she did so. He noticed that her feet were bare. "Come in, get out of the cold. We have a lot to talk about." She disappeared down the hallway a moment later.
He hesitated for the space of a heartbeat - did he really want to do this? - and then he was inside, pausing only to scratch the cats behind the ears as he passed. Right was as anti-social as ever and shied away from Cameron's greeting, but Left had always been fond of the spotlight. The ugly creature rubbed up against his thigh and purred affectionately. Cameron couldn't help but smile. At least you're happy to see me, buddy.
He found her in the kitchen, standing in front of Chantelle's coffee machine and watching it work its magic. "Where is she?" He asked uncertainly, looking about the room for some sign of his girlfriend. As far as he could tell, it was just him and Isla. The house was dead silent but for the whine of frothing milk. "Didn't you say they gave her the all clear to come home?"
"I did," was the cryptic answer. Isla glanced over her shoulder, a coy smile on her lips. "Do you want something to drink?"
I want to talk to my girlfriend. "No, thank you."
His lack of enthusiasm failed to register with his companion. "Suit yourself." She returned her attention to the machine. "Telly's around. She's just...uh, hiding. She knows you're here."
Cameron had been on his way to his girlfriend's bedroom, but that was enough to stop him in his tracks. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting to hear, but that certainly wasn't it. "Hiding?"
"You know, when you don't want to be found?"
His temper was up in an instant. "If you're going to be smart with me, I'm going to be out the door before - "
"I wasn't wrong when I said you're good with first impressions last night, was I? We're off to a marvellous start." Isla turned around again, this time with a cup of coffee to warm her hands. Her smile could have charmed the birds from the trees. "Shush, will you? You're going to hurt yourself. Come sit with me, and let's talk. Are you capable of doing that without blowing a fuse?"
For a second, he very seriously considered making good on his threat. It was bad enough he had to have The Talk with Chantelle. He wasn't prepared to put up with her girlfriend's nonsense too. He grappled with his better judgement for a long moment before deciding he'd come too far to walk out now. "For someone who's ruined a perfectly happy relationship, you have a big mouth on you," he conceded venomously. He held his tongue and made his way to the table, refusing to rise to the bait. "All things considered, you'd think you'd have learnt to keep it shut by now."
"All things considered, your girlfriend liked my big mouth.” Isla rolled her eyes and took the seat opposite him. Her coffee steamed in the air before her. "Much more than she liked yours, at least, and really...let's be honest. From what I've seen so far, you're an incredibly boring person, Cameron. I can't blame her."
His retort came through gritted teeth. "You don't know me."
"You're right, I don't. I know Chantelle, though." Isla shrugged and settled back into her seat. Her eyes were an electric blue, staring him down like the barrel of a shotgun. "I know what she's told me, and I know what you've told me...and all of that paints the picture of a guy too uptight to trust with anything out of the norm." She raised an eyebrow. "I can see why she came to me. That's all I'm saying."
Out of the norm? "Are you done?"
"There's a reason we're having this conversation right now. There's a reason your girlfriend didn't trust you to scratch her itch." She took a sip of her coffee. "Now I'm done. Any questions?"
He had many, and none of them were polite...but she wasn't wrong, either. They weren't off to a great start. "Let's start with why she's not telling me these reasons herself." Cameron glanced over his shoulder, hoping Chantelle might materialise before him at last. He was sadly disappointed. "Why is she hiding?"
"Because she's being punished."
At first, he wasn't sure he'd heard properly. "Punished?"
Isla sipped her coffee.
"What does that even mean?"
"It means I don't appreciate being taken for an idiot." Her smile faded to a sliver of its former glory. "She's being punished."
There was something in those three words that made Cameron’s skin crawl. Isla had carried an air of bemusement throughout his dealings with her so far, as if she found everything about the situation mildly humorous, but that had very abruptly been replaced by a grimness that could only be described as ominous. It unsettled him more than he cared to admit, and as he slowly rose to his feet her face grew even harder still. "If you've hurt her,” he began slowly, feeling his heart rate pick up. “I swear to God, I'll - "
"You'll what? Give me a scolding?" Isla's eyes were like chips of flint, her face deadpan. “Sit down, Cameron, she's fine. You're being stupid, for something different."
It's stupid to be concerned you're a psychopath with a bone to pick? "Take me to her, now, or I'm going to call the police. I'm not fucking around, Isla."
"Neither am I," was the chilly retort. "Sit down and shut up. Telly’s fine, and she'll still be fine when I take you to see her in a minute or two.” Isla’s glare could have bored holes in stone. “Sit. Down.”
They stared each other off for a long moment.
Disgusted, Cameron threw his arms in the air and did as he was told. "Start talking," he growled, drumming his fingers on the tabletop impatiently. "Now."
Isla's smile instantly began to resurface. He didn't appreciate that. "How familiar are you with kink?"
"Kink,” she repeated. “You know, weird sex things. Fetishes."
Cameron stared. "I...well, I guess I've heard of - "
"But you've never experimented yourself?"
I wouldn’t tell you even if I had. "That's...that's none of your business," he stammered, taken aback. "Why would - "
"Isn't it?" Isla's lips twitched. "What if I told you that your girlfriend was into some truly weird things, and that's why she came to me?"
"I'd say that if that was true, I'd know about it."
"And yet, here we are." Isla smiled at her companion. "Chantelle and I met on a dating website for kinky people. She was looking for someone to, and I quote, 'fulfil the fantasies her vanilla boyfriend would never understand.'" She sipped at her coffee, watching him over the lip of her mug. "That'd be you, lover boy."
That didn't sound like the Chantelle he knew at all, the quiet nerd who preferred the company of two stray cats to an actual roommate. She wasn't exactly the most adventurous person he'd ever met, whether that be concerning their sex life or what was for dinner, and to think that she might have being doing her adventuring behind his back simply didn't feel...well, right. It was out of character. He'd been happy with what they’d had, and she'd never shown any inclination that she hadn't been too. If she'd had weird kinks she wanted to indulge in, why hadn't she told him?
He frowned, pondering the possibility. "If you're lying to me - " he began uncertainly.
"What do I have to gain by lying to you, Cameron?"
She had him there. Cameron closed his mouth and sat back, eyeing his companion suspiciously.
"That's what I thought." Isla rose to her feet, leaving her coffee where it sat on the table. "I was rather upset yesterday when I found out my relationship has been an ongoing load of crap, as you might imagine, and I decided to take matters into my own hands. I think you'll agree that it's quite a suitable punishment. Shall I show you?"
"I guess," he agreed uncomfortably, finding his gaze drifting south to her bared midriff. "But what was she - "
"If you're happy to wait another thirty seconds," Isla answered calmly. "She can tell you herself." She smiled that same, coy smile one last time before leaving him at the table, disappearing down the hallway that led to his girlfriend’s bedroom. After a moment’s hesitation, he followed in her wake, cursing himself for not getting back in the car while he still had the chance.
Chantelle was a self-admitted neat freak, and her bedroom was one location where that quirk was particularly evident. It was a small, tidy shoebox with a desk and bed at perfect right angles with each other, both of which were free of clutter and clean enough to eat off. Her carpet and windows received frequent cleanings to purge dust and fingerprints, although today the latter was obscured by a thin membrane of frost. The greens and greys of the wintery world outside was invisible save for a number of blurred shapes that might have been trees...although today, Cameron had little interest in what lay outside.
No, he was interested in the blushing preteen on the bed, who was doing her best to convince some deity to smite her where she sat.
No, he was interested in the blushing preteen on the bed, who was doing her best to convince some deity to smite her where she sat.
“Um. Hi," Cameron said cautiously, not entirely sure what to make of the sudden appearance of an unfamiliar child. The girl might have been seven or eight years old, and she looked as if she’d only just opened her eyes after a lengthy nap. Her hair was a shapeless, auburn cacophony, and she was wearing a frilly pink nightdress that fell to her knees. Her face was lightly freckled beneath her glasses, although where the freckles ended and the red of her cheeks began was hard to say. He turned to Isla when the girl didn’t return his greeting. "Is this a joke? You said - "
"If I was joking, you'd know it." Isla flashed him a patronising smile before turning to the little girl on the bedspread, who continued doing her best to pretend she didn't exist. "Cameron, I'd like to introduce - or re-introduce, as the case may be - you to your dearest friend, Chantelle Blackmoore. As you can see, she's a bit young for you now, but, well..." she let out a raucous peal of laughter. "I don't think dating was on the cards anyway."
His temper struggled to break free of its chains. "This isn't funny," Cameron growled, although if he was being honest he was more confused than offended. He ripped his gaze from Isla and turned back to their young companion, who visibly flinched at the sound of his voice. "What, you got the poor girl up at the crack of dawn and brought her here to...what? Antagonise me?”
Isla said nothing. She simply grinned that same infuriating grin.
“You told me she was here. I swear to God, if you've stood me up, I'll - "
"Cam," the girl interrupted meekly. "Stop."
She at last turned her head to look at the adults in the doorway, and Cameron could see that her hands were trembling slightly. They wrung the hem of her dress like the world might end if they didn't. Tears began to drip from her eyes as he watched with deepening incredulity. "She hasn’t stood you up," Chantelle said in a thick, wet voice. "It’s me, Cam. I'm so, so sorry."