|In His Arms She Fell
Author: Sable Queenie PM
She's an 18 year old girl with dreams too big for her small town. He's a jaded NASDAQ executive who has everything but dreams of nothing. When their paths cross by chance they come to discover that both life & love are anything but what they imagine. COMPLETE.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 36 - Words: 341,935 - Reviews: 435 - Favs: 285 - Follows: 240 - Updated: 12-26-12 - Published: 04-04-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2905159
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
April 3rd, 2:30 a.m.
Lila had been watching the ceiling fan turn above her for the past hour or so. The white blades spun around and around in a slow repetitive motion that given how long she'd been awake, threatened to lull her into sleep, but she stubbornly continued to fight the urge. Turning her head to the right, Lila waited and listened for a moment then slowly pushed back the sheet covering her body and stood up from the bed. She inched her way to the bathroom door through the dark bedroom so as not to make any noise, then when the door closed behind her she let out a low, heavy sigh and let her back collapse against it. She shut her eyes.
It was over. A blur of hours later, and the whole ordeal was over. She could go home and try to forget. Where she'd thought she'd feel relieved by now though, Lila only felt numb, hollow.
Her hands balled into fists as her throat simultaneously tightened with the beginning of a lump forming in her throat. She couldn't cry. She wasn't going to cry.
Lila's hand reached out for the light switch on the wall next to her and the bathroom lit up to reveal her reflection in the mirror. When her eyes adjusted to the sudden light, she opened them again and reluctantly stared back at herself in the glass. Her hair hung around her shoulders in tumbled waves. Her eyes had little, tired shadows under them. Nothing about her had changed...
But everything had.
April 2nd, 11:33 a.m.
"'Overall forecast for the day; wave goodbye to those cool temperatures for a while, folks. We're looking at nothing but steady numbers in the high 70's, low 80's for the rest of the week. Outside it's a perfect 74 degrees, and you can expect that to climb up into the low 80's by the end of the afternoon. Tonight, a slight possibility of scattered showers..."
From behind the counter in the kitchen, Lila only heard the meteorologist's forecast about the temperature being in the 70's. She had just taken two slices of toast out of the toaster to set on a plate that already contained the rest of her brunch (scrambled eggs, bacon and a small cluster of green grapes) when the sound of the door buzzer made her pause.
Surprised, she went over to the intercom, held down the button and called out, "Hello?"
"Well good mornin' to you, ma'am. I was just wonderin' if I could kindly borrow a cup of sugar off of ya..."
Despite its poorly masked Southern tone, it only took her a second to recognize Victor's voice, making Lila smile, "Nope, fresh out. I'd try the couple in 14B."
"Well now, that's all right," He replied. "If you don't have a bag of Domino, I reckon I can just plop you in a cup-you're sweet enough to do just fine, right?"
Envisioning the charming smile on his face, she rolled her eyes as she pushed the button, "Just get up here and tell me what you want." In a few minutes, she opened the door at the sound of the knock on the other side of it, then blinked in surprise.
Victor was there, but her gaze almost instantly shifted up to look at a little girl that looked to be around 6 or 7 sitting on his shoulders.
"Hey there!" He smiled.
"H-hi," She smiled back, briefly looking back up at the girl. "And um...who's this?"
"The current lady in my life, the keeper of the keys to my heart, the most beautiful thing on two legs-under the age of 19, of course," He winked as he lifted the girl off his shoulders to stand in front of his legs. "Lila, this is my daughter, Melody. Melody, sweetheart, this is Daddy's very good friend, Lila."
Lila's mouth fell open, "Daughter? You...you have a daughter, Victor?"
"Looks that way, huh?"
"Wow...wow," She laughed a little, shaking her head. "You never said a word...not ever..." She noticed Melody was still staring up at her, so she bent down and extended her hand, smiling, "Hi there, Melody. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," The girl replied softly, shaking Lila's hand briefly but still continuing to lean back against Victor's legs.
"Well I was just about to sit down to eat," Lila said as she straightened. "Anyone hungry?"
"I want some Cheerios, Daddy," Melody looked up at Victor at the question.
"Well Miss Lila might not have Cheerios, hon-" He began, but Lila cut in,
"Do you like Frosted or Honey?"
"Come on in then," She stepped back to let them in. As Melody immediately ran in, Victor returned her smile with one of his own as he slowly walked through the threshold. When they came into kitchen, they saw Melody standing on her tip toes at the counter (in all probability looking for her Cheerios), so Lila patted her back briefly, "How about you watch some TV while I get those Cheerios? Do you like Dora the Explorer?" When she nodded, Lila gestured to the living room, "The remote's on that couch and it's channel-"
"I know!" Melody cut in as she ran into the adjacent room, as if almost incredulous Lila would insinuate otherwise.
Victor and Lila chuckled as they watched her plop on the couch and the TV screen immediately lit up with the vibrant colors of the children's TV show. Turning to him, she smiled, "So; Cheerios for you sir, or would you like some toast and bacon?"
Victor chuckled again, "None for me, thanks. But thank you for being so understanding about having your TV commandeered by Nick Jr."
"Nooot a problem," Lila shook her head as she went to the pantry for the cereal. "My baby brother and sister kept it on a constant rotation at home too."
"You never told me you had a baby brother and sister." He tilted his head in interest, leaning back against the counter.
"And you never told me you had a daughter," Lila shrugged. "So I guess that makes us even."
Victor noticed the pointed look she gave him at that and smiled sheepishly, "Yeah, surprise surprise, huh? It's not that I didn't want you to know, or that I was ashamed of it or anything..." He sighed and shook his head, lowering his voice a little, "The situation's just a little complex, that's all."
"Ye-ah..." His voice trailed off as he self-consciously looked over at Melody on the couch again. "I was basically still a kid, midway through college. Me and her mom," He shook his head. "It wasn't anything serious. We just went out a few times, and...obviously got a little careless. Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to tell her to go to a clinic, so she decided to keep it. And I hate to have to admit it, but I guess I still just wasn't ready. My folks are pretty traditional, and they went ballistic when they found out, Kim's parents wanted me to drop dead and I was already juggling school and internships and...well, let's just say I wasn't Daddy of the Year at first."
"You weren't a part of her life?"
"Not particularly no," Victor admitted. "After graduation Kim moved back to Staten Island, and I stayed here in Manhattan to get my master's degree from NYU. She brought Melody to town every now and then, but not often enough. It wasn't until after I got hired at NASDAQ that I even started to get to see her at least one weekend a month."
Lila blinked in disbelief. "That's it? That's how often you get to see your daughter?"
Victor nodded wryly, "Yeah. Dealing over a table at NASDAQ with corporate windbags makes you tough, but dealing with Kim over our daughter is how I got balls of steel."
He shrugged, smiling a little, "Just the way it is, I guess. And besides, I savor the weekends when I do have her. I'd like to think I've gotten the hang of being a Daddy pretty well over the last few years."
"I'm sure you have," She smiled, picking up the bowl of Cheerios she'd poured along with a glass of milk then walked over to the living room where Melody was still on the couch engrossed by Dora the Explorer. "There you go sweetie," She put them down on the coffee table in front of them.
"Do you like Dora?" Melody asked as dug into the Cheerios.
Lila smiled and nodded, "Sure do. I watched it with my brother and sister all the time." Easing down next to her, she continued, "I always had a little bit of a crush on Diego, actually. What do you think; isn't he cute?"
"He's a boy," Melody scrunched up her face in reply, making Lila and Victor laugh.
"Guess you're right about that; Dora's way cooler, huh?"
They continued watching Dora the Explorer, then a few cartoons after that, during which Melody and Lila continued to talk and comment about them with each other. Victor chimed in occasionally, but for the most part sat in the adjacent recliner with a light, reflective smile on his face as he watched them.
Finally, as the credits were rolling for "Blues Clues", Melody asked him, "Daddy, are there gonna be blue dogs at Coney Island?"
"Iiiii don't think so, sweetheart," He replied, exchanging a smile with Lila. "But I betcha they'll be clowns there with blue noses!"
"And red noses?"
"And red noses! And with orange hair, and big pants and shoes, and pretty balloons they twist into animals!"
Melody smiled in delight, "'Then I wanna go now!" Turning briefly to Lila, she pointed at her, "Is Lila coming?"
"Uhhh, I don't know," Victor smiled knowingly at her again. "Why don't you ask her if she'd like to come?"
"Wanna come to Coney Island with us? There's gonna be clowns, and rides and popcorn!"
"Wow, that really sounds like a lot of fun Melody, but I actually have some-"
Victor suddenly cleared his throat, standing up from his chair and clapping his hands together, "Hey Melody, tell you what sweetheart; how about you try and go potty now, and then we'll get down to Coney Island, see the clowns and ride the roller coaster 'til we puke?" Waiting until she'd jumped from the couch and ran off to find the bathroom, he turned to Lila, his trademark smile of persuasion on his face, "Come on, if that doesn't sell you on the idea, I don't know what will!"
Lila laughed, "Yeah, well as much as I'd love to puke my guts out, there are some things I really need to do around the house today instead."
"You're honestly gonna tell me you'd rather Spring Clean the house than go to Coney Island? Have you ever even been there?"
"No, I haven't actually-"
"Exactly. No one who ever had would ever pick anything over going there on a day as perfect as this one. So, I think it goes without saying that you need to have the experience to join the club."
"Some other time, maybe."
He tilted his head, completely unphased, "No time like the present."
Lila tilted her head back and groaned good-naturedly then looked up at him and shook her head, smiling. "You know you really can't talk to me into doing everything, Victor. I do have the right to say no sometimes."
"And I have the right to convince you to say yes; looks like both of us get to enjoy the freedoms the good old U.S. of A gives us, huh?"
"Well I didn't know being so pushy was one of them."
"I prefer the term, 'determined', but if 'pushy' gets you on The Wonder Wheel, I'll take it."
She chuckled, sighing, "Victor...I really need to get some things done around the house today. I've been letting this place go to pieces for the past week because I've let how "determined" you are decide what I do with my evenings, remember?"
"All I 'remember' is you deciding to stop making a house slave of yourself to come out and have a good time. Nothing else to do in a penthouse you've been alone in for the past week and a half, right?"
"There's plenty to do in a penthouse you're left alone in, trust me," Lila replied with another sigh. "Plenty I haven't been getting to."
"And you won't today either," Victor finished for her. "Know why? Because you're gonna eat cotton candy. You're gonna ride The Wonder Wheel, you're gonna have clowns scare the shit out of you, and you're gonna watch the sun go down on the Boardwalk. With me."
They shared another silent smile for a long moment, during which Lila could tell he was concocting even more rationalizations in his mind should she continue to turn him down. It was moments like these where Lila vaguely remembered what he'd said the Monday after the weekend of her birthday...when he'd said they were friends and that's all they had to be. It had been about a week and half since then, and though the words hadn't changed she wasn't in denial enough to say that their actions hadn't at least seemed to dictate otherwise.
She may have been alone at the penthouse overnight while Keith was in London seeing to business, but she'd been anything but alone during the day and evening.
Victor had all the time in the world.
Lila's emotions had been experiencing changes for the past week or so, changes even she didn't fully understand. For almost a year, all of her feelings about life had been tied to Keith in some way, and even though Keith had forced her to bury those feelings, she had started to feel again...but this time, for someone else.
Victor was far from perfect. Even if she had ultimately chosen not to believe Jason's charge that he was a flatout, untrustworthy liar, Lila knew he had more than his share of character flaws. But that didn't change things about him that had come to touch her in ways that no one had before. Even now Lila couldn't look back and recall a time when she'd felt more special and appreciated than she had on the stage at Smoke Jazz on the night of her birthday. As he sang he'd stared and smiled at her like she was the only woman in the world, as if it didn't even matter if he might have been doing something silly in serenading someone with 'Happy Birthday Baby' because (as he'd said himself) it was for her. All for her. And that night wasn't the extent of it either; Victor's eyes always lit up when he saw her. He stared at her when she smiled or laughed with a serene expression that made it seem as though he'd rather do anything else but look away. He was interested in what she was interested in, going out of his way to discuss and indulge her in whatever it might be. He constantly complimented her, paying so much attention to details about her appearance or what she was wearing that Lila had unconsciously started to take more care in getting ready for work in the mornings.
Ever since she'd first met him it had been apparent to Lila that Keith was wholly taken with his work. She'd accepted that with no complaint. ...But ever since the day she'd first met Victor he'd seemed to be wholly taken with her. It was a foreign, but undeniably gratifying feeling; being desired, flattered...wooed. Growing up Lila had always been and thought of herself as somewhat of a Plain Jane. She'd been skinny, had closely cropped hair, a wardrobe composed almost entirely of t-shirts and jeans and had no conception of how to even mimic sex appeal.
But even though all of that had changed since coming to New York she still felt little change from how Keith viewed and treated her. The night of the Christmas gala was the only instance she could think of when she'd looked at him and seen him looking back at her like she really was more than just the country girl he'd met by a highway-but that had only been because she'd been in heavy makeup and a pretty gown. He didn't make any sacrifices or commit very much of his time to her enjoyment. She could count on one hand the amount of times he'd ever even told her she was pretty, much less beautiful.
And he had never told her that he loved her. Not once.
Lila understood that he didn't. She'd had to for all this time; that wasn't the problem. The problem was that she'd been forced to understand that fact one too many times lately. Ways that hurt. Being with Keith had hurt her-and for all intents and purposes, he hadn't cared.
But Victor did.
"You're a busy man with a busy career," She finally stated with a small smile that already held her answer. "There really are tons of things that you could choose to be doing over always spending your free time with me."
Victor just smiled, coming forward to take Lila's hand and bring her to her feet, "Yeah well, let me let you in on a trade secret about busy men with busy careers like me; we make time for the things we want to make time for."
She smiled back, (albeit with the smallest of winces), "Yeah...I guess you do."
"So did you and Lila have good time on The Frog Hopper, baby?"
Melody nodded with a grin as she and Lila came from behind the ride's gate hand in hand to where Victor was waiting on bench with a pile of stuffed animals won from the day, "Uh-huh! We went up and down and up and down and-"
"And then you went 'blaaaaaah' all over the place right?"
Laughing with Melody, Lila shook her head, "No, thank God-though I do have to admit that'll have to be my last ride for the night."
"Oh I see," Victor chuckled. "Those hotdogs and elephant ears not sitting too well in the tummy right about now, huh? Well that's all right," He said, looking up at the sky briefly. "The sun's starting to go down and I think I might've felt a raindrop a few minutes ago. Maybe we should think about heading for home."
"But Daddy, I wanna go on the Ferris Wheel first!"
He sighed, looking up the sky again then back at Lila, "Would you mind?"
"Not at all," She shook her head, so the three of them set off in the other direction of The Wonder Wheel on the other side of the park near the boardwalk.
As Melody ran off somewhat ahead of them, Lila and Victor walked side by side in silence until finally Victor asked, "So, still wish you'd stayed at home to Spring Clean?"
Lila laughed, nodding concededly, "Okay, okay I admit it; I'm glad I came. As usual, you have a winning way of dragging me into things that I end up having fun with."
"And that's what makes the dragging oh so worth it," Victor smiled in satisfaction. "Putting a smile on that sweet face of yours-plus, no one can call themselves a true-blooded New Yorker without having been to Coney Island; it just goes against some kind of law of nature!"
"Well then I'm glad to have set the order of the universe to rights by eating a hotdog and riding a few roller coasters."
"Well I don't know about the rest of the world, but my universe is right when I can make the people I care about happy-and that definitely means you." He nudged her in the side with a smile.
Lila smiled back but sighed and shook her head, "Happy...it's such an irritating word when you think about it really."
She shrugged, "I don't know. It's always seemed like something that's supposed to be ongoing, or at least semi permanent. Someone says they're happy and you automatically think it means that their lives on the whole are...well, happy. Fulfilled. Complete. I thought I was happy back in Pelahatchie, but it only took a few days to figure out I really wasn't either of those things. And I thought that if and when I came here I'd be happy, but..." Her voice trailed off.
"But you're not happy now either," Victor finished for her.
"It's so stupid, isn't it? Even when you get what you think you want, it turns out to be...something else."
Victor didn't say anything in response to this at first, but finally asked, "Can I ask you an honest question, Lila?"
"That depends," She said, feeling a slight twist in her belly and suddenly wished she hadn't spoken so candidly just now. "What kind of a question is it?"
"It's...well, since we're talking about something that's so important to you, and I count myself as a friend that cares deeply about your happiness, I'll just ask." He halted their stride by stopping and turning to face her. "If Keith doesn't make you happy anymore, then why are you with him?"
Lila felt her pulse start to pick up as she blinked and looked away, "I didn't say Keith doesn't make me happy-"
"You just told me you thought you'd be happy in coming here, and now you're not. Keith's the one who brought you here, so in my mind making sure that happened was his responsibility. I think both of us can agree he's more than dropped the ball, and by the look of things isn't all that concerned with changing that. So why stay?"
She pursed her lips together, "You know regardless of what I said about me being happy, I really don't really think that discussing that is any of your business, Victor."
"I think we're well past the point of you shutting me out because things between you and Keith 'aren't my business', Lila. I work with the guy so I know how much and when he neglects you, I was there when he as good as said your birthday wasn't as important as a business deal...and of course let's not forget our brief, but poignant exchange backstage at Smoke Jazz."
"You said that didn't have to mean anything," She countered defensively.
"It doesn't have to. But let's also not pretend that the fact that it even happened means that there must be a significant area in your life that Keith isn't filling."
"Even if that's true, it's not something you have to concern yourself about."
"I concern myself about it because I concern myself about you, Lila," Victor stepped closer to her as he continued, "Why do you think I'm always trying to get you to come out and have a good time? I told you, I was there when Keith did what he did to you on your birthday. I was there and I haven't forgotten it; I remember the pain I saw in your eyes when you cried your eyes out over him, and whether you realize it or not, it's never fully gone away. You smile, but you're sad. You laugh, but you're still sad. Maybe if Keith had been seeing that instead of me, he'd be here instead of somewhere in Britain for another kind of business he thinks is more important than you."
Lila flinched a little and looked away, trying to steel herself against the poignancy of Victor's words. If only everything he was saying hadn't been things she'd already been saying to herself a hundred times over these past few weeks. If only it all wasn't so true...
"Daddy, Lila, come on!"
Melody's voice from ahead of them briefly lessened the heaviness of the moment and they resumed walking towards the ferris wheel without another word. By the time they reached The Wonder Wheel the sun had started to go down down and the ride was lit up by the lights built into its structure. Lila purposefully stood by Melody ahead of Victor as the three of them entered the queue and waited for the wheel to begin turning to take on new passengers. She intended on getting into the bucket with her when the time came, but when a little girl who'd been standing in front of her took one of the seats of a bucket, the ride attendant motioned for Melody to take the other and Melody eagerly ran forward without a second thought to take it.
That left Lila and Victor to take the next empty one.
As they slid into it and the wheel began moving again, Lila tried to inch as close to the other edge of the bucket as possible, averting her gaze to the sunset. The stiff, discomforting silence between her and Victor kept her from fully appreciating the view, and as the wheel began to make full turns, prayed the ride wouldn't last long.
But then from beside her she heard Victor ask quietly, "Can I ask you another question, Lila?"
She fidgeted, looking at him briefly from the corner of her eye, "What is it?"
He sat against the back of the seat, his hands clasped between his knees and his gaze averted to the floor. "Say that you'd never met Keith, that you'd come to New York on your own; say you were just a normal girl here living by yourself trying to make ends meet by working at Starbucks like the rest of the baristas there…would things be different between us?"
Lila felt her stomach twist again and she let out a short sigh, shaking her head, "There's no way for me to answer a question like that, Victor; I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Keith-"
"Yeah, but I just..." Victor shut his eyes briefly and let out a heavy sigh of his own. "I just really need to know, Lila. All right? I need to know."
Deep down she knew what he was asking. She knew, and didn't want to answer because of what saying it could mean...or worse, do. But as with everything else, it was obvious Victor wasn't backing down from this; he wasn't going to drop it until he got an answer.
"If...if I'd never met Keith, then...yes," Lila couldn't believe she was actually saying any of this, even suggesting there was the possibility beyond any kind of life for her here without Keith. But still she found herself continuing to murmur, "Yes, I'd...we'd..." She couldn't bring herself to finish the rest.
Victor had turned to face her by now, and started to inch towards her as he began, "Then why-"
"Because I did meet Keith," She cut him off swiftly, her voice sharpening more out of frustration than anything else. "I did meet him, and I'm here with him, so things can't be different. They aren't."
"No." She shook her head more to herself than to Victor as she doggedly refused to look at him. She'd already said too much; allowing Victor any more than that was out of the question-for both of their sakes.
But of course he didn't see things the same way. After being cut off this last time, Victor went silent, setting his jaw and looking away in the opposite direction. They continued like that until the end of the ride. Victor got off first, then Lila followed and the two remained silent until Melody had gotten off as well. As they walked towards the exit at the other end of the park raindrops gradually began to fall then after a few minutes it began raining in earnest. When they were several yards from the exit however, it started pouring, prompting Victor to pick up Melody and tell Lila shortly, "We better try to make a run for it and get a cab; the subway's still a few blocks away."
Squinting through the downpour, they ran the rest of the way out of the park gates and to the curb. Flagging down a cab was somewhat difficult at first since others from Coney Island were also leaving and obviously had the same idea. When the third cab that Victor tried to flag down went to someone else, he swore under his breath, shifting Melody so that she rested across his other shoulder and muttering, "A million cabs in this fucking city and you can never find one when you need one..." Minutes later when he was finally able to get one, they slid into the backseat with a simultaneous sigh of both relief and weariness.
"I'm cold, Daddy," Melody said, shivering a little.
"I know, I know baby." He rubbed at her arms as he settled her across his lap. "Soho; 425 Spring Street," He told the driver before leaning back against the seat to relax Melody into a more comfortable position.
"Wouldn't it be easier to drop me off first?" Lila asked as the cab started off down the road.
"On a night when it isn't raining cats and dogs, probably," Victor answered shortly. "But since it is, and because of the distance and tolls I'm gonna be paying up the wazoo, I'd prefer to do a straight shot to my place and get my kid dry as soon as possible if it's all the same to you."
It was impossible not to notice the edge in his tone and his refusal to look at her, but Lila just nodded and sat back against the seat, looking out the window in silence. She had to admit that Victor had a valid point as they continued to drive through the rain; the storm was escalating to the point where it was hard for the taxi driver to see through the windshield despite the fact the wipers were on the highest speed setting. He even had to stop a few times to avoid colliding into other cars. For her own safety it was probably better to wait out the rest of the storm until it at least showed signs of letting up.
Eventually Melody fell asleep and the uncomfortable silence between the two of them persisted, prompting Lila to periodically sneak a look at Victor out of the corner of her eye. The same grim expression from earlier on The Wonder Wheel was on his face, and if he was aware that she was watching him he doggedly refused to acknowledge it. The minutes passed and the austere silence persisted until they finally pulled up to the curb in front of the apartment building in SoHo.
The rain was still coming down fairly hard, so after Victor paid the driver and told him to keep the change, the two of them got out of the cab and made a run for the door. When they got to the industrial elevator, Lila slid back the door to the cage and Victor nodded toward the buttons, "Floor 3." He shifted Melody to his other shoulder as he dug around for the keys to the door when they came to his apartment. Unlocking it, he waited for Lila to go in first then followed and flipped a light switch by the door.
It was a nice loft. The structure had obviously been converted from an industrial factory into an apartment building, so the ceiling and outer walls were aged, but it was still on the whole very nice. It didn't have the chic, luxurious style of Keith's penthouse, but it was the type of place Lila would have imagined Victor living in. Even if it wasn't as big, in New York City a loft like this still had to have cost a lot of money to rent.
As she looked around, Victor let the keys drop on the coffee table in the living room, then turned back to her and murmured so as not to wake Melody, "I'm gonna go get her out of these clothes and put her down on my bed. There's towels in the pantry over there if you want to dry off, and if you want to put your clothes in the dryer it's just over there in that corner; I have a few of my shirts and sweat pants folded up if you wanted to wear those while you wait."
"Thanks," Lila nodded and the two of them turned and went in opposite directions; she towards the dryer and he upstairs to the bedroom. After finding the sweatpants and t-shirts he'd referred to in a basket next to the machine, Lila looked back towards the stairs self-consciously then hurriedly slipped out of her damp clothes and into the dry ones. They were several sizes too large of course, and even though the shirt hung off one shoulder, she was able to hold the pants in place with their drawstring at the waist.
Just as she finished putting her clothes in the dryer and turning the dial, she turned and saw Victor coming down the stairs. He'd shed his soaked clothes too and was now in a black tank top and somewhat wrinkled grey cargo pants. "Everything fit okay?" He asked as he came to the bottom stair.
"Yeah, it's fine." She nodded again, instinctively pulling up the loose side of the shirt over her bare shoulder. There was a brief pause as they went quiet. Lila tried to lighten the tension by looking around and remarking, "I really like this apartment. I've heard about the industrial ones here in SoHo, but I'd never been in one before."
"It was the nicest place I looked at when I went hunting for a loft," He shrugged, looking around as well. "Still costs a pretty penny to rent, but it's worth it. Of course it's certainly nothing to Five Franklin Place..." He added wryly, tilting his head.
Lila blinked uncomfortably, unable to ignore the subtle meaning. "Five Franklin Place is really nice, but I don't think I could ever see paying what Keith does for it every month. If I was on my own and had as much money as he does I still think I'd end up choosing an apartment like this."
Victor shrugged, but didn't say anything in reply as he walked towards the kitchen. Opening a cupboard and taking out a glass, he asked her, "Can I get you something to drink? Wine, juice, anything?"
"Sure, I'll have some juice," She nodded, easing down on the sofa in the living area.
He came over with a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of cranberry juice in the other, handing her the latter then sat down on the other end of the sofa.
"Thanks," Lila said before taking a sip. They sat and drank in silence for a minute or two. Finally, still wanting to ease some of the tension, she turned towards Victor, smiling a little, "It was really nice meeting and spending time with Melody today; she's a sweet little girl."
The sweetest," Victor agreed with nod, then added, "You weren't half bad with her yourself."
"Well I do have younger siblings, so keeping up with the energy is nothing new for me. Plus she almost reminds me of my sister Liza when she was little; always ready to smile and laugh, always ready to play. It brings back a lot of memories."
"Well I really appreciate you keeping up with her all day, Lila; I know she had a blast."
Lila smiled and nodded, "I did too...so thank you."
Victor held her gaze for a few moments, his fingertips tracing the rim of his wine glass restlessly. He let out a short breath, "Listen, Lila-"
The sound of the door buzzer stopped him.
"Sorry, just a sec," He shook his head and sighed impatiently as he stood up and went over to the intercom, holding down the button and calling out, "Yeah, who is it?"
"It's me Vic, open the door." Came a feminine voice from the speaker.
Victor furrowed his brow, "Kim? What...what are you-"
"I need to get Melody."
"Wait, what do you mean you need to get her? It's my-"
"I'm aware of that Victor, just open the door."
Victor let out a heavier, frustrated sigh, swearing under his breath as he begrudgingly pressed the buzzer button and waited by the door.
From her place on the sofa, Lila hesitated then asked, "Is that..."
"Yeah, Kim. Melody's mother." He nodded grimly as a knock came from the other side of the door. He opened it, immediately beginning, "I'm not in the best of moods right now, so I won't even get started on what would happen if I chose to pull a stunt like this. Instead I'll save you the trouble of getting your panties in a bunch and tell you that our daughter's asleep and send you on your way with a bottle of wine for the trouble of making a pointless trip."
Lila couldn't quite see Kim past Victor and didn't want to be blatantly nosy, so she just looked down into her glass as she heard her retort with a humorless chuckle. "Well that'd be very nice of you Vic, the only problem is the last thing I came to get from you is a drink-that's never worked out much for me if you recall." Here she took the opportunity to walk past him into the apartment. "I just came to pick Melody up, so if she's asleep please go wake her up so we can go."
Out of the corner of her eye Lila saw that Kim was a petite, considerable attractive blonde. Victor was visibly irritated, but she looked up at him with an expression of cool distaste.
"You're not taking her anywhere Kim; it's my weekend, and it's only Saturday. That means you don't see Melody 'til tomorrow night."
"Ordinarily yes, but circumstances have changed this week."
"Oh have they, how so?"
"My mother's having her anniversary dinner a few days early because she and my father are going on vacation on the actual day. They haven't seen Melody in a while, and they want her to be there."
Victor just shrugged once, "I see. Well, give Diane my regards, Kim; I'm sorry to be missing out on the bland, tasteless meal it's bound to be, and I'm sure Melody is too, but she's got other plans."
Kim sighed lightly, but the thinning patience was becoming more evident as she began, "I'm not here to argue about this with you, Victor-"
"-So I'm only going to say this one more time; please go upstairs and wake up our daughter so I can leave." When Victor didn't move, Kim only sighed and rolled her eyes, stepping around him and walking farther into the loft. She stopped when she saw Lila sitting on the couch, narrowing her eyes and shaking her head. "Looks like I'll be doing you a favor anyway, huh Vic? Since you're obviously more interested in doing other things with your visitation than actually spending time with Melody."
Victor and Lila exchanged an uncomfortable look before he began, "Look Kim, don't jump to conclusions, it's not what it looks like-"
"You know I couldn't really give a damn about what 'it' is or isn't, Victor," Kim cut in. "When I leave the two of you can do exactly what you were planning on doing anyway, the only difference is my daughter won't be in the next room because I'm taking her with me." With that she walked off towards the stairs.
Victor rubbed his eyes for a moment then sighed heavily, going after her, "Kim come on, wait. Kim! Will you just-"
The rest Lila didn't hear because the two disappeared into the bedroom and Victor shut the door behind them. They were in there for a few minutes, during which Lila wondered whether Melody might've been convincing her mother to let her stay after all. However, the door finally opened and Kim emerged, leading Melody by the hand with Victor trailing behind them, solemn and silent.
When they got to the door, Kim stopped and nodded briefly, "Say bye to your father, Melody."
"Bye Daddy," Melody murmured as Victor knelt down to wrap her in a warm hug.
"See you later, Mel," He replied, planting on long kiss on her auburn hair. "Daddy loves you, baby. Be good now, okay?"
They left without another word and for a moment Victor just stood there, hands in pockets, before shutting the door and going into the kitchen. He came back into the living room with a glass of what looked like scotch or whiskey then sat sit down in his former seat on the other end of the couch, drinking it quietly. Lila sensed his grim demeanor by the continued silence, but couldn't bring herself to look at Victor she felt so sorry and embarrassed for him.
"I'm sorry about what Kim said about you and me." He said at last.
Lila shook her head, "You don't have to apologize. I'm sorry she did it, but I understood." When Victor remained quiet for another long moment, she hesitated then asked, "Do you...would you prefer if I just left?"
"I'm not the piece of shit she thinks I am." He muttered then suddenly looked up at her, "I'm not."
Surprised, Lila instantly shook her head to agree, "No, of course you're not-"
"Kim's always acted so goddamn superior..." Victor shook his head before taking another gulp of the scotch. "Never seems to remember the only reason why we even met was because she and her friend in college were playing groupies backstage at a U2 concert. Now she acts like just because I didn't want to marry her and buy a house in the 'burbs when Melody was born I'm somehow less able to be a good father to her now."
"I understand how that might make her resent getting along with you now, honestly," Lila shrugged after a brief pause. "Rejection isn't something that-."
"I didn't 'reject' Kim, all right?" Victor retorted as he took another drink. "There was never anything that serious between us, we went into the situation with our eyes wide open even if we were too young and stupid to make sure we didn't end up with a kid. I was 21 years old, for Christ's sake; the last thing I wanted was to have a baby with someone, much less marry them!" Lila remained quiet, so Victor finished the glass and proceeded to pour himself another, muttering almost to himself, "Doesn't matter that I'm cleaning up close to a million a year at NASDAQ, that I write Kim a check for $1500 a month for child support for Melody without a court order or legal visitation rights, she still thinks I'm nothing. What's more, she tells our daughter I'm nothing. Hell, pretty soon she'll probably start believing her..."
"Melody wouldn't ever think you're nothing, Victor-"
"And of course, while we're going down the list of people who think I'm nothing, we can't leave out my good old co-workers, most of whom if they had their way I'd be selling insurance door to door in the suburbs. And well, who knows? Give or take a few years when Braxton starts running the show maybe they'll actually drive me to it..." He gulped down yet another glass. "And why? Because I'm-"
"Getting drunk." Lila finally sighed, reaching over and taking the glass from Victor before he could pour himself another one. When he made a clumsy attempt to take it back, she held it out of his reach and used her other hand to cover his. "And feeling sorry for yourself. Listen Victor, I know what happened with Kim and Melody just now was bad, but you can't let something like this ruin your entire perspective on life. It happened, now you've poured more than your share of stiff drinks to get through it, so go upstairs, sleep it off and get yourself together to move on tomorrow."
Victor just smiled at her lightly, shaking his head as he chuckled once, "...And then there's you. Just...you, Lila. I think out of everyone it hurts the most to know you think I'm nothing. "
She shook her head in bewilderment, "Why would you ever think that?"
He shrugged simply, "Well it's pretty obvious, isn't it? I'm not a self-absorbed, British prick who thinks that you're just a souvenir he picked up on a detour through the South." When he saw her expression change at that, he chuckled again, "And I'm too honest, I guess."
"No," Lila shook her head after a brief pause. "You just don't understand the meaning of the word 'no', Victor. You never have. That makes it hard for you to accept when things don't go your way and you end up confusing that with failure. But that doesn't mean that you're nothing, especially when it comes to Melody and Kim or NASDAQ-"
"Goddamn it Lila, fuck Kim! Fuck NASDAQ, fuck all of it!" Victor let out harsh breath, dragging his hands through his hair in frustration. "Do you honestly think any of that is what's making my life seem like shit to me right now, what's been making it seem like shit for the past few months? Do you?"
Lila didn't know what to say. "I-I don't-"
"Jesus, you really don't get it, do you? After all this time, after everything I try to say or do, you still don't get it..." Victor rubbed at his temples for a long moment then turned to her, looking her straight in the eye. "Ever since that night in December at the Christmas gala when I turned around and saw you standing there in that black dress, looking...looking so beautiful." He shook his head and let out a wistful chuckle as he stard at her. "Looking so goddamn beautiful I could hardly think past how bad I wanted you-"
"Victor stop." Lila shook her head as she looked away.
"-And then seeing Cordae come up and put his arm around you, seeing everything I'd wanted all that time go up in smoke, seeing it ever since...it's been Hell, Lila. Do you understand that? Wanting you and knowing you go home to him every night has been fucking Hell for me."
"I've kept my mouth shut about all this for months, Lila. I-I've tried to play along with this 'friend' game you keep wanting to play, but I can't do it anymore." When she would've protested he only went on, "Yeah, I know. I know what I said after Smoke Jazz, and I might've meant it then, but you know what, I've had enough. All the friendly smiles, handshakes, hugs and espresso? To Hell with it, all right, I'm just done. You shut me up about this at Coney Island but you're not shutting me up now; I'm going to get this out if it's the last thing I ever do."
Victor's tone was thick and heavy with growing evidence of his inebriated state, but his gaze was direct and steady as he slid close to Lila on the couch. "...You already know what I'm going to say, don't you?"
Lila just shook her head again, trying not to look at him, "Don't say it...don't."
He reached out and turned the side of her face so that their eyes met. "I'm in love with you, Lila." She let out a heavy sigh and looked down, but he just tilted her chin back up to look at him, "I've wanted you since the first day I ever saw you and I've only wanted you more ever since. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think about is going to Starbucks to see you, I go to bed with other women and all I can think about is much I wish they were you... and I see you and Keith together and it's all I can do to not go out of my fucking mind, I'm so jealous," By now he was so close Lila could feel the warmth of his breath on her face. The same tension was steadily building up between them that had been there on the night of her birthday at the jazz club and remembering what had happened then only increased her urgency to get out of this, but Victor was going on, "Now you can get up and walk out of here knowing all that, you can never speak to me again or you can even tell Keith when he gets back if you want to...but before you do I want to hear you say it, Lila."
It was all too obvious, but for whatever reason she chose to ask anyway, "Say what?"
"You know what. Forget what you think you can or can't say, forget what you're afraid of happening if you do. Just forget all of it and be honest about what you feel for once, Lila."
Lila was already shaking her head numbly, "I can't, Victor."
"You can, just say it-"
"No!" She ground out frustratedly. "You don't get it, you just don't understand. Even if I did, even I do, it still wouldn't matter. It's just...you're just..." She shook her head helplessly.
It only took a moment for Victor to comprehend. "I'm not Keith." He finished stonily. When she just nodded in reply, he was quiet for a long moment then stated, "Loving him this much isn't going to make him love you back, Lila. Both you and I know that."
Lila was quiet, but she flinched a little, averting her gaze downward again.
"He can neglect you, lie to you and even abandon you on your birthday and somehow you're still okay with making Keith the center of your world." When she remained silent, Victor shook his head, "And despite all the tears, disappointment and pain there's a small part of you deep down that still believes if you just keep at it you'll still end up at the end of an altar with him, right?"
"I know you think I'm stupid..." She murmured, shrugging, "I know it is stupid."
"I think you're waiting around for a 'happy ever after' you're never going to get, Lila."
"Just because Keith won't marry me?"
"No. Because even if he did...wedding vows don't mean much without the fidelity that's supposed to come with them."
As soon as the words left his mouth, Lila looked up and stared Victor straight in the eye, her gaze suddenly hard. "Don't say that if it isn't true." She shook her head once, repeating slowly, "Don't you dare say that...if you don't know it's true."
Victor stared back at her for a brief moment, then finally said, "Anthony Braxton told the story the following Monday; after dinner he and Banner had valets bring them their cars. Harris drove off first, then Braxton got in his car to leave. After taking off he had to stop at a traffic light at the corner, then when he looked in his rearview mirror he saw a cab pull up back at the restaurant. Mariko Niyaga got in...and then Keith did too."
Her eyes were starting to sting and she felt like she'd just been kicked in the gut, but Lila stood up from the couch and walked a few steps to the window, arms crossed as she looked at the raindrops running down its surface. Her voice was low and thick several moments later as she asked, "And?"
"And that was all he saw."
"But it wasn't all he thought happened. It wasn't all you think happened."
Victor stared at Lila as she wiped away at two stray tears that had just fallen down her cheeks and hesitated, starting to shake his head, "I-I don't know, Lila-"
"Yes, you do."
"I know what Braxton told me, but-"
"Do you want to know what Jason told me about you that night, Victor?" He went quiet as she suddenly turned around to face him again, obviously catching him off guard. "He told me you were a liar. That you'd been lying almost since the first day I met you and you would go on lying to me about any and everything to get me away from Keith, and that even after everything Keith had done to me that night, if I decided to trust you over him I'd end up more hurt than he'd ever made me feel.
"So this is the one chance you have to change your mind about everything you just said. If it's not true, say so and I'll leave and forget today ever happened...but if it is, then tell me. Right now."
Victor waited a long moment before answering. Just when Lila thought he really was going to take it back however, he said simply, "Keith Cordae's never been faithful to any woman, Lila. Ever. He had sex with Mariko Niyaga."
"I'm sorry. I'm...I'm really sorry, Lila."
I hate you. Closing her eyes as she turned back to the window, Lila could literally feel the hatred brewing inside of her for what she now knew Keith had done. Deep down she supposed she'd always known ever since hearing the name Mariko Niyaga, but just never allowed herself to seriously entertain the thought of it. But looking back on it all now, she wondered how on earth she hadn't been able to see through him from the start. Keith had come home that night and even while apologizing wasn't able to touch her out of guilt from having touched another woman. His apology had seemed so small and pathetic because he knew there hadn't been an apology worthy of what he'd done.
But he'd still been too much of a coward to come out and admit it.
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you...
Lila's body started shaking with rage the more she thought about Keith. Suddenly all the intimate moments they'd shared, the scattered tender looks and gestures he'd given her seemed meaningless and fake. He'd never really appreciated her. Never acted as if he felt an ounce of what she'd shown she felt for him every single day. He hadn't even said he loved her. He'd lied about everything else, but he hadn't even been willing to lie and tell her that. Not one time.
Now he'd humiliated her, making their relationship a joke from a story that had been laughed over in an office by who knew how many people. On my birthday... Lila thought to herself seethingly. You...fucked another woman on my birthday...
But there was a way for her to get even.
It would be so simple, so easy. A part of her even wanted it, just for herself and not just for revenge. What would it be like to give herself to a man she knew wanted her desperately, who'd never taken her for granted? For once she'd be in control of both her emotions and his instead of hoping a fraction of everything she felt was mutual. She'd be able to simply take pleasure after a year of working harder to give it.
And Keith would be sorry.
This time, Keith really would be sorry he'd hurt her. When he came back Lila would tell him to his face everything that was about to happen. She'd tell him, then feel a twisted sort of satisfaction that he'd feel as hurt, duped and betrayed as she did right now. She didn't know what would happen after that. At the moment she didn't even care. The only thing Lila could fixate on was revenge.
"What do you want from me, Victor?" She asked after another long pause.
"What would you like me to do now?"
"I... I just think you need to rethink what would really make you happy, Lila. God knows if there's anyone who deserves-"
"Stop." Lila cut him off shortly. "Just...stop that. I didn't ask what you think I need to do. I don't care what you think I need to do. I asked what you want from me."
His brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't know what you mean."
"Keith's in another country, we're alone in your apartment...and you've wanted me for a long, long time." She turned around, her countenance calm and even. "Tell me what you want right now."
Victor just stared at her at first, his lips parting in obvious disbelief, as if he couldn't believe she was saying what she just said. Then finally, he replied, "...I want you to stop thinking about Keith Cordae, Lila. For one night, I want you to forget he even exists."
Lila's reply was to slowly slip her arm out from one of the sleeves of the sweater she was wearing, then slipped the other arm out of the opposite sleeve before lifting the entire thing over her head and letting it fall to the floor. Taking a step towards the sofa, she lifted one of the strings that was holding the pants around her waist and pulled on it to loosen them, letting them fall down to her ankles before stepping out of them and continuing to walk towards Victor. When she stopped in front of him, their eyes locked as Lila reached behind her and first unfastened her bra then when that too was on the floor, her fingers went under the rim of her panties and those joined the the bra around her feet.
Victor swallowed once, but his eyes were intent and focused as they appreciatively ran down her naked body. As Lila came forward to straddle his lap his hands slipped across the curves of her waist and hips, his breath quickening as she brought one of his hands to rest against her breast.
She bent her head down so that her lips brushed against his ear, "Then make me forget."
He only hesitated for a moment. One, single moment.
Then, their lips came together in a kiss that was much like the one they shared at Smoke Jazz, only this time without any of the restraint. Victor's hands stroked and grasped all over her torso, pressing it to his body so close Lila eventually had to break away from the kiss to breathe.
Victor stared up at her as both of them paused to catch their breath, breathing heavily as his hands continued to run across her body, "Beautiful...you're so beautiful, Lila..."
"You are so fucking beautiful..."
She flinched a little as she heard Keith's voice in the back of her mind. No. She couldn't think about him. Not now. Thinking about Keith could run the risk of ruining everything about this.
Determined to push the thoughts aside, she bent back down and kissed Victor heavily again. This time when their lips parted he proceeded to run his lips over her neck and chest while Lila raked her fingers through his hair, biting down on her bottom lip to keep from groaning when his tongue brushed over one of her breasts.
She was tilting her head back when in like manner from only moments before, she found herself remembering being in a similar position almost a year ago. She and Keith had been making love for the second time that night in the Sunset Motel, their climaxes had been approaching and-
Lila tensed and clenched her jaw when she realized her mind was wandering into memories about him again. This had to stop. Her hands went to the edge of Victor's black tank top and helped him lift it off then shifted to the button on his pants, swiftly undoing and unzipping them.
The two of them simultaneously let out a groan when Lila lowered her waist down and Victor slid into her. Her fingers dug into his back and he exhaled heavily against her chest as they paused, remaining like that for a moment. It wasn't just that it had been weeks and weeks since she'd last made love. It was the fact that for the first time it wasn't with the only man she'd ever made love with. The feeling was the same and yet somehow different in every way. Lila hadn't been prepared for how different it would make her gravity of it suddenly came crashing down on her, as if she was only just now realizing there was no turning back. This was happening. She was having sex with Victor.
Victor and not Keith.
Lila was so overwhelmed she would've remained motionless, but in the next moment she was rising and falling against him as he took hold of her hips to begin moving inside of her. Her lips parted at the sensation, unsure of whether to give in to the urge to give in to what she'd been so determined to do only moments ago, or merely let what was happening just happen.
As if he could read her mind, Victor eventually looked up at her, "What...what is it?" He asked in a thick murmur.
She could only shake her head wordlessly, not even wanting to admit what she was thinking to herself, much less him.
But he wasn't fooled. Pausing, Victor frowned a little, "Lila look at me." When she raised her eyes to his, he studied her for a few moments, then all at once his expression hardened and she knew that he understood. His grip on her tightened and his voice was like steel, "Stop that. Keith's not here." When she didn't say anything at first, he repeated it again, firmer, "He's not here."
"I know," She nodded once then as if to convince him of it, nodded again, "I know, it's all right."
Victor started to move in and out of her again, but as Lila looked down again, he clenched his jaw, "I said, stop that, Lila." Lila gasped as he spun her around in one swift motion so that she lay beneath him on the sofa. Bending over her, when their eyes met again he let his fingers trace the length of her throat then as they drifted down to her chest he said, "I'm not sharing you with him...not tonight." He used the back of one palm to spread her legs open wider and Lila steeled herself for the rough sex she was almost certain was coming.
But instead of settling himself on top of her, Victor bent over lower to brush his lips across her chest in light kisses, going lower to her belly, then going even lower to the base of her abdomen...
When she felt the surface of his lips come in contact with what was lower than that, Lila's breath caught, protesting as she started to sit up, "Victor, wait-"
He gently but firmly grabbed hold of both of her calves, holding them in place so that the soles of her feet rested on his shoulders. "Lie back," Victor said calmly. "Relax."
Lila looked down at him in hesitance for a moment, then reluctantly let herself lie back against the cushions of the couch, staring up at the ceiling and trying not to let her heartbeat dictate the rest of her body's movement. Her lips parted again when she felt Victor's lips return to her navel, planting kisses on it that made tremors start in her spine and travel down between her legs. Clenching her hands into fists that grabbed at the leather cushions, she bit her lip to try and keep from giving in to what she was feeling.
This went beyond her experience with sex. Making love with Keith had always been pleasurable in some way, but he'd never done this. It had never even occurred to Lila to hint at it to him. She didn't know anything about it, and she couldn't be sure she'd still be in command of her emotions in the face of this kind of unknown...
Her fears were confirmed when she felt Victor's tongue flicker against the delicate folds between her legs, then was unable to hold back a shuddering gasp when he began sliding it back and forth in a slow, rhythmic motion. Lila's eyes closed as the last of her resistance melted away under the waves of pleasure drifting over her while Victor felt the ease of tension in her body and used the opportunity to increase the fervor of his attentions, caressing her inner thighs as her hips gradually began to move in sync with them. Eventually her thighs were tightening around his head and full moans slipped from her lips as she felt her climax approach. When she finally came, her mouth opened in a silent 'o' that transitioned into a gasping moan lasting several long, spellbinding seconds.
As it died away, Lila finally opened her eyes to see Victor up on his knees, shrugging off his last bit of clothing by kicking his pants off to the floor. This time she welcomed it, the afterglow of her desire preventing her from considering anything else but the here and now. Both of them groaned aloud when he slid into her again, Lila's legs coming up to lock around Victor's waist as he immediately began thrusting in and out.
"Lila..." She heard him murmur against her hair before groaning hard, "God, Lila..."
As he quickened the tempo of his pace, she dug her fingernails into his back, running them down the length of it and tightening the hold her thighs had around his waist. She could feel him breathing heavier and heavier against her neck as he came closer and closer to the brink. At last Victor let out a low cry, his body shuddering with the intensity of his release for a long moment before he collapsed down on the lower half of Lila's body.
They lay motionless for a long while, Victor's head resting on her belly while she looked up at the ceiling in silence. Finally he sat up a little on his elbows to look at her, smiling, "Hey."
"How do you feel, all right?"
Lila resisted the urge to grimace at the memory of Keith asking her almost exactly the same thing the morning after they'd first made love. Instead she managed to nod, "Mm-hmm, I'm fine." She couldn't understand or explain the sudden hollow, empty sensation that had entered her gut, nor the equally sudden feeling of embarrassment she felt at being completely naked in front of Victor that made her want to shrug his hand off her belly and cover herself up with some clothes.
"Good," He nodded as well, beginning to trace light circles across her abdomen as he said playfully, "There aren't really a lot of adequate adjectives to describe how I'm feeling right now..." Victor's expression seemed entirely genuine as he pressed a kiss to her belly and continued, "But this...this was everything I wanted it to be, Lila."
Lila nodded, trying (but not succeeding as well this time) to smile lightly, "I know, Victor." Her mind suddenly felt clearer than it had a mere fifteen minutes ago. The fury that made it difficult for her to think straight had begun to subside and now her thoughts were more cohesive. Not that that was making her feel any better, though. In fact, her unease was only increasing by the minute, and now she was genuinely uncomfortable.
"How I always wanted it to be," Victor added meanwhile, his expression turning somewhat serious as he looked her in the eye.
"Don't you think it's a little overdramatic to be throwing around words like 'always'?"
Victor just shook his head simply, "No. I think I've believed for a long time that if I just had this, had you, that it'd be all I need. Now I'm positive."
"Victor..." Lila looked away, shifting to sit up from under him. "Come on, you're just still caught up in the moment. You don't have to say things like this because you think they're what I want to hear."
"You think I'm saying this just because I think it's what I need to say to make you feel better?" He asked, watching her as she stood up and went for her clothes on the floor a few feet away. "Lila, I haven't ever said anything like this to any woman after having sex. I never have because I've never felt the need to-"
"And you don't 'need' to now," She interjected gently, but firmly. Lila didn't want to hear anymore of Victor's confessions about how much he loved her. Minutes ago, they had made her feel flattered and desired. Now however, they only made her feel strangely guilty. Lila didn't know why, but she did know that all of a sudden she felt an urge to be alone; alone so she could try to process her thoughts, and do something, anything, to stop this uneasy discomfort she couldn't ignore or repress. "Really Victor, it's fine. This happened; it-it was something both of us wanted, so we did it and it was nice. Very, very nice. But we shouldn't be making the mistake of saying anything drastic at a time like this. We just need to move on."
Victor's expression was bewildered, incredulous. "'Move on'? Lila, what the hell are you talking about? You and I just made love, that's not something you just move on from."
"You've had much more experience with it than I do, it shouldn't be that hard for you."
"That's because I've never been with a woman that I care about the way I care about you. Lila, I already told you; I love you, that means I can't just move on and act like things are the same and nothing happened. You hear me, I can't."
"Well I am." She finished getting dressed in the sweatshirt and pants. "So you have to try."
Victor stared at her for a long moment, his eyes narrowing in disbelief as he said, "...Don't tell me you're thinking about doing what I think you're doing. Do not tell me you're honestly thinking about going back to him, Lila." When she made no reply, he let out an incredulous scoff, shaking his head, "Are you insane? Huh? Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"Did you or did you not hear me when I told you exactly what he did to you on birthday? Who he did without mentioning a word of the truth to you? Has any of that slipped your mind in the past hour?"
"No, I remember. Don't think I don't appreciate that you told me, because I do, and you're right; some things will have to change; I don't know what's going to happen with me and Keith from here on out. But I just don't feel ready to make that kind of decision right now, even if he did sleep with another woman...especially since now, the truth is, I'm guilty of the same thing."
Victor shook his head as he stood up to walk towards her, "You're not guilty of anything, Lila. Keith's had this coming for a long time now because of how he's neglected you."
Fifteen minutes ago, Victor's argument had seemed so true to her. So right. She had thought the exact same thing. Keith had cheated on her with another woman. He'd betrayed her. The logical thing for her to do had absolutely seemed to finally treat him the way that he had treated her, and give him some of his own back. Less than fifteen minutes ago, she had thought that her feelings for Victor were strong enough for her to even want to cheat on Keith with him, if only for the reason that there was a definition attraction to between them, if for nothing else.
So why was it that now, that same argument didn't feel so true to Lila anymore? Why didn't it seem so important and necessary to pay Keith back in spades and make him suffer? And where had the horrible feeling of guilt that was now hitting her like a punch to the gut even come from?
"Don't." she said quietly, "Even trying to justify something like this means it was wrong, but I don't want to dwell on that right now. I just want to go home."
But Victor just went on, holding up his hand, "Hold on a minute, first you tell me you want to move on from this like it never happened, now you're telling me you think it was wrong? Jesus Christ Lila, how many times are you gonna kick me while I'm down, here?"
She sighed, shaking her head. She had to calm him down so she could get out of there and be alone, and fast. But the prospect of that seemed even more difficult than usual, as Lila found herself wishing that there was someone there to calm her down...
"I'm sorry. I really, really am Victor." The words felt raw and bitter in her mouth as she wondered why she was really apologizing: was it because she had obviously hurt Victor's feelings, or that she had slept with him?
By the time she spoke again, she knew the answer. The words came out slowly as they came to her mind, "I realize how this must look, how silly I must seem; willingly going through with it, then telling you it can't mean anything once it's over, but you have to understand where I was mentally when you told me what Keith did. I-I obviously wasn't thinking clearly, I was so angry I would've done anything that meant hurting or getting back at him for it. But the worst part of it was I took advantage of your feelings when I decided to do it, and I understand if you don't forgive me for that."
Her apology was lost on Victor however, who was just staring down at her stonily now. "Right. Just as long as you still get to move on and run home to Keith, you'd understand just about anything I said right now, wouldn't you?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Keith turns out to be the not so charming Prince you thought he was, so you stamp your foot and decide to fall in bed with his co-worker. That'll get the son of a bitch where he lives, right? But then after the fact you decide you'd rather keep your cozy living in the lap of luxury after all and kick the sorry bastard you just used like a piece of fucking toilet paper to the curb with a pat on the back and a 'don't call me, I'll call you'."
"Don't say that, Victor, that's not what this-"
"Well forgive me if I say I'm not altogether comfortable with being taken advantage of, Lila-or being taken for granted, for that matter. You may be ready to leave, put this behind you and go on making more Americanos Monday morning like clockwork, but there are some things we're gonna get straight right here and right now before you even think about going out that door."
Lila blinked at the sudden harshness of his tone. "I...I think we should just wait to talk about this later." She turned away to start to walk towards the door. "Some other time when we're not-"
"No. Not some other time; now." He said, catching hold of her arm.
She winced instinctively against the firmness of his grip, looking down at her arm first then back up at him, "Victor, that hurts." When he didn't let go, she tried to pull away herself as he led her back to the sofa, "I said it hurts."
"Humor me for a few minutes," He said, seating her in the corner of the couch, then sat down next to her.
Rubbing at her arm where he'd gripped at it, she asked incredulously, "So what, are you going to hurt me until you get your way now?"
"Well if I did it'd be because I'm learning from the best at the moment, wouldn't you say?"
"I don't regret having sex with you because I don't like you, Victor, I regret it because I did it for the wrong reasons and I ended up taking advantage of you because of it."
"Can I ask you a question, Lila?" He asked, rubbing at his temples. "Kind of a random one, but I'm just really curious at the moment; did you give Keith this kind of trouble when he asked you to run off to Miami with him? At any moment, did you just decide that you 'took advantage' of his feelings by fucking him to piss off your family, or did you jump at the chance to hop in his car, run off to New York and be his next sex doll?"
Lila's lips parted incredulously for a moment, but then she clenched her jaw, murmuring, "Stop it."
"I'm thinking it's probably the latter, huh? Because Hell, doesn't matter what Keith thinks you are, what he does to you or even what you know to be the truth; you'll always want to crawl after him, won't you?"
"I already apologized to you for what happened once, Victor-I'm not going to do again."
"I don't want another apology from you, Lila. I didn't want the first one. I want to know why no matter what I do, no matter what things I've done to show you how much I care about you, I'll never be better than Keith Cordae to you. You wanna explain that to me? Try to give me at least one good reason."
"I'm not in love with you," She said simply. "Is that a good enough reason for you?"
"You're not in love with me?" He demanded in disbelief. "You're not in love with someone who tells you you're beautiful every single day, who always takes you out to show you a good time when you're lonely, who put on a show for you-you; the only reason I got the stupid goddamn band back together in the first place-for your birthday when Keith didn't even get you a fucking card! I did that! Me. Me, Lila; I'm the one who did all that for you, not him, so how the Hell can you say it's him you're still in love with and not me?"
Lila flinched as his raised voice echoed off the walls of the apartment, waiting a few moments after he was done to shake her head, murmuring, "I'm sorry..."
Victor just ran his hands through his hair, silent and hunched over as he breathed heavily to obviously try and calm down.
She watched silently, resenting him for refusing to accept it but resenting herself more for causing this entire mess. Eventually she stood up from the couch to leave, but after looking at him one more time, couldn't resist the impulse to reach out stroke his shoulder in solace. Moments later, Lila's breath caught when Victor suddenly looked up and drew her to him, clasping her body close against the side of his face for a long moment then muttered thickly against her midsection, "Do you want to know why I always came back?"
"Why I always came back to Starbucks after finding out about you and Keith."
"Victor..." Lila sighed, but finally shook her head after a pause and decided to ask, "Why?"
"Because even after I left the gala I still couldn't get you out of my mind. I'd lost my project, promotion, and respect all in one week and still somehow, once I got home…all I could really bring myself to be pissed about was losing you..." His hands stroked her waist slowly but insatiably, slipping underneath the sweater to touch the bare skin, "I love you, Lila...that's the only thing worth knowing that I know right now...I love you..."
She fidgeted under his touch that she sensed becoming more impassioned, "Don't. You need to try to go get some sleep. I'll call to check on you tomorrow morning-"
But his hold on her tightened at that as Victor looked up at her, "I told you I'm not going to share him with you tonight, Lila-I meant that."
Lila saw the look in his eyes and her belly twisted, but she tried to reply evenly, "It was a long day; Coney Island, Melody and Kim, and...now this. You probably just need a good night's sleep."
"No. That's not what I need..."
"Keith's not here. I wouldn't be going home to him, just to sleep. I'll call you tomorrow and we can talk some more about this-I'll even come over if you want, just let go."
But Victor was already untying the drawstrings on her pants, "Not yet..."
If Lila had gone back to the penthouse she would've spent the entire night awake bewildered and depressed about what she was going to do from here on out. The hollow feeling of guilt would have eaten her up from the inside out until she vomited from the guilt and horror of what she had just done. She would have been alone. Alone in the darkness...except for the cold, unforgiving truth that she had just cheated on Keith and could never take it back. And the more she realized it, the more certain she was that it was something she just couldn't bear to do...
So she stayed. She stayed and let Victor do what he wanted for a little while longer. She told herself that one more time wouldn't make that much of a difference so long as it meant making him less hostile and irrational. She told herself that it would at least give her an incentive to clear her mind and block everything out, forget that the last several hours had ever happened. She told herself many things as she lay there on the floor beneath Victor, her eyes filled and blurring with the tears of her regret.
But even all of those thoughts couldn't distract her from the one thing that always seemed to fight its ways to the front of her mind, torturing to the point where she wanted to scream. Even when she closed her eyes in her mind it kept repeating itself over and over again;