A streak of blue whips past me, and by the time I open my mouth to speak, it's already struck by again. "Ian," I urge when the blue streak—the streak being Ian—rushes by again. "Ian. Ian! You need to calm down, you're going to give me a hernia."
"Is this outfit good? The tie, I mean. I don't look like a total wanker, ey? Oh, fuck's sake," he mumbles, fidgeting with his tie. He begins untucking his shirt, muttering to himself. "And this, oh it's all wrong. Blue? Really, Ian, blue?"
My hands fly to his shirt to calm his finicky fingers, and I'm quickly struck by our proximity. We haven't slept together or even kissed, even after all those shots in Copenhagen.
Every once in a while, however, I'll feel his body next to mine, in little touches, the subtle nuances I never received from Wendell, or any ex-boyfriends for that matter. Except maybe Tommy Cross, who was my eighth grade crush and who never had the balls to ask me to the movies.
But here there is something from which there is no going back. Ian's fingers will occasionally find their way to my back, or on a stray lock of hair, or how our shoulders or knees will magnetically locate each other, an undeniable tug.
"Ian," I instruct as calmly as I can, stepping back, "you look fine. Better than fine. Dashing. Irrefutably professional! Don't be so nervous."
"Of course I'm nervous, though. It's only natural."
"Who got hired in Copenhagen?"
"That doesn't affect—"
He smiles sheepishly. "Me."
"That's right. So who is going to do fantastic at IKEA?"
He looks down at his chest, frowning. "But you're sure I shouldn't wear a tie? And this whole open collar business, I don't think—"
"Look, I know what I'm talking about. Most men hide behind ties to force them to look professional, to do all the work for them. But those who go bare-necked convey the message that they are professional by their own making. It's both confident and inviting; IKEA won't know whether to hire you or have a beer with you."
His brows narrow, an adorable confusion playing across his face. "But, naturally, I want them to hire me."
"Yeah, but, okay—" I pause, considering how to phrase this. Suddenly, my eyes dart up, forcing to catch his gaze. "Do you trust me?"
Blue and green eyes meet, with a shock of truth. "Don't you trust me?" I repeat with more urgency.
He pauses, lips parting softly. "Yes," he says without hesitancy this time, and his voice is yielding, surrendering itself to me.
While Ian is at his business meeting, I decide to pop down to the café across the street from our little hotel. My long-sleeve shirts are so drenched in sweat from this god-awful summer heat that I'm forced to wear a short-sleeve shirt, exposing my bare arms. I catch my reflection in a hallway mirror on my way down, pursing my lips at the jagged bruises littering my skin.
I exhale, and turn my eyes away. I learned my lesson; no time to feel sorry for myself.
Sitting at the café table and sipping espresso, I finally have a moment to reflect on my days with Ian and all he's said to me. I told him about Milwaukee and my parents, who I'd once described as the kind of people who lived vicariously through televised sports and new appliances, my two brothers, both married pencil pushers, my little sister, probably studying for med school by now. I told him about my aunt, the only person in the family who understood me, the one who actually encouraged me to go to Europe, the one who I aspired to be like. The free bird, the always blooming, the intense, the impulsive, the world traveler.
And he listened, not saying much, just stroking the inside of my palm as he discovered I loved, as I spilled out all the things I'd never thought I'd talk about again. Wendell or most of my exes never really cared for the past—for them it was all about the present, never about layers of history or the consequences of the future.
The more I talked, the more I missed the familiarity of home, the comfort. I stared down once more at my ugly arms, kissed with bruises, and suddenly was, once again, overcome with the desire to lay in the bed I grew up in, in the room covered with vintage posters and hand-painted worlds into my walls.
Ian didn't understand why I didn't just call home when I admitted that I missed it. The more I tried to explain the complexity of it, that I'd essentially run away, that my parents had cut off my credit card after 3 months, when they realized I wasn't planning on coming home, that I hadn't spoken to anyone in America since one last distant and cold email announcing I was going to "find myself" and was not to be contacted. That I'd escaped to Europe because I was ashamed by my own smallness, by my lack of direction in my chosen career, painting.
And Ian shook his head, encouraged me to believe that the source of my wayward ambition might be my disconnection with a home. He and I both believe I know who I am, but perhaps my lack of roots has always been my problem.
Returning my awareness to my settings, I tap my fingers against the table anxiously, my other hand absently checking the pre-paid cell phone in my pocket. Hesitantly, I pull it out and stare at it.
Then, before I'm totally aware of it, I instinctively dial the number I never forgot.
Ian's hands are wrung, flickering and picking at various things around the room. He picks up a paperweight and juggles it between palms. I sit on the desk, swinging my legs, quietly observing his nervous ticking.
His back is to me, standing before his suitcase, when suddenly he twists around, gaze finally steady. His hands are calm. "Come to England with me," he says, that beautifully melodic voice of his as serious as I've ever heard it.
A horrible pain erupts in my chest because I know what I must do. I open my mouth to speak, but a sharp rise of the hand silences me. "Let me just get this out, Effie." That intoxicatingly blue gaze of his sews my lips shut. "I don't like to make mistakes, I don't like risks. This is probably the biggest one I've ever, and ever will, make. Leaps of faith are carefully calculated, and what I consider brave most others probably consider common sense. I'm not a very exciting sort of bloke, and I gather I can't promise you the kind of adventure you've gotten from all your previous relationships.
"But we have something, or at least I feel that…we're more special than…." He's losing his footing, the steadiness faltering as he searches for his words. He sharpens again, suddenly. "I think I love you. There, I said it. I'm aware we don't really know each other, and perchance this is all hormones speaking—but there's something…indescribable in my gut. I don't know what you had planned after we left the Netherlands…but, I'll say it again: come to London with me tomorrow."
Without waiting for my reply, he steps forward and does something quite unlike himself, which is to take my face by his hands and dip his head down towards mine in a kiss. It's the moment I've been waiting for and dreading, because it makes everything between the two of us so...real, the tension between us could light a fuse. Briefly, as our lips lock, my heart might stop, and I was never a girl for fairy tale moments, the quivering knees, the kiss to break the spell.
I knew I loved Ian the moment we got off that train in Copenhagen. I might have not admitted or acknowledged it, but undeniably, it was there. Which is why it breaks my heart even more to do this.
"I love you too," I start as we break apart. Ian's face melts in a small smile and as he moves to kiss me again, it physically aches for me to take a step back. "And I don't want you to ever forget that when I say…I can't be with you."
A flicker of coldness camouflages his face for a brief moment before being replaced by a dubious glare. "That's bloody bullshit," he argues, crossing his arms. "You can't run away from me like the others. I'm different. We're different."
"Ian, it's not like that," I start, but I'm cut off by Ian throwing his hands to the air in frustration, then running a mess through his tightly groomed hair. His eyes are wide and his shirt wrinkled from our embrace, giving way to a frazzled, emotional Ian I'd yet to meet.
"Oh, really? It's not like what? You've just been using me this whole time? Get me to pay for food and room while you lick your wounds and pick another victim?"
"Then what?" He shouts.
"I'm going home," I say quietly, and his face suddenly softens slightly. "I talked to my mom yesterday, while you were at your meeting. I told her I missed her and dad. You were right, Ian—she forgave me. It was like nothing had ever happened, I think she was just so happy to hear my voice." I trace my fingers on his skin and he flinches under my touch, but he doesn't turn away.
"If I met me a week ago I would've laughed and choked on the idea of going back to Milwaukee. But you were right, Ian—you have to appreciate what you have before it's gone. These past couple of days I've been leashing myself around you, afraid I might jump your bones or ravage you or some shit, but I realized I was doing that because I was preoccupied with this notion I wasn't good enough for you. I didn't deserve you."
His face is melted now, but still wrinkled with confusion. "Don't say that."
"But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the problem wasn't not deserving you, but not being ready to. Ian, I've spent my whole adult life entirely too dependent on the men in my life. It's not healthy behavior. I can't keep going from one relationship to another, no matter how different of a guy you are from shit-storms like Wendell. I need to have time for myself."
For what feels like ages, he is silent, eyes downcast. "I do and I don't understand," he whispers finally. And finally, his eyes are a smile; a warmth that could make me forget my own name. "But don't think I'm letting you go that easily."
Seven months later, there's a knock on my door. "Baby?" My mom calls, hesitantly propping it open. Her accent is lovelier than my boyfriend's, sweetened with sugar and smooth like honey, with a gentle twang that speaks of her southern upbringing. "That was Ian on the phone, and he and I just had a lovely chat. He'd like to video conference or what not with you in about ten minutes. Oh, how you kids do it I don't know. But he's a keeper, honey. A Brit!" She laughs, as if surprised by that fact. I mean, I had just been all over Europe.
Sometimes my own mother feels like a cliché of an old-fashioned woman, still startled by the acceleration of technology, modern times, amused by the fact that I'm not yet married, and that I am in a healthy, temporarily long-distance relationship.
I wipe off my brush and flick a loose strand of hair behind my ears. The echoes of a sports match fill the house, my dad's whooping overpowering all other sounds. I nod, smiling, and step back to observe my work. My mom enters the room, still with the hesitation she's always had, and tilts her honey-blonde head to look at the painting. I think I'm going to need to explain it when she simply smiles softly and nods, wrapping her arm around my shoulder, and in that moment I know she always understood me.
I press my temple against hers and close my eyes, already nostalgic for Milwaukee, for soon I'll be moving to London permanently. Opening them, I glance around my childhood room, now filled with paintings for the London show Ian has helped me arrange.
It's funny to feel like my world was wrapped up in a neat little bow—after all the wayward slacking disguised as traveling, the flighty, forgettable boyfriends and the not so forgettable, that I might finally find myself, which, of course, is what I ostensibly set out to do in the first place. Oddly enough, girl meets boy and the world became simple. I saw my problems laid out in front of me and understood I was living life passively. It took trust in a stranger and finally, trust in myself—the self that longed for home—to realize that.
A few moments later, my mother excuses herself and I turn on my laptop. After a second of clicking around, I find the program I need and wait for Ian's face to greet me.
It's there, smiling, and my heart feels like it can't live in its body, our reunion feels so close.
"Hi," I say, my cheeks pinched with a wide grin.
"Hello," he laughs, the blueness in his eyes as much my other home as ever.
hi hi. so on my author's home page i stated i wasn't going to be completing anything-but this story was so close to being done that i figured why not, because i only had about 2 pgs of writing left in it. i forgot how much fun writing can be! but i still stand by my note, in that i won't be writing for a long while-i have a lot of other projects to focus on.
xoxoxo its been great!
reviews would be lovely, and i hope this wasn't filled with too much gooey cliche love sap stuff-but as its my probably last update on FP, i figured i'd go out with some cuteness. :)