We are together, and yet sometimes she is not really here. I feel so close to her, and then, in a heartbeat she is gone, those clear blue eyes clouding over, a look of profound sorrow taking her away from me.
I still can't believe that I found her. I hadn't been to that library for so long. I can't even remember now what book I was looking for. I certainly wasn't prepared for what I actually did find.
An amazing woman.
She slammed into me, books scattering, stammering apologies. My initial irritation turned into schoolboy awe as I looked into her face, her pure blue eyes smiling behind glasses that would have looked ugly on any other woman.
My heart, shrouded in grief and loneliness for so long, started to pound as her scent teased my nostrils. Lavender and ylang-ylang, smells that were so achingly familiar to me that I was transported back to another time, another woman. I could hardly string a sentence together.
"Really, Poly. Wow...I'd love to go to Poly!" She was so intense, so earnest in her enthusiasm.
I can handle the mood swings. The sun cannot compete with her when she is happy, the joy she radiates warming my skin, my soul. I can cope with the disappearing acts now and then. I have no real claim on her.
No, it is something else that claws at my gut, a gnawing doubt that plagues me at 3:00am, my chest aching with dread when I finally let the thoughts in.
Sometimes I throw his name into the conversation, wanting and yet not wanting to see her reaction. She hides it well, but love has made me too perceptive. Her spine stiffens, and some of the light goes from her face. Her smile is too broad, her tone too casual.
I remember my first meeting with him. My stomach clenches when I remember the way he looked at her. Spoke to her. Nikita and I had made love not fifteen minutes before, but the strange palpable tension that was suddenly in that small kitchen was not between us.
Why was he angry that her phones were out of commission? The conversation between them was strained, their mouths saying nothing that could not be said in front of me, but their eyes clashed and held, a silent battle of wills being fought. Apparently, he is hardly ever in town, and yet he stalked through her apartment with an air of ownership, marking out his territory. He stalked her. He smiled pleasantly at me, but I noticed a dark note of anguish in his eyes before the shutters came slamming down. Was it jealousy? I'm not sure. His behavior was that of a man who had realised a truth too late. The anger I felt in him seemed to be directed inward, rather than the two of us.
I fall back on my reasoning of old. If there had been something between them in the past, she would have told me. She has always been so honest with me, sometimes brutally so. She avoids talking of him, a spark of intense emotion flaring in her eyes when I mention his name before she blinks and I am left wondering if I imagined it.
I am lying here now, on this king-size bed, alone. I have taken her away for the weekend. It was a surprise for her, a romantic interlude that I have planned down the last detail. I admit it, it's the architect coming out in me. I think that's why we are such a good match. Miss Impulsive and Mr Compulsive Planner. We flirted outrageously during the three-hour train trip, anticipation of some time alone together making us both playful, reckless. Why am I by myself? Nikita is in the shower. Alone.
She was so happy, laughing and twirling like a small child. That was the only child-like quality about her that afternoon. Her eyes were alive with erotic promise, her mouth on mine hot and needy. I can still see her standing over me on the bed, her long legs making me a willing captive.
A phone call from housekeeping broke the mood. I saw her change right before my eyes. It would have been fascinating if it didn't tear at my heart every time it happened. Then she was playing hard to get, as least that what I thought it was. Wanting a shower. Wanting to be alone.
The door opens, and I see her face. How can a person change so much in the space of five minutes? She is as cold as ice. Everywhere. Her skin, her smile, her eyes. Her whole body seems like it was slumped in defeat. How? Why? I can't understand her, and she is not going to explain herself to me.
"I'm not feeling very well." She sounds so lost, and I don't know how to react. A slow anger, born of frustration, begins to burn in my chest.
I clear my throat. "I know you don't like to talk about your past, but every now and then I lose you." I watch her, wanting to see her reaction to the words I have wanted to say for weeks.
She swallows hard, her face blotchy from crying. She is trying hard to make eye contact with me but it is obviously difficult for her. Those blue eyes keep darting away, seeking answers elsewhere.
"Gray, I'm sorry. There are just some things I have to work out myself."
I search for the right words to say. I'm flying blind here. How can I know what to when I have no idea what is wrong, what is always wrong?
"Can I help?"
She just looks at me with empty eyes. An involuntary shiver goes down my spine. Who are you?
"Yeah." I can hear my anger finally coming out in my voice, but I don't care. I can't deal with this any more.
"Why did we come here?" Her abrupt question surprises me. I turn to look at her, trying to figure out exactly what she meant.
"Why? What do you mean? To be together." I emphasis the last word, the simmering resentment that I am feeling spilling out.
"Why here? Why this hotel?" I stare at her, knowing that she is as far away from me as she has ever been, and I don't know what to do to fix it.
"Is that why you're upset? Did Michael tell you?" Her expression shifts when I say his name. A look of hopelessness filters through her eyes. She is suddenly wary, suspicious.
"Michael? Tell me what?" She doesn't even realise it, but her voice changes when she says his name. It is as though he is suddenly in the room with us.
"Michael called the other day, when you were out. I told him that we were going away for the weekend and he said that you liked this place and that..."
She gives a sarcastic laugh, not a shred of humour in it.
I hear my voice trail off, as she moves to slump into a chair near the window, her head bowed. Her eyes filled with tears, and a look of resigned weariness came over her. What the hell is going on?
"What is the big deal?" I try to keep my voice calm, but my frustration and jealousy is getting the better of me. "Like you've got some family thing, or what?"
Please talk to me. I need to understand what I've done wrong by bringing you here.
"Yeah, yeah...it's a family thing." The words are almost a sigh. I look into her eyes, and see only sadness.
I wanted to shake her and ask her all those questions that haunted me, night after night as I lay alone. Alone because she couldn't come over because of family problems. Alone, and tortured by questions I knew that I would never ask her.
What is Michael to you?
Why do you flinch every time the phone rings?
Where do you go when you're not with me?
More importantly, I thought sadly, where does your mind go when you are with me?
I cannot do this a second longer.
"Okay, then we'll go back." I start to walk away from her.
"No!" That one word stops me in my tracks. I stand still, at a loss. What am I meant to do here? Comfort her? Be angry? This is getting all too hard.
She continues, her voice sending shivers down my back.
"I want to stay. I want us to have a good time. I want us to laugh and drink, and I want to stay up all night long."
I look at her. My god, she is beautiful. And she is mine. I can't leave her. Our eyes hold as I walk over to her, her arms coming up to welcome me. Her lips part softly as I kiss her, my body instantly reacting to her closeness, the feeling of her against me.
"I'm not crazy, I'm crazy for you." She offers me a wan smile, a spark of life in her face for the first time since she emerged from the bathroom.
I hold her close, her wet hair cool against my face. My hands caress her back through the thick toweling robe, suddenly wanting her so much that the spectre of Michael fades, my frustrated jealousy suddenly seeming ridiculous in face of my rising desire. She lets me slip the robe from her shoulders, clinging to me. I no longer care about Michael, her family secrets, the wrong numbers in the middle of the night. Passion clouds my doubts, hiding them from view. She is here with me, she is mine in that moment, and that is enough.
It is no longer enough.
I hurry now, wanting to see her. My heart is pounding, adrenaline surging through my veins. The thought of her usually makes my pulse race, but today something else has me breaking out in a cold sweat. They say that your life flashes before your eyes when you're about to die but it's not true. It's not your life but what you realise you haven't done yet that slams into your brain.
My breath is still a little ragged. I slow my pace, trying to calm my thoughts. I finger the piece of paper in my pocket. I hope I wrote down the number of that car correctly. I'm pretty sure that I haven't, but I'm going to call the police from her apartment anyway. Bloody idiot! Unbelievable that he would almost run me down and then just keep going! And where had he come from? It was like he came out of nowhere.
I reach her apartment, a feeling of peace coming over me. I take out my key, her key, smiling as I remember her giving it to me with a flourish and a wicked grin. It was almost as thought I'd passed some sort of test and she was my reward.
I take a deep breath before turning the key. How many times can a guy rehearse asking the most beautiful woman in the world to move in with him? I try to tell myself that it has nothing to do with Michael, but I can't. I want to break his hold over her, whatever it may be. I sense something between them, something dark that I cannot begin to understand. I have no real claim on her. I want one. I want her to be mine, to be out of Michael's reach.
I had already decided to ask her to live with me, but my near accident makes it seem so much more urgent. I love her. I know that she loves me, that she adores my daughter. I want her with me all the time. I have to ask her. She can only say no. What's the worst that could happen?