I woke up from my nightmare with a loud gasp, clutching my pillow so tightly my fingers ached. My breath came out in short gasps and I felt a terrible heaviness pressing on my chest. I couldn't remember my dream, just the feeling that it was a place I never wanted to be. I released my pillow and my fingers ached.
I turned over in bed and stared up at the ceiling. There was no way I would be able to sleep now. The door of Lisa's guest room—where I was sleeping—was slightly ajar to let the light from the living room come in so it wasn't completely dark. I knew across the hall, Lisa's door would be completely open. When we were kids, she used to leave on every light in the house so she wouldn't feel alone. Not a lot had changed since then.
Sometimes I wondered what terrible past lives we must have led to earn such pain in this one. Then I remember that I didn't believe in past lives. But what crimes had we committed to earn such a cruel and unjust punishment? My head was a complete mess. My mother was back, my father was leaving, and Daniel wanted me to go to the stupid reunion, our relationship and James's proposal to Lisa. I found myself unable to focus on just one problem.
I slid out of bed and slipped my feet into my bunny slippers. On my way to the kitchen, I peeked into Lisa's room and saw that she was sound asleep. Her trust issues might not be any better than mine but I knew she would be able to say yes to James. We'd known James our entire lives and I couldn't think of a better man for Lisa or a better woman for James. They were perfect for each other.
I couldn't say the same about Daniel and me.
I vowed to myself long ago that no one was ever going to touch me again without my permission. That seemed to fly out the door where Daniel was concerned. I not only let him touch me but let him exert his control over me. In the back of mind, I knew that it was me whowas letting him do those things and he wouldn't be if I said no. I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted him to stop. I don't know what he was doing to me, but I would be lying if I said I didn't like it. However, we needed to set boundaries.
I grabbed a glass from a cabinet and a water bottle from the fridge. Pouring myself a drink, I stepped out onto the balcony. Ah, New York. The city that never sleeps and keeps us awake as well. I'd grown up here, on Madison and Park Avenue, where my father still lived. I couldn't wait to get out of that house when I graduated high school. I'd been planning on a summer in Cuba. Of course, my grandmother had other plans.
I gulped down the water and placed the glass on the table before leaning on the balustrade. The street below was quiet except for a few cabs driving by occasionally. One of the cabs stopped in front of the building and a couple got out. At least, they looked like a couple to me but might as well be a one night fling. The doorman opened the door and the couple walked into the building.
I wondered if it would be easier to just focus my energy on one night stands instead of a relationship. I was terrible at it anyway and I knew that it would only get worse. Would it get better after that? I had no idea. I had never seen the better aspects of a romantic relationship. Trust was a hard commodity to come by.
Somewhere inside the apartment, a chime sounded and I recognized it as the sound of my phone. Who was texting me in the middle of the night? I shook my head even as I asked myself that question. The only person I knew to be a night owl was Daniel.
I walked back into the apartment and pulled out my phone from my purse. I opened the messages app and clicked on Daniel's name.
Daniel: I'm sorry about pushing you about the reunion. I just don't want you to live in fear.
I smiled and sat down on the couch, quickly typing back a reply.
Rhys: I'm not afraid, just hesitant…about a lot of things.
Daniel: What are you still doing up?
Rhys: I could ask you the same thing.
My phone vibrated in my hand and his name flashed on the screen and I sighed. I wasn't sure if I could talk openly with him while listening to his voice. It did something to me. The phone stopped ringing and then started up again almost instantly. I figured if I didn't answer, he would just keep calling and I still had to see him tomorrow… or later today.
I answered the phone.
"What's up?" I whispered. I didn't want to talk too loudly and risk waking up Lisa.
"I'm going insane over here with the need to feel your body next to mine. I feel like I'm coming out of my skin, Zelda. You've given me a calm I haven't felt in years and at the same time, I'm coming out of my skin with my want for you. I'm a starved man and you're the meal I've been fantasizing about."
How the hell can the man turn me on with a phone call?
"You have no idea what hearing you say all those things does to me, do you?"
I was never comfortable in my own skin and hearing him say those things, and tell me how much he wanted me was pretty amazing. I couldn't even get upset at him for calling me Zelda.
"You make me feel alive, Zelda, after years of nothing but loneliness. I want you with an intensity that's quickly becoming a living, breathing need."
I shifted in my spot, his husky voice and the words turning me on beyond belief. And at the same time, my heart felt like it was all but ready to let him in. I was too far away from him. I needed him here, right here, right now and I needed him to take me.
"I know how you feel. I'm trying as much as I can without feeling like I'm losing what's left of my mind. I've been through so much, sometimes I'm surprised that I even made it this far. Then you came along and whatever control I'd managed to gain in my life went flying out the window," I said. I put the pillow on the armrest and laid down, pulling the throw my legs.
"Flying out the window? I feel like you're not giving me an inch at all," Daniel said. His voice sounded deeper than usual and I heard the sound of ice clinking in the glass of whatever he was drinking.
"How can you say that after everything? I told your mother I've never had an orgasm."
Daniel's laugh was deep and husky. I pulled one leg from under the throw and put it over the other. It was suddenly very hot in the apartment. I swallowed thickly.
"Accidentally," he said.
"Okay, yes, but I did tell you which means I trust you about as much as I can stand to trust another person. I'm afraid if I give you everything and my heart ends up being broken, I might not recover from the damage."
I twisted my free hand into the throw. I'd finally said what I had wanted to say and what I should have said long before things got this far. I was far too addicted to Daniel to let him go but I knew that if he walked away now, I might just survive. A sharp pain shot through my chest at the thought of never seeing Daniel again and a sob escaped my throat. I covered my mouth, thoroughly embarrassed. Survive him? Pfft.
Daniel groaned and the sound reverberated through my spine. I shivered and dug my heels into the couch. The need to be with him was like a psychical ache in my chest. For the first time since he'd left, I wished I'd gone with him. But I couldn't have left my best friend alone when she needed me.
"Zelda, I need you to understand that I am never going to leave you. I will always be here. Just the thought of not being without you cause causes my skin to feel like it's a size too small. I don't know how to be without you. Just leaving you at Lisa's apartment was psychically painful," Daniel said, in that deep husky voice. It made me feel better that I wasn't the only one who felt this need; that I wasn't the only one who was risking heartbreak. I knew I would never leave him, I was way beyond that now. I just lived in fear that once he knew the extent of my neurosis, he wouldn't feel the same way he does now.
"Have you ever been in love?" I asked, before I could stop myself. The thought had been weighing on my mind for three days now. I told myself I could move past it but the thought kept haunting me. I might be able to live with the fact that Daniel once loved someone; that's the lie I told myself. In my mind, I had drawn up the perfect image of a woman, one I didn't compare to. My insecurities were getting the best of me.
"Why would you ask that?" Daniel asked. I sighed. That wasn't a reply.
"I was wondering," I said nonchalantly, when I was feeling anything but. The sound of my blood thumping through my veins filled my ears. I heard him take another sip of whatever he was drinking. It didn't boast well that he needed to take a drink before answering my question.
"Honestly? You're the only woman I've been interested in romantically. The only one I have ever wanted to have emotional ties with. We might come from different walks of life, but we're not that different. And as far love is concerned…I'll leave that up to you," he said huskily. I bit my lip. Love? We hadn't even gone on a date. I hadn't thought so far ahead when I wasn't even sure I had the vital organ required to fall in love. My chest ached and I rubbed my hand over where my heart should have been. It seemed to me that both my father and I lost our hearts loving a woman who didn't know the first thing about love.
"I'm not perfect, Daniel—"
"No one is perfect, Zelda," he said, interrupting me. "I'm not perfect and I don't expect you to be either. The world's perception of perfect is fake. You, with all you imperfections and insecurities, are the most perfect thing I've ever seen."
Alright, the man knew how to talk and he'd already told me all of this over the weekend. I still didn't see in myself what he did. Maybe one day, with his help, I would be able to see what he did. Perhaps one day I would be able to cut myself open and bleed all my insecurities, not tonight though.
"I've spent enough time alone and I have come to hate everything, doubt everyone. I've put people in two categories, those who leave and those who are stuck and I don't want to be a part of this world I've painted. I don't want to be stuck anymore. I want to live. I feel like the only way that is possible is if I go hand in hand with you and I would go with you, wherever you lead me."
"That's all I'm asking for. One chance and I won't take you anywhere you don't want to go," Daniel said.
"Except for my reunion," I said. I sat up and crossed my legs. Pulling my phone away from my ear, I saw the time was 2:34 am. Tomorrow was going to be a bitch with no sleep but we'd never talked like this before. I didn't want to stop in fear that tomorrow we wouldn't get the chance.
I loved it when we flirted or whatever passed for flirting for me. I loved it when his hands were on my body because it's the one time I absolutely believed him when he said he wanted me. I knew what a mess my head was and I didn't want to believe that he wanted any part of that. However, when we talked, just talked, I could make myself believe that he wanted all of me. All my imperfections, all my insecurities, my craziness, and my control freakiness.
Since I'd met him, I've often wondered if I was being selfish. He made me want to not want to be alone anymore; made me want to be with him. I selfishly agreed and went along with everything. It didn't feel right to bind him to me when he could have someone better. Someone who could give herself to him completely, without fear.
"If you don't want to go, you don't have to go," Daniel said, bringing me out of my own bitter thoughts. I blinked at the TV, not sure I'd heard him right.
"Are you…giving up?"
"I'm just tired of fighting with you over this. It's clearly upsetting you and you're right, it's your reunion and I don't have a say in this. If you see that as giving up, then sure."
It was upsetting me. There was a reason Schneider had banned me from the school and he might be ready to forget it, but I wasn't. The only reason I hadn't been expelled before I could take my final exams was because Dad had donated an obscene amount of money to the school. It was just another thing for me to feel guilty about and things only got worse. Right before graduation, the school decided to rename the library after the man who'd donated money to have it rebuild aka my father. So it wasn't just Schneider or Sheryl holding me back. It was my self-destructive teenage self. I couldn't go back to a place where one of my lowest moments in life was on display for public consumption.
"I know this is your attempt at reverse psychology and I hope that you realize it will never work. When I say I can't go back there, I mean it. It's not about Schneider or Sheryl. You said I was afraid, right? I am. The ghost of teenage Rhys haunts those halls, Daniel. I'm afraid of running into her."
I could hear him breathing and I put my head back, letting his breathing soothe me. Sometimes, just the sound of someone's breathing was all you needed. Just the feeling that you were not alone.
"I don't want you to be afraid," Daniel said, after what felt like forever.
"And I'm not. I'm not afraid to take this chance with you but you can't expect for me to overcome all my fears in one day," I said.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, Zelda but—"
"I thought we weren't going to argue over this, anymore?" I interrupted him.
"Let me finish, woman. I was going to say that there's nothing to be afraid of, but if you are, let me be your strength until you're strong enough to face your demons on your own. I want you to go to the reunion because I want you to overcome your fears. Fuck, do you think I want you to go there to mingle? I wanted to go with you because there is no way I would let you walk in there alone. I don't know the things you've been through but the picture you painted was bad enough."
The picture I painted was just scratching the surface. The bleacher incident was caused by Sheryl. What about the damage I'd caused? Maybe he could put up with my imperfections and insecurities. What about the things I'd done? The things that haunted me. I might be strong enough to make it out of bed everyday but at the end of the day, I was weak. I was running away from myself and I knew that one day, all that would catch up to me. I didn't want Daniel to be there when that day came.
"I hope you realize that you once again began this conversation without any pleasantries," I said. I was done talking about crap for tonight.
Daniel laughed loudly. "I'm sorry. I will never make that mistake again."
"I mean, it's only polite to ask how the other person is doing."
"How are you doing?"
"Ask me again when the sun has risen."
Mindlessly stirring the spoon in my coffee, I stared at a spot on the kitchen wall. I was exhausted, having only fallen asleep at four in the morning while I was talking to Daniel, but I also felt calm. I threw the spoon in the sink and heard it clatter. Picking up my cup, I leaned back against the counter and took a sip. Five more cups of these and I think I would be awake enough to tackle the day.
Lisa walked into the kitchen and grabbed the cup of coffee I had made for her. She leaned on the island in front of me and took a sip, crossing her other arm over her body. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were red. I took another sip, swallowing my concerns that she had been crying in the shower.
I gripped the counter with my other hand, playing it cool. One of the things that's made our friendship work for all these years is that we never pressured each other into talking things out. We let the other come to us and spill the beans and I knew when she was ready, she would tell me. Until then, I had to give her space. Pressuring her will make things blow up.
"Nice dress," I said.
"Nice blouse," she said.
We took a sip of our coffees and burst out in giggles. Lisa had just stepped out the shower and was only wearing her towel, her hair in a topknot. I was dressed in my navy blue skirt and white lace bra, my shirt still lying on the bed where I had put it before my shower.
"So...?" I said.
I rolled my eyes. "Lisa, have you made a decision?"
"Is that your answer?" I asked, afraid. I didn't want her to say no. I wanted her to be happy, to give hope to us damaged souls that there was a silver lining. A rainbow that the end of this insanity.
She rolled her brown eyes. "No, that is not my decision. I…just haven't given it much thought."
"Is that why you were crying in the shower?"
She sighed and didn't answer. I knew I shouldn't have brought it up but hell, I was her best friend. I could let her cry and I was going to stand there and hold her hand through it.
"I don't know what to say to him. What the fuck was he thinking proposing? I don't know how to process that. How…how can I get married thinking he's probably going to end up like Michael? I mean, come on, I'm hot now but I won't always be this way. And why the hell would James want to take on all this baggage and insecurities?" Lisa exclaimed loudly. She followed her exclamation with a loud gasp and I looked up at her. Until then, I'd been staring into my coffee cup, a sad smile forming on my face. I hated that she was feeling this way, however, she finally knew what I went on and on about. And I was surprised that she'd actually mentioned her father.
She gazed at me with empathetic brown eyes.
"I'm sorry for…hell, I don't know, everything I've said so far I guess. We practically went through the same crap, but you never know how it feels until it happens to you, right. It's just…" Lisa trailed off, her eyes shimmering. I turned to dump the rest of my coffee down the drain. It was becoming hard to swallow and I didn't feel like eating or drinking anything at the moment.
"Terrifying," I supplied. "After everything, it feels terrifying that someone would want to be with you. That you will have to learn to trust again and risk your heart. That someone could want you despite all your flaws. You're terrified thinking what will happen when they really see the extent of your damage. And you feel selfish because you want to be with them, ignoring the fact that there might be someone out there who'll make them happier than you can."
I'd spent the whole night having this conversation with Daniel. Problem was, he listened and didn't reply. He might have told me I was the only woman he's ever been romantically interested in, but I felt like that didn't answer my question about him ever being in love.
I felt Lisa wrap her arms around me from behind and placed her cheek on my shoulder.
"We should totally date each other," she said.
I laughed. "Well, if you keep wrapping your naked body around me, it just might happen."
Lisa burst out laughing and I could feel her shaking against my back. When she tried to pull back, her towel got hooked in my bra snap and almost came off. She yelped and wrapped her arms around herself to keep the towel in place.
I couldn't control my laugher.
"When I said naked, I didn't mean literally," I said.
Lisa straightened to her full height and rolled her shoulders, a blush turning her cheeks rosy. I'm sure I matched. We flirted some but that was as far as it went.
"I'm going to put my clothes on before a nip slip occurs," Lisa said.
"Good idea. I don't think James would appreciate that I see anything before he even does," I said.
Lisa turned impossibly red. "Oh, he has."
With that, she ran off into her room, leaving me standing open mouthed in the kitchen. I ran after her and found her door already closed.
"What do you mean he already has?" I asked through the door. I can't believe something that significant had occurred in their relationship and I didn't know about it. I didn't want the details though I would have appreciated being told about it. This was huge.
"It was spring break," Lisa said.
"There's a cliché."
"Well, people do stupid things on spring break. James and I…we sort of…made out, in a hot tub. We decided not to talk about it," Lisa called from the other side. What? How the hell didn't I know about this? They made out. I always think that the first kiss is the tipping point of any relationship. The kiss is when you know if it's worth it. The tingles down your spine, the goosebumps on your flesh, the need to never let go. Sigh. I couldn't wait to get to work and plant one on my boyfriend.
I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms.
"How come how I didn't know about this?" I asked.
I heard something crash in Lisa's room followed by loud expletives. I straightened and was just about to step forward when the door was pulled open. Lisa stepped out in a tight grey skirt and navy blue blouse that stretched across her chest and revealed more cleavage than appropriate for a work place. As her boss, I shouldn't condone this. As her best friend, I knew James was going to go crazy.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Babe, as much as I love this look, you should put on your shirt. I'm afraid Daniel won't be able to keep his hands off you if you show up in a bra," Lisa said, laughing shrilly. I raised an eyebrow. What the hell just happened? I waited for her to explain but she wasn't even looking at me.
"I'm going to grab a muffin. Come on, we're going to be late," she interrupted me. She rushed down the hallway and went towards the kitchen. I started to follow after her when my phone rang in the bedroom. I heard the TV come on and Lisa switched over to the news channel. I walked in the bedroom, thinking I'll have plenty of time this evening to question her about her behavior. Better yet, I'll just ask James.
By the time I reached my phone where it was charging on the nightstand, it had stopped ringing. I pulled out the plug and picked up the phone just as it started ringing again. The screen said Unknown Number and my blood ran cold. I'd all but forgotten that she was back. How cool was that?
Daniel had made me forget about her. I should have known better than to forget. One would think that Verna Coles had developed a heart all of a sudden. As much as I wanted to tell myself that I was nothing like her, the cold hard truth was we were both heartless.
I dropped the phone on the bed and picked up my shirt. It was an oversized shirt and the material was light enough to keep me cool without being sheer. I tucked the shirt into my skirt and sat down at the edge of the bed and slipped my feet into my white pumps.
I pulled my hair into an artfully messy bun and stuffed my nightie and other clothes into my overnight bag. The phone continued to ring on the bed and I took a deep breath, ignoring the annoying sound. Anyone important would call Lauren first. She was the best way to get me to answer a call or email.
"Aren't you going to answer that?"
I looked up and saw Lisa's head poking around the door-frame. She seemed to have gotten over whatever crawled up her behind.
I zipped up my bag.
"It could be the universe calling," Lisa sang.
"Please don't start with the universe this early in the morning," I said. My phone had shut up and I thought finally, maybe the universe was on my side…until my phone started ringing again. Lisa raised an eyebrow. My patience was gone and I grabbed it off the bed and answered it.
"For fuck's sake, I don't want to talk to you so stop. Calling. Me."
Lisa stared at me with wide eyes.
"Good morning to you too, honey," Dad said in my ear. I cried out and covered my mouth.
"Oh my god, Daddy, I'm so sorry. I thought you were…never mind," I said. Lisa was leaning on the doorframe, shaking with silent laughter, her eyebrow still raised. I shook my head and picked up all my stuff.
"Who's Never Mind and how come I haven't heard of him before?" Dad asked, chuckling. I ushered Lisa out the door and she went back into her room to get her purse.
"No one, it doesn't even matter," I said. I peeked into Lisa's room and saw her applying make-up at her dresser. She was going to be a while. My own make-up had been applied after my shower so I was good to go. I walked to the living room and away from where she was likely to hear me.
"Honey, if it upsets you, than it's important," Dad said. I sighed and wondered if I should tell him. He knew she was back, yes. But I didn't want to tell him she was trying to contact me relentlessly. If Dad got upset, I was afraid he might seek her out and that would be the worst thing ever. That's what I was trying to avoid.
"It's not important. I would tell you if it was," I said.
Dad sighed and I heard a pen tapping in the background. I could imagine him sitting in his chair at work and restlessly tapping away his pen on his table. I didn't want to stress him because stress was a trigger. He would never admit that he was clean. He always said that he was a recovering addict and I didn't want there to be any triggers. Our relationship had been great for the past ten years and I was afraid that Verna being here would rock that boat.
I'd never been happier that he was leaving in a few days to go to his recovery camp.
"Is this about Daniel? Is he not treating you nicely? I will turn his life into a living hell if he ever hurts you," Dad said. I dumped my bags on the couch and sat down on a chair. The idea of my father turning someone's life into a living hell was intriguing. His addiction aside, he was the nicest person I had ever met. I couldn't imagine him hurting someone on purpose.
"It's not Daniel. He's…perfect," I said, blushing. Dad and I talked about mostly everything. There'd never been any occasion to have this conversation. A girl usually has this talk with her mother or step-mother(s), but that door had been closed a long time ago and I clearly had no intention of opening it. And talking to my grandmother was not an option. I was trying hard to focus on the good things in my relationship with Daniel and if she found out, she would lists all the flaws and make sure I never see Daniel again. She wasn't a bad person. She just wanted me to have all the best things in life.
"Wonderful! I was worried there for a second about my grandchildren. Good to know that door is still open," Dad said excitedly.
"Okay, this is just getting into crazy territory again. I'll see you at work okay?"
"If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. I'll see you at work. Besides, I think I saw Daniel in the lobby earlier, I think I'll go talk to him. I love you, honey."
Before I could react to that, Dad hung up and I sat there horrified. Oh my god. Dad was going to share his crazy ideas with Daniel, that can't be good. Alright, it was his crazy idea that led me to Daniel only because Dad hired him without informing me. This is idea would surely end up with me pregnant. I looked down at my belly.
"Lisa, we have to go! The world is about to come crashing down!"
AN: Happy New Year, everyone!
Let me know what you think.