I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be doing this.

This is the only thing that is going through my mind. And yet... here I am. I parked my car on a side street, walked down the block to the busy main road, and made a right. ("That parking garage at Wells and Division... I'll be there. I park on the top floor." He paused and I said nothing. "If you change your mind, I won't hold it against you.") What he didn't know was that I had almost changed my mind, that I got in the car and sat there for three or four minutes before turning the key, putting it in drive, and backing out into the alley. Twenty minutes later, I had arrived. I found a spot on Sedgwick and sat there for a little while, still completely uncertain about everything.

What the hell am I doing here? This is a bad idea.

...or is it?

"Fuck it," I said finally, grabbing the keys and my purse and my phone and stepping out of the car, into the cool Chicago evening. This was about five minutes ago; now I'm standing in front of the garage, leaning back on my heels and staring up at the deck at the very top, knowing that he's up there waiting. I take a few steps, open the door, and enter the building. There's an elevator at the other end of the corridor and I press the 'up' button with a trembling hand, stand back, and wait.

Your mother would not approve. Oh, I keep thinking this, then banishing the thought from my mind. Your mother would not approve, but then again, your mother is not engaged to a man who is more interested in his job than his fiancee. I sigh as the doors slide apart and move inside, hitting the button for floor 12, walking to the back of the car and leaning against the dark wood paneling. I love Alexander Owen, really--I've always loved him--but we've been together for three years, engaged for a year and a half, and the last seven or so months, especially, have been a little less than I had always hoped for.

When things are good, things are way better than I could have ever imagined, and I am grateful to have found such a good man. I know he's working so hard to provide for us, for the family we'll someday have. He's already picked out the house in Hyde Park he's going to buy once we're married. Lately, though (since he got promoted at the marketing firm he's been working at since graduating from college), things have been less fairy tale and more tense dramatics. I keep thinking (hoping) it'll pass, that things will slow down at work and he won't feel the need to drink the condo dry in order to sleep at night (exaggerated for emphasis, of course, but he could probably do without the third and fourth glasses of Jack Daniels). Sometimes--okay, almost all the time--I miss the way life used to be for us. This elevator is taking forever--

And then suddenly, the doors open and I'm hit by that familiar Lake Michigan wind. I take a deep breath and step outside, looking around curiously. He mentioned something about driving an SUV, but there are several of those even in the row just closest to me, and I start to feel a little panicked, like maybe I should just turn around before I get in over my head. You're already in over your head. Give it up. Before I have any say, I'm walking up and down the rows, trying to give off the appearance of casual and calm (or like I was just looking for my own car, confused about where I'd parked it after a long day at work.) I shouldn't be doing this.

My heart is pounding--it's almost deafening--so much so that I almost don't hear him: "Rachel." I freeze and there he is, down at the end of the aisle: standing next to his black Jeep Grand Cherokee, leaning against the driver's side door. He's staring at me with a small smirk on his face, lips upturned. I approach him and it's almost like I'm in a trance, pulled in by those dark, inquisitive brown eyes. Then I'm standing right in front of him (he's tall... he could almost rest his chin on the top of my head) and I have to remind myself to keep breathing, keep breathing.

"I was beginning to wonder about you," he says. "But... you're here." He reaches his hand up and tucks a stray red curl behind my ear. This motion, the very slightest grazing of his fingertips against my skin, is enough to leave me weak in the knees. The small space between us seems impassible, impossible--he leans in closer, closer, and then steps away, shaking his head. "Wait," he murmurs. "Come with me?" I nod, biting down on my bottom lip. We both know why I am here.

He opens the passenger side door for me and closes it once I'm safely inside; I buckle my seatbelt, clutching my purse and glancing around the interior of the vehicle. He gets in next to me, starts it up, and maneuvers the Jeep down through the parking garage, finally making it out onto the street. He drives down Wells, turns at Chicago, and steers the car onto Lake Shore Drive. The lights and the city pass by in nothing less than a blur and, as my mind races, I remember the very moment that Hayden Wakefield entered my life.