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Bad at Love by Karina Halle (1)

Chapter One

Laz

“Happens All the Time

It’s over.

We need to break up.

I think we should see other people.

It’s not you, it’s me.

The funny thing about that last line is that it’s the truth. It’s almost always me. It’s never the girl. To be honest, I’m pretty good at picking them.

They have to be pretty, or at least I need to be attracted to them, plus smart, interesting, and have a love or at least tolerance for the music I play.

They need to be independent.

They have to understand my process, a need to be alone and be creative.

They need to be sexually confident, or at least willing to experiment and have fun in bed. Sex is important.

And above all, they can’t get too serious about me. To borrow a phrase from Trooper, I’m here for a good time, not a long time.

I know that all seems like a tall order, but in Los Angeles there are a ton of girls who fit my criteria and with my Instagram account growing after going viral last year, they’re popping up everywhere, sliding into my DMs every day.

So, it’s not them. It’s me. Sometimes this happens at the one-month mark, often it’s three, but this time we just passed five months. It’s hard to predict and I don’t try. It’s not that I go into these relationships thinking it can’t progress into something serious, it’s just that it never does, and so now I expect that. Simone, of all my girlfriends, was the least clingy and most supportive of my artistic needs, and that’s probably why it lasted as long as it did.

But the sad fact is, today is the end of us.

As much as I really like Simone—she’s so easygoing and we have a great time together—I just don’t see it going anywhere. In fact, I know it won’t. She’s gorgeous and sweet and I know any normal guy would be lucky to have her by his side. But I’m not a normal guy and I just don’t love her. I like her and respect her, but the love thing isn’t happening. To keep it going would be unfair to both of us.

So, I’m standing outside the door to her apartment in Pasadena (secretly glad this will be the last time I’m stuck on the 134), running through all the things I have to say to her. I know I sound callous about the whole thing, but it’s honestly hard and something I don’t look forward to. I don’t want to hurt her, I don’t want to make her upset. I can only hope that somehow she knew this was coming, that I was putting out the signals, that it was inevitable.

Still, I’m nervous. I hate this. I take in a deep breath and steady myself before knocking on her door. The key to her apartment is in my pocket—she gave it to me a few weeks ago, the biggest commitment we’d made to each other yet—but I’m not about to use it for this.

Simone opens the door with a wide smile on her face. It’s the kind of smile that usually makes me smile in response but tonight I just can’t manage it.

“What’s wrong?” she says immediately. “Bad traffic?”

“It’s always bad traffic,” I tell her, stepping inside before I get cold feet.

She gently closes the door behind her and then folds her arms across her chest, her breasts popping out of her low-cut top. Simone has implants and they’re always on display. My friend Marina once asked if it bothered me that she walks around guys like that, but I said hey, if you’re going to pay to get that shit done, might as well get your money’s worth. I’m not a jealous guy.

“So, what is it?” she asks. There’s an edge to her voice.

I gesture to the couch. “Why don’t you sit down?”

“No,” she says firmly, chin raised. “I’d rather stand.”

Oh, she knows.

“Look,” I tell her, rubbing my hand at the back of my neck. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about for a while and I’m just going to come out and say it.” I glance at her warily. Her features have hardened into stone. She looks formidable. And that easygoing attitude is gone.

“Say it,” she says.

“I think we should see other people.”

Like a Band-Aid. Right off.

She raises an eyebrow. “Is that what you think?”

Yes.”

She shakes her head slightly, then shrugs. “If that’s what you want. I don’t mind.”

I study her, confused by her answer. “You don’t mind?”

She walks over to the couch and sits down, legs together, hands folded in her lap as she stares up at me with a nonplussed expression. “I’m okay with this, so long as we get to see each other still.”

Ah, shit.

I rub my lips together and cock my head. “Well…”

Her eyes widen. “Are you breaking up with me?”

“Yes. I guess I didn’t say it right, but

“You’re breaking up with me?”

“I’m sorry. I really wanted it to work out, Simone. I care about you a lot.”

“You’re not breaking up with me.”

Okay. This isn’t going like I thought. Usually the girl is crying by now, not arguing with me.

“I know it’s hard to hear and believe me it’s hard for me to say

“Bullshit, Laz,” she says. “I think I know you better than you know yourself.”

“I really don’t think that’s true.” If anything, I’m a guy who holds all his cards close to his chest. Like, really fucking close.

“You’re not breaking up with me,” she repeats. “End of story.”

Bloody hell.

“Look…” I tell her, trying to find the right words without being a total arse. “Simone. You’re one of the longest relationships I’ve ever had. I care about you. I like you. I like what we had, but that’s only because we’re quitting at the right time.”

“Oh, I ain’t quitting.”

“Right. But the thing is…we need to break up.”

“I disagree.”

I can’t help but laugh. “This isn’t something we can have a disagreement about. I don’t want to be in a relationship with you anymore. Okay? I mean, I’m sorry, I really am. It stings to say. But this is it.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

I roll my eyes. “Simone.”

“I’m serious, Laz. You’re talking crazy. Things have been perfect. Haven’t I been the perfect girlfriend for you?”

“You have been perfect,” I tell her. “Absolutely mint. But I don’t always want perfect. Doesn’t it mean something that I don’t want this anymore? I don’t love you. I’m sorry, but you deserve to be with someone who does.”

“Shouldn’t I get to decide that?”

“No.” I throw out my arms. “No, that’s not how this works. If I thought it was something I could work on, I would. But it’s not. So, I’m out.”

You’re not.”

Jesus.

I am.”

“Do you realize what you sound like?”

What?”

“A scared little boy. That’s what you are. A scared little boy. You know if you gave me time, you could fall in love with me. But you’re running because that’s what you do.”

I sigh, running my hand down my face. “Fine. That’s fine. But this is over. And I’m really sorry it had to be this way. I really am. But it’s over.”

She falls silent, stares at her hands. A part of my heart shrinks, starting to feel bad about it all. She’s been so carefree, so it really surprises me that she’s so defiant over our break-up. I kind of thought she’d be hurt yet able to accept it.

She glances up at me with tears in her eyes. “Are you going to write a poem about me?”

Ah, shit.

A poem.

This always comes up. I mean, how can it not?

“Do you want me to write a poem about you?”

“Will it be a poem about heartbreak? Will breaking up with me ruin you inside? Will this create some of your greatest work? Will I be in your book?”

Just run with it, I think. Run with it and get the hell out of here.

“Yes, of course,” I tell her. “This hurts me so much to do this to you.”

Which actually was all true…until she turned a break-up into a debate.

She smiles at me, a tear running down her face. “Okay. I’ll let you break up with me if you write about us. About me. About how destroyed you are on the inside. I want the world to read your words and know that I did it. I brought you to your knees.”

“Okaaaaay.” Then I nod firmly. “I will.”

I don’t know how I get out of that place, but I do. It takes a little more convincing on her behalf, both that I am actually breaking up with her and that I will write a poem about her. Finally, I’m able to hug her goodbye, put my key on her counter, and get out before she sucks me back into the vortex of denial.

Traffic is clogged on the freeway, as usual, so I’ve got nothing but time to sit in the car and think. There’s a bit of a pattern here and I’m not sure if it’s in my head or not. Poetry has never been considered a manly or sexy occupation, or at least it wasn’t when I was growing up in Manchester. In fact, I got my arse whooped often for scribbling down poetry and reading Keats when I should have been playing rugby or screwing chicks. The only thing that saved me was always being in a band.

Now, though, ever since I started posting my work online, things have changed. Over the last three years, my Instagram account and blog have caught on like wildfire, to the point where I officially have my first book deal with a major publishing house. It’s all done and being published in two months.

I know it’s absolutely ridiculous to have your fame via Instagram, especially as that fame doesn’t tend to leave that space, nor does it necessarily get a lot of respect. When people ask what I do, I just tell them I’m a writer with a book coming out soon. It doesn’t take them long to look me up and have it point to my account. A lot of the time, especially with women, they’ve either heard of me already or are following me. That’s what happens when you have one million followers. I don’t post pictures of myself, nor do I mention that I’m also a musician, but that doesn’t stop them from contacting me.

The more I think about it though, like how it all went down with Simone, the more I wonder if girls want to date me because they want me to write about them. Either with epic love poems or destructive sad poems. That’s food for a new piece itself.

Which lie do people want from me?

I’m so worked up by the time I finally get home to Studio City and find parking on the street, that I don’t even go into my apartment.

I go right across the street to the coffee shop.

And let out a huge sigh of relief when I see Marina at her usual spot by the front windows, typing away on her laptop, sipping on what I’m going to guess is a matcha latte with coconut milk and a splash of agave syrup.

“Hey,” she says to me with bright eyes, flashing me that big smile of hers. She’s so self-conscious about it, which I think is a bloody shame. No one should ever hold back on their smile—it’s like holding back on joy—and Marina’s is beautiful and kind. It’s the one thing that puts my heart at ease.

“Hey,” I tell her, slumping down into the seat across from her.

“Uh oh,” she says, snapping her laptop shut, the cover adorned with stickers from her company—Palm Trees & Honey Bees—and gives me her full attention. “What’s wrong?”

She’s used to this from me. Sometimes, like today, there is actually something wrong, but other times I’m just trapped in my head and being a moody little arse. She’s usually the person to get me out of it. Not to say she doesn’t give me shit, because she does, but she’s a lot more forgiving and intuitive than my other mates.

“I broke up with Simone.”

“Noooo,” she says with a harsh gasp. “Why? Why did you do that?”

I shrug. “I don’t love her.”

“Argh.” She leans back in her chair and stares dramatically at the ceiling, shaking her head so her long blonde hair goes flying around her face. “You idiot.”

“I’m not an idiot,” I say sharply, feeling defensive. “It had to be done.”

“But why?” She presses her fingers into the table and gives me a hard stare. “Why? It was, what, five months? You guys seemed so happy. It seemed like this could be it. How dare you? I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you!”

I frown. “Who is we?”

“No one, it’s T-Banks from ANTM.”

“T-Pain and what?”

“America’s Next Top Model, Laz.”

I have no idea what she’s going on about. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t think this would annoy you.”

“Well, it does,” she says. “Obviously I’m your friend and I just want you to be happy. And you seemed happy.”

“Seemed is the operative word. And I’m quite happier now, believe me. I think Simone was…well, I don’t know, but it turns out she wasn’t quite the person I thought she was.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“Hey, you’re supposed to be supportive.”

“I am supportive,” she says, picking up her mug and having a sip. Today, her nails are holographic pink. Marina doesn’t wear a lot of makeup but she always has her nails done. “But you’re thirty years old. And you have to ask yourself, at what point am I going to settle down? Actually put in the legwork and follow through with a relationship? Even Taylor Swift has to grow up someday.”

“Why on earth are you comparing me to Taylor Swift?”

A small smile creeps across her lips. “Because you’re both a fan of using relationships and break-ups for creative material.”

Ouch.

“That’s not fair,” I tell her. “I don’t break up with people just so I have something to write about.”

She just stares at me.

“I don’t,” I protest. “If anything, it’s the other way around. They go after me because they think I’m going to write about them. That same thing just happened with Simone.”

“They go out with you because you’re hot,” she says, then quickly looks away. An adorable flush begins to spread on her cheeks.

“Did you just call me hot?” I goad her, wanting her face to get even redder.

She gives a half-shrug. “Maybe. And, well, you are. And you know it. And everyone knows it.”

“When the girls contact me, it’s in a DM and they don’t know what I look like.”

“You’re lucky. When I get a DM it’s dick pics,” she mumbles. Then she sighs. “And looks aren’t always important with women. They fall for you because of your words, because of the person you are inside. Or the person they think you are.”

“You just said it’s because I’m hot.”

“It’s everything. You’re the full package. Believe me. There aren’t many guys out there that are funny, smart, hot, talented, and deep. Every girl dreams about a guy writing beautiful prose about her. Why do you think historical romances are so popular? They want that Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff whispering sweet nothings or penning out long and emotional love letters. They think that’s what you offer them.”

“I don’t really.”

I know that,” she says. “I know you’re completely insufferable. But they don’t. They’re in love with the idea of you.”

“Well, I don’t know how to fix that. And I don’t know if I should. After all, I broke up with Simone. It wasn’t the other way around.”

“You could fix it…” she says and then trails off, her bright blue eyes caught in some kind of tangent.

Part of me wants to press the issue, if not just to hear her opinion. But the other part wants me to push on. There’s nothing in my life that needs fixing.

“Anyway,” I tell her, “I’m not Taylor Swift, thank you very much. And what happened with Simone was a shame, but what can I do? Would you rather me stick it out with someone just for the sake of sticking it out? If you don’t love the person, what’s the point? You’re just leading them on.”

She nods, rubbing her lips together. “You’re right. I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Better luck next time.” She pauses. “Please don’t tell me you already have someone else lined up.”

Well…last week at Magic 8 Ball’s show in Burbank, there was a cute girl who caught my eye. Gave me her number.

Marina squints. “Don’t tell me it’s that girl from the show last week.”

I raise my palms in defense. “I’m telling you nothing. But yes, maybe it’s her. Maybe this fashion blogger or whatever you call them on Instagram. Fashion grammer.”

“You’re unbelievable,” she says. “Okay, how about for once you just stay single for a week? Just a week. Don’t contact either of those girls, don’t contact anyone. Just…be you. Alone.”

“No problem.”

“Yeah right,” she says under her breath. She turns her attention to her phone and presses the button so the time flashes on the screen. Her forehead creases and she looks to me with worried eyes.

“Hey, you don’t have any Ativan do you?” she asks, putting her palm out on the table like I’m a traveling pharmacist.

“Not on me, why?”

“I have a date tonight.”

I don’t know why I hate hearing the word date come from her lips, especially when she dates so often, but I do.

“What’s his name again?”

“David. David the doctor.”

“And what date is this?”

She purses her lips together comically and flutters them. “The third.”

I can’t help but smile. Poor Marina goes through this song and dance every single time. When she likes a guy, she never seems to get past the third date. When she doesn’t like them, it barely goes past one.

I don’t understand any of it. Marina is both gorgeous and cute, which is a brilliant combination. She’s also smart, has a good figure (excellent tits and arse if I do say so myself), has her own business (albeit an unusual one), and is a lot of fun. My friend Frank says he’d be all over her if she wasn’t so damn awkward, but the funny thing is, I think her awkwardness only makes her more endearing. And honestly, I wouldn’t let someone like Frank touch her anyway.

It probably helps that Marina and I get on like Donkey Kong. I’ve known her for four years now after meeting through my stepsister Jane, who now lives in Boston, and not only did we bond over a love of music, cult cinema, Police Squad, and Jeff Goldblum, but we get each other when many people don’t. It’s strange that in a city so big and full of so many different people, finding the right friends is hard.

“It will be fine,” I tell her, though honestly, I do feel this twinge of victory every time one of her dates doesn’t work out. I know. I’m a terrible friend—maybe it’s just a matter of misery loving company. I want her happy but I also feel like it’s the two of us against the world, the two of us against everyone else in a happy relationship.

“The third date is now becoming larger than life,” she says, and then gulps down the rest of her tea, leaving a faint green almond milk mustache on her lips. “It’s do or die.”

I smile at the sight of her and lean across the table, reaching out and wiping my thumb along her upper lip. She stills with widened blue eyes as I remove the excess foam and then lick it off my thumb.

“Did you seriously just do that?” she squeaks.

I shrug. She’s blushing again. I guess that was kind of weird but if I can’t be odd around her, who can I be?

I push past it. “Do you actually like this guy?”

“Yes,” she says emphatically. “He’s cute. He’s smart. I think we really have a good thing going.”

I want to ask if she’s slept with him, but I never have the nerve to find out and she never divulges that information. We may be good friends, but there are still some boundaries between us. Apparently, those boundaries don’t involve licking foam from her face.

“I need an espresso,” she says, getting to her feet.

“Bumble, you said you needed an Ativan, not coffee.”

She dismisses me with a wave of her hand. “You stay out of it.” Then she gives me a playful glare when she realizes I called her Bumble.

I don’t always use her nickname, but it’s a good one. Marina loves bees but she’s more of a bumble bee than a honey bee. She doesn’t sting, though she’ll tell you it’s because she’s big and fluffy and acts like a bumbling fool. Girls always have a knack for twisting every nickname around.

She orders her espresso, slams it back at the counter, and then gets an Americano to go, coming back to the table to gather up her stuff.

“Marina,” I say patiently as I eye her drink. “You know how you get when you have too much caffeine.”

She dismisses me with a smile and a shake of her head, her blonde hair catching the light spilling in from the window. “I need it.”

“You need something all right. Anyway, good luck with your date. Lucky number three this time.”

“Thanks,” she says brightly. A little too brightly. The caffeine is hitting her hard. Thankfully David is a doctor.

She slings her messenger bag over her shoulder and leaves. My eyes can’t help but rest on her arse as she goes, hips swinging from side to side. She’s wearing her “butt exploiting” jeans as she calls them, and they show off every firm curve. For a second, I feel a tiny bit jealous of David the doctor.

Then it passes, as it always does.

I get a coffee, take out my phone, and start looking through my Instagram DMs.

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