Condensation beads on my glass, droplets collecting to trickle down onto the tiny napkin beneath. The boredom of waiting for a delayed plane only to have it be cancelled is only slightly worse than the loneliness. But as I lift the glass to my lips, letting the sweet and sour liquid dull that wretched feeling, I feel the warmth of eyes on me.
As I look up, a slow smile pours over his face, crinkling his eyes before sliding down to curl his lips into that panty melting grin I hadn’t seen in months.
“Hey there, sweetheart,” he says, sliding onto the stool next to me. Over 6′ of sleek sinew and corded muscles beneath the clothes of a far less meticulous man, he always surprised me. Every time.
He finds me where the rest of the world neglects me. Today, in an airport bar after a few Amaretto Sours. A few months ago, in the airport parking lot searching for my stolen car. Earlier this year, in Nordstrom, certain that a new duvet would fill the gaping hole in my soul.
I swallow the last sip from my glass, surrendering to fate’s cruelest practical joke. “Let’s go,” I mumble, gripping his bicep as I move to stand.
His eyebrows lift before he turns to steady me. “How many of those have you had?” His chin lifts toward the glass and I realize I left the cherry.
As I shift to pick up the glass to retrieve it, the bar tilts making me laugh until his hands are pulling me up and against him. I look up into his pale eyes. “Maybe like three-” The bartender holds up his hand, fingers splayed to indicate five, pausing there before he lifts his other thumb. “Six? Holy shit.”
My voice sounds strange to my own ears. But it’s Owen’s that sounds the weirdest. “Why don’t we get you some dinner? Something to soak up some of that booze.”
As I work to focus on his face, his lips move again, but my fingers reach up to touch them. “Why bother?” Leaning into him, my throat stinging with the words that refuse to stay inside. “You’re just going disappear again.”
The bartender turns away as Owen winces. The pinch of his brows makes my stomach turn. Pushing off of him, I step back. But his fingers grip me.
I twist away, grabbing ahold of the barstool behind me, but it tilts too, and the spinning doesn’t stop. The bar jumps up and rams into the side of my head and as lights pop in front of my eyes, I feel my backside hit the floor. His knees land hard next to me, his arms tangled in mine where he tried to catch me.
He was never cold or cruel. Years of coming in and out if my life hadn’t made me hate him, because when he was there, he was perfect. He was the perfect man for me. Until he was gone.
His fingers press something soft against my temple. I squeeze my eyes closed as the pain registers hot and blinding across my skull. There are other voices, but my own groans muddy them. Then hands lift me. But my eyes won’t open.
“Stay with me, sweetheart.” His voice seems to be inside my head, gravel that feels like silk. “You’ve got to stay awake.” His hand squeezes mine, and it draws the pain in my head down, filling my chest. We’re moving, so I will my eyelids to lift. I want to see him. I need to see that he’s real.
“I’m awake,” I whisper as the light cuts white and angry into my eyes. We’re outside and rolling towards flashing lights. “I can get up. Please, no hospitals.” But they keep pushing me towards the ambulance.
Owen squeezes my hand again, “You need stitches, Lex. And an X-ray. You’re going to the hospital.” As the gurney stops and the paramedics shift to open the doors, he leans down. “I’m staying with you,” he says with a finality he shouldn’t get to exert. But he does.
A twenty minute ride passes in twelve, but the EMT checking my vitals and making sure I’m awake makes it feel like five. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and wonder what it would be like to have sex in one. I’ve truly had way too much to drink.
I close my eyes as they wheel me inside, my face hot and my fists clenched. But Owen presses his hand against the to of my head, and I realize he was telling the truth. He’s staying with me.
For now, at least.
He was spot on about the stitches and xray. They always say that adrenaline burns up the alcohol, but they’re wrong. Everything they are saying and doing to me is hilarious. As I make jokes about the nurse sewing a prettier face on me, Owen glares at me. But I don’t stop. Why should I care what these people think? I’m drunk off my ass at 2pm on a Thursday. Fuck ’em.
A doctor talks directly to him about the sprain in my foot as I watch two nurses having a silent but heated debate. I will one to hit the other, that would make all of this worth it. I always love watching people fight. It’s voyeuristic. A peep hole into people’s minds. And other people’s minds are far more interesting than my own.
“Lex, are you listening?” My eyes find Owen’s lips and I desperately want to suck on them. “He’s asking about your pain level.”
I shrug, trying to stifle a laugh. “Pain?” But the laughing makes it difficult to answer.
“Well, you’re probably going to feel it later. So I’ll write you a script.” The doctor is quite young, and I work to control the giggles still bubbling from my chest.
“Despite how it might appear, she can’t take much of anything. Maybe Tylenol.” Owen glances at me as the laughter dies.
How did he know that? Had I told him? I can’t remember. When would I have brought it up? My stare draws his gaze. But this time, I can’t look away.
“She also won’t follow any of instructions you give her unless they ‘fit’ her.” He makes air quotes and my cheeks burn. “She’s hyper in-tune with her body,” he says, taking the script from the doctors hand. “She always knows what’s right for her.”
I swallow a mocking remark about him being the exception to that rule. He’s the exception to all of my rules.
After more instructions and some signed forms, I’m told I can leave. My buzz slipping with humiliation, an aching foot, a throbbing headache, and an unwanted companion.
That’s a lie. He isn’t unwanted. I want him more than anything or anyone. But I know what comes next. What comes tomorrow. His absence.
Amidst the chaos of the past 60 minutes, he managed to find time to hire a car which picks us up directly from the ER, though I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed. Once we’re in the backseat, he turns to face me with blazing eyes. “What were you thinking?” His voice is low and thick, as he wraps his fingers around my wrist. “What if I hadn’t been there? What if some creep had been instead?”
His face is inches from mine and his grip on my arm is painful. “Let go,” I say twisting away. “Some other asshole would’ve taken me home, I guess.” I shake him off and turn toward the window. “What’s it matter?”
A sound close to a growl comes from his chest as he grabs and forces me to face him. But the petulance I’d been nursing since he spoke to the doctor dies instantly when I see his expression. “It matters to me,” he says, his eyes racing over every part of my face. “If you’re going to be so, so-” His fingers rise to tuck my bangs behind my ear before skimming down my neck. “So careless-”
The thought hangs in the air, incomplete. Deflating next to me, he releases my shoulder and sits back against the seat, letting his head fall and his eyes close. I watch him for several blocks, waiting for the lecture to resume. But it doesn’t.
I relax back into the seat as well, staring down at my fingers in my lap. It’s rush hour, as the driver makes the turn onto the ramp for the highway toward downtown. I glance at him, but he remains still and silent. “Could you finish something, for a change?” My voice is high but soft and I hate myself for it.
His eyes open and he turns them toward me. I look down, picking at the nail polish on my thumb. His hand lowers over mine, and I swallow a sigh as his fingers intertwine with mine. Lifting my hand to his lips, he kisses each knuckle softly. My forehead hurts with the pinch of my brows.
“I can’t finish. Not with you.” Bringing his other hand up, he turns my fingers around, kissing each finger tip, and then my palm. His voice is lower and raspier as he continues. “I know it’s a mistake. But it’s a mistake either way.” He presses my palm into his chest. “And you don’t seem to be able to find happiness without me-“
“What the fuck, Owen? Stop talking in riddles,” I yank my hand away, turning in the seat to face him. “Say something true and real, or just stop talking.” Realizing I’d shouted, I lower my voice and close my eyes. “Or just come home with me and do what you usually do so I at least don’t have to be alone.” My throat is tight, but I force the words free. “At least for tonight.”
His breath leaves his nose in a silent chuckle, and I squeeze my eyes shut hard, willing myself not to cry. But his arms come around me and pull me into him. “I don’t want you to be alone, ever,” he whispers against my hair.
I press against his chest, but he pulls me harder, releasing my seat belt, and tugging me into his lap. A sob breaks in my throat as he cradles me and kisses my forehead. “Then why do you leave me?” I say, giving voice to something I’m not sure I want him to answer.
His breath is constricted, so I lift my face to see him. His pale eyes shine in the fading light of day, but his face is as beautiful as it had ever been. He shakes his head slightly. “I always hope you’ll forget me. Move on with someone-“
“Don’t.” I slip my fingers around his face, holding it close to mine. “Tell me your reason.”
Staring into my eyes, I feel his body relax. “I love you too much to let you stay with me.”
My throat is dry and my head is throbbing. But I’m almost positive he just said he loves me. “What?” I straighten, pulling back so that I can see him clearly. “What?”
He breathes out a long sigh, releasing something I’d never noticed him holding onto with every muscle in his being. As it leaves him, his eyes brighten and his lips curve. “I love you, desperately, sweetheart. I think I have since the moment you climbed into my car that night at the airport.” His fingers find their way into my hair and he presses our foreheads together again. “It was the day my world turned upside down.”
As he speaks, my mind seems to clear in a way I haven’t felt in years. He’d been married before, and his wife had left him for his best friend. I knew he’d been divorced, but I couldn’t have imagined how horrible it ever could’ve been. They’d worked together to strip him of everything, embezzling from the company they worked for and framing him for the theft. It had been the perfect heist, because, in the end, they died in a boating accident leaving him with no recourse for clearing his name.
“I’ll be paying it off for the rest of my life,” he says as I lay my head on his chest. “I can’t offer you anything but a convicts future.”
He’d taken a job in finance at the airport, one that was under constant surveillance. His paychecks were garnished weekly, leaving him to buy his clothes used or discounted, but with great perks like per diem for dining at the airport and getting access to a car and driver. He always found me there, not because he was travelling, but because that was his life. I just happened to intersect with it on occasion.
The pieces fit together impeccably and cruelly. “You assumed I couldn’t want a man like you, and I was positive you just didn’t want a girl like me.” He stares at me with soft eyes, the lines around them deepened by the horror of the truth. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”
He shrugs, but keeps his gaze locked on me. “Because I want you to have the life you deserve,” he says drawing a finger over my lips. “I don’t want you to be shackled to a-“
“Shouldn’t I get a say in that?” I sit up, and grab his hands. “That’s pretty shitty considering the hand you were dealt that you are stuck playing forever.” Shaking my head, I let go of him and shift back into my own seat as the driver pulls up to the front of my building. “It’s really shitty since you must have been able to see how miserable I am.”
As I shift to open the door, his hand presses against my shoulder blades. “It is shitty, Lex.” I feel him shift toward me as his fingers slip through the hair curled down my back. “Is it shitty enough to make you forget me and move on?”
Turning to meet his eyes, the ache in my chest feels expands. I shake my head again slowly as I chew on the inside of my lip. But then we sit there, the silence draining all of the air from the backseat. Time feels like a water balloon with a pin hole, sitting their as pregnant as it can get just waiting for the surface tension to become too much for that tiny hole to withstand.
What do you say to someone who loves you so much that they would purposefully stay away because they think you are better without them? How do I trust that he won’t just disappear tomorrow? Couldn’t I just climb out of the car and walk away?
“No,” I whisper, turning toward him again. “I’ll never forget you and move on. And I’d rather get tiny pockets of bliss with you than a lifetime with someone else.”
That smile which starts with his eyes spreads down his face to turn his lips into a perfect crescent. “Tiny pockets? They’re a little better than tiny pockets, aren’t they?” His voice is like sunshine, warming every single part of me.
“Ok. Well, since I need you to get upstairs, I’ll give you that.”
The night turns into days. He doesn’t leave me this time, but takes me to his tiny apartment near the airport. We are different there, and I finally figure out how to fill the gaping hole in my soul. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and it isn’t perfect. Neither of us is perfect.
But he is perfect for me.