Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ten

She was still asleep when I woke.  The sun barely reached the foot of her bed.  I hauled her farther up and tried to memorize the way her cheek felt pressed flat against my chest.  it was like the night of her birthday party, only better.

Eventually she came around, I felt her move.  I waited for her to squeeze against me, nuzzle her body into mine.   and a second later she gasped.  Kara sat bolt upright, eyes wide like she was surprised to find me in her bed.  Glancing down at herself, she snatched the sheet up to her chest.  It just revealed more of me.

“Oh God, I thought I dreamed that.”

I laughed.  “Have those dreams about me a lot?”

Her eyes wandered down my stomach before snapping back up.  “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Well I’ve had some pretty good…,” but I didn’t get to finish.  Kara took a tiny, ragged breath and immediately started to cry.  Instinctively I tried to calm her, reaching out.  “Shhh, Kara it’s okay.”

The venom in her voice surprised me.  “It’s not okay!  This is… this is exactly what I promised I wasn’t.  The only fights Brendan and I ever have are about you.  About you and me and how this was the only place it could end up.”

The mention of his name – here, with us like this – was a kick to the gut.

“I didn’t think this would ever happen,” I admitted in defense.  “I’ve always liked you but….”

“I got furious when he was jealous of you because it was just him calling me a liar.  Like we couldn’t be friends.  And now I am the liar.  I am the starfucker he was always afraid of.”

She spat the word; it must have tasted as bad as it sounded.  Kara rolled away, pressed her face to the mattress.  I ran one hand across her bare back soothingly, but she flinched at my touch.

“Kara, we didn’t….”

“I know,” she said into the pillow.  “I remember.”

That made me feel better.  For her to have woken only to shame, without the memory of anything else would have been devastating.  She must have felt some of what I felt.

“Please, Kara.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have come over here when we were drunk or kissed you at the club.”

She breathed in, a wobbly sound full of tears.  “I wanted that.  I let you in here and….”

“You were drunk.”  I was trying so hard to make her feel better I’d even give it all away.

“No.”  Her voice was more solid.  “I mean yes, but I knew what I was doing.”

I touched her back again, she stayed still beneath my fingers.  “So now you know.  I want this, Kara.  I have wanted you for so long and….”

“Is that why you were my friend?”

It was like a concussion grenade – everything went silent and still for a moment that seemed endless.  If there were anything further from the truth, I didn’t know it.  If she believed me capable of such a thing then she really didn’t know me at all.  How could I love someone who didn’t even know me?  It scared me, and in fear I felt angry.

“No!   You really think this whole time I’ve just wanted to get in your pants?!”

“I,” her voice broke and the tears came again.  Instantly I regretted raising my voice.  “No, Steven.  No.  But he thought that.”

“Of course he did.  It would be easier for him that way.”

She finally lifted her face to look at me.  Behind the tears here eyes were greener than ever, so glassy they refracted light.  I put my palm flat on her back, touching as much of her as possible with a single hand.  She let my hand lay warm across her hip – a place I’d never touched her before.

“It would be easier for him if I wasn’t crazy about you.  He doesn’t want to lose you.  I understand that.”

“But he trusted me,” she whispered and I could hear how disgusted she was.  “He gave me a hard time but he trusted me.  And I didn’t deserve it.”

“You deserve to be happy.”  It was time for the big pitch, I slid a little closer.  Only a sheet and the remnants of last night’s clothing separated us.  “Let me make you happy, Kara.  You know I could.”

She closed her eyes and I knew I was right.  Even if she couldn’t admit it, she knew I could be the guy.

“I need to think, Steven.  I’m so… ugh, I hate myself right now.  I don’t trust myself.”

My stomach dropped.  Did she hate me?  Had I really ruined everything?

“I trust you,” I told her.

“You know you can’t.”

I shook my head.  “I trust you will choose what you really want.  I hope you just did.”

It was a big risk and a huge liberty.  But I leaned toward her tear-stained face and gently put my lips to hers.  It felt like taking off in a hang glider – one minute you’re on your feet, the next they’re pulled out from under you as you sail across the sky.  She whimpered slightly as I slid my tongue past hers, my body moving and winding close.  I couldn’t forget, so I’d make sure she didn’t either.

And then I left.  How I found the strength I will never know, but I unwrapped myself from around her mostly bare body, hauled myself out of her warm bed and went back to my empty apartment.  She looked so small and vulnerable curled in the sheets, her hair a perfect mess and her eyes closed though she was wide awake.

In my place, I put my head against the wall we shared and prayed that I hadn’t just destroyed my chance.  But I had gone far enough and would have to learn to wait.
____

I threw up twice after Steven left, whether from the drinking or the other stuff I don’t know.  But I lay on the cool tile floor of the bathroom for a while, furious at myself for letting it get this far.  I shouldn’t have danced with Steven, I shouldn’t have kissed him or let him into my apartment.

Or I should have dumped Brendan first.

Because the second Steven kissed me I knew that’s where this was going.  Regardless of what happened with Steven, I could not stay with Brendan.  Not after this.  I’d already let it go way too long.  

Yes, a lot of work that had gone into making me and Brendan a couple.  But it had taken one guy carrying one box about one minute to undo it.  If it were meant to stand, it wouldn’t have been so easy to knock down.

I crawled into the bedroom, staying at floor level like the place was on fire.  My phone was plugged into the wall - I hadn’t even bothered to take it out with me last night.  There were three missed called from Brendan.  

I wonder if he called while Steven and I were making out right here?

All we had done was kiss.  And touch.  A lot of touching, and even through the haze of liquor I remembered every single inch of his body that passed beneath my hand.  The places that brushed my leg, pressed against my stomach, the strong fingers that held my shoulders still while he kissed me like it was the last thing he would ever do.

Good thing I was already on the floor.

There had been a moment the morning, when I first moved in bed and felt his arms around me, that I was relieved.  He was here, this was real.  Because all the running around was wearing me out.  Fighting with Brendan, ignoring Steven’s glances, it was taking a lot out of me.

Then I realized what it meant.  I’d done exactly what I’d been fighting so hard for months.  A few drinks and I forgot the kind of person I wanted to be.

“Hey,” Brendan said when he picked up.

I burst into tears.  Very helpful.

“Hey, hey, are you okay?”

I drew a deep breath and just said, “I want to break up.”

The only sound was my uneven breathing.  It seemed to go on forever until I thought he was just going to hang up and I’d never hear from him again.  But the least I could do, after what I’d done, is wait.

“Did you sleep with him?”

“No.”  Thank God.

“Do you love him?”

I closed my eyes and thought about the look on Steven’s face, less than an hour ago, saying he could make me happy.  Asking me to choose what I really want.

“I think so,” I whispered.  It was like a courtroom, waiting for the jury foreman to read the verdict.  Just a normal person, no authority except what other people have given her, passing sentence on other people’s lives.

“I...,” Brendan’s voice caught.  If he cried too I would lose any shred of composure left.  he may have put the phone down because this silence was even longer than the last.  When he finally came back on the line, his voice was shaky.

“He’ll hurt you, Kara.  This honeymoon you’re on will end and you’ll be left behind.  I don’t want to see you in a gossip column.  He’s what, twenty one?  I thought you were serious.  I thought you wanted something serious.  And you’re walking away from everything we’ve done for a kid?”

There was no use in telling him Steven was as mature as he’d ever be.  That he was a stronger, better person than I was, age be damned.  I just let Brendan say what he needed to say.  Eventually and without yelling, he talked himself out.

“I’m sorry, Brendan.  I really am.  But even if I end up alone, this is what’s right for me.  I’m sorry.”

He exhaled deeply.  “Let me see you.  I’ll be home tomorrow, let’s talk about this.”

“My answer will be the same.”

Brendan didn’t like that.  “You mean you’ll already be with him.  That’s what you wanted, right?  To move in with me?  You didn’t get it so you’re getting it somewhere else.”

“I’m not moving.”

He scoffed.  “You don’t have to, do you?  He’s right there, all the time.  I can’t compete with that, Kara!  I should have asked you to move in with me, I get it now.  I didn’t think it was the right time.  And I certainly didn’t think you were gonna run off with another guy!”

“I’M NOT RUNNING!” The volume of my own voice scared me.  But I had been patient and now I was done.  “We’re done, Brendan.  I should have ended it sooner but I wanted this to work.  I tried, I tried so hard.”

“Save it, babe.  The only thing you did was keep me on the line till you knew he was hooked.  Steven Fucking Stamkos.  Well enjoy your life, Kara.  I hope he takes good care of you.  That is, until someone better comes along.”

I hung up before he could.  That was my last word.  Then I lay there on the floor and cried for a long time.  Part of me wanted to curl up and die because some of his words were true.  He could throw insults all day but a few of them were things only he would know, things that I’d proven myself to be.  The rest of me wanted to call Steven to come over and kiss me one more time before smothering me with a pillow for the way I’d treated him too.
____

It wasn’t easy.  Kara was silent for two days.  I never even knew if she was home or not.  My one text went unanswered so I slid a note under her door: Miss you, back in a week.  Then we left on a road trip.

She didn’t Facebook or Twitter while I was gone, so I had no sense of what she was thinking.  The waiting was the hardest part.

“Dude, what is wrong?” Downie growled.  It was late at night and late in the trip – and I was staring at the ceiling, trying to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.  I hadn’t said anything to anyone because Kara belonged as much to the team as she did to me.  But I was going crazy.

“Let me guess, you asked Kara to marry you and she said no.”

“Shutup, Steve,” I said.

“She got a restraining order against you.”

“Fuck off.”

“You found out she slept with Vinny.”

“WHAT?!” I practically leaptedout of the bed.

He laughed cruelly.  “Calm your tits, Stammer.  Of course she didn’t.  But I knew you were all buttsore about her.”

I gave up and said, “I kissed her.”

Now it was his turn.  “WHAT?!”

“I kissed her, followed her home, climbed onto her balcony, kissed her again, passed out and woke up in her bed mostly naked.”

Even in the near-darkness I could see his mouth hanging open.

“You climbed in?  That is some stage-five stalker shit.  Did you guys….”

“No.”

“Why not?”  Classic Downie.

“Drunk.  We would have regretted it.”

“Did she want to?”  For a douchebag, Downie could sometimes ask the perfect question.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said honestly.  She’d been riled up.  But whether it was for or just a brew of hormones and beer, who knew.

“And now?”

“Obviously not.”

He dropped back to the mattress.  “Wow, that’s major.  I know how much you love her.”

I love her.  Of course I did.

“What should I do?”

“Call her right now.  Wake her up.  Tell her you love her and you’re coming straight to her place from the plane.  If she doesn’t want you she’d better move out because you’re not going away until she admits that she loves you too.”

I laughed sarcastically – more of a bark really.  “You’re insane.”

“Call her.”

“No!”

He sat up fully in bed, crossing his legs underneath his body.  It was a serious pose to match his serious tone – one we rarely ever heard.

“Steven.  I know I fuck around a lot.  But I know you and I know you’re not going to be able to get out of your head until this is sorted out.  Even if she tells you to die and throws the phone off the balcony, it’s better for you than waiting and guessing and flopping around like a fucking fish over there because you’re too guilty to even jerk off to the idea of her wanting you that night.”

I started to argue but it caught in my throat.  This guy was a mind reader.

“Bro, seriously.  Call her.  Apologize.  Beg.  Say you’ll go away forever.  But do something because we have two days left and you’re not gonna make it.”

He was too nice to point out I hadn’t played well on the trip.  Not badly, just not the spectacular streak I’d been on lately.  Something had been slightly off in my game and now he knew, as I did, exactly what it was.  I grabbed my phone off the bedside table and went into the bathroom.

It was after two in the morning.  I speed-dialed her number before I could come to my senses.  It wasn’t until the second ring I realized that she might be with him.

I’ll die.

The line clicked on, followed by a brief muffled sound and a moment of silence.

“Kara?” I said quietly.

“Are you okay?”  Her voice was thick with sleep and confusion; she’d probably dropped the phone or pulled it right into bed with her.  My body quivered at the thought of her soft sheets and cozy blankets, the warmth cocooned around her body.  I ached to hold her in the darkness with nothing in the world to disturb us.

“Yeah, I’m okay.  Sorry to wake you.”

“Oh, ‘s okay.”  She wasn’t trying to wake up.  Bedding shifted as she crawled in deeper to a place she felt perfectly safe.  And then she said, “I miss you.”

My heart stopped, I could have burst into tears.  He wasn’t there.  She was alone.  And she missed me.

“I miss you too.”

“Don’t wanna fight, Steven.”  I pictured her rubbing her eyes like a sleepy cartoon character.  She’d be a little turtle or a bunny.  My name was mumbled but it sounded perfect.

“We’re not fighting.”

“You’re mad at me.”

“No no, sweetie, I’m not mad.  I’m sorry for what I did, I should have done it right.”

“But you left.”

I had left.  I had come in uninvited and left without permission.  As if I could just do whatever I wanted, when all I wanted was to be with her.  This was no time to argue.

“I’m sorry.  I wanted to stay, but I wasn’t sure you wanted me.”

Silence filled the line, the bathroom where I sat against the cool tile floor.  It filled the space between whatever city we were in and Florida, every molecule of air was replaced by the sound of her saying nothing in return.  If she waited long enough, the world would suffocate.

“Just come back.”

“Two days, I’ll be there in two days.”  

“Night Steven.”

I hung up the call, looked at the phone in my hand and said, “Love you.”
____

“So?” Downie asked first thing in the morning as he threw open the curtains and let the aggressive sunlight fill the room.

After talking to Kara, I’d fallen asleep immediately.  Just like that.  “She misses me.”
He smiled – probably because it was all fair game again.  “She misses you naked in her bed.”

“Downie!”

“What?!  I’m just saying.  You left her wanting more and now she wants it.  Taking lessons from Uncle Downie here, you’ve been watching me work.  It’s impressive, I know.  Let’s see if it’s enough to get your sorry ass laid.”

I threw a pillow, dodged a sock and headed for breakfast.
____

That night I couldn’t find my phone anywhere in the room.  I turned my side over once and was about to do it again when Downie, Marty and Malone came waltzing in.

“Looking for this?” Downie held up my phone.

“Yes, asshole.”

“Nope,” Malone took it from his hand, palmed it behind his back.  “We’ll tell you if she calls.  But no calling her.  You’re just going to mess it all up.”

“I’m not going to call her!” I said.  But I totally was.  Or at least a text.  I’d been thinking about it all day – something nice to remind her that she missed me, but not too aggressive.  So far I hadn’t come up with anything.

“Leave it,” Marty said, taking the phone from Malone.  But he slipped it into his pocket.  “Stammer, give her tonight.  She’s not going to forget you.”
I could take one of them – definitely Marty – but not all three.  And all my agonizing hadn’t gotten me anywhere anyway, I’d just stare at the phone all night and not do anything.  So I let them win.

“If this backfires, I’m getting myself traded,” I warned them.
____

Finally.

We were descending into Tampa Bay.  I had been tapping my foot so loudly that Vinny put a book on my thigh.  I just tapped the other one instead.  Then I used the same pace to jog to my car.

“Easy killer,” Downie shouted.  “Remember to hold her hair back or she can’t breathe.”
Only Malone would laugh at that.  “Don’t hurt her, Stammer.  She’s probably never seen someone so pale.”

They probably never saw the middle finger I waved back.

I parked and went right to her door.  It was like riding in the backseat of your own car – a whole new perspective.  I’d chosen a suit I knew Kara liked and I wore it with the tie off and shirt open at my throat.  In the visor mirror I looked the same as always – I hoped it would be enough for tonight.  One of her lights was on.  So I rang the bell.

“Hey.”

She wore broken-in jeans and an old U2 concert t-shirt, no shoes and no makeup.  Her smile was tentative as she stepped back to let me in. The first good sign.  With the door closed we stood there, nearly touching, in the narrow entryway and stared at each other.  It all came tumbling out.

“Kara, please….”

“Steven, I….”

“You’re so important and I can’t….”

“I was so afraid of being that girl who…”

She laughed at us talking over each other, and so I waited to be sure it was my turn.  I looked into those sparkling green eyes knowing full well this was the last chance I was ever going to get to make this work.

“I have wanted you for so long, Kara, that I didn’t give you a minute to think.  I’m sorry if I made you do something you didn’t want to.”

After a moment she replied.  “I felt so trapped by what Brendan thought – it was either do what he wanted or prove him right.  I couldn’t make myself move.”

“So I did it for you.  I had no right, and I’m so sorry.”

Kara put her hand on my bare forearm.  The hallway was barely wide enough for us to face each other and I was looking down into her beautiful face.

“I’m glad you did it.  I was so scared I might never have done anything.”

I heard her words but I couldn’t let myself believe them.  She’d said everything but what I really wanted to hear, and nothing else would suffice tonight.  So I waited for her this time, waited for her to get all the way there under her own power.

“I want this, Steven.  I want you.  If… if you still want me.”
_

1 comment:

  1. Such a fantastic chapter! I hope this isn't the end!

    ReplyDelete