“Yes, but … shit. You’re a sad drunk, aren’t you? You shouldn’t drink alone.”
“I’m missing it, all of it,” I said softly, touching my fingers to my mouth.
“Missing what?” he asked. “You know, my dad was messed up for a lot of years. He’s made up for it. Sometimes, you have to forgive your parents. They don’t have it figured out all the time either.”
“Falyn, go to sleep, babe. It’s only going to get worse.”
I nodded even though he couldn’t see me.
“Keep the phone to your ear. Lie down, and close your eyes. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep.”
He didn’t speak again, but I could hear him breathing. I struggled to hang on to consciousness, if only to know how long he would stay, but it didn’t take long for the heavy fuzzy feeling to pull me beneath the surface.
A terrible hangover, Don’s funeral, and the countdown to Eakins made the week one of the worst I’d had in a while. Taylor’s intermittent texts were always a welcome highlight and helped me pass the time until the night before our flight, but the time in between was agony. He hadn’t even mentioned my totally inappropriate late-night conversation, which I appreciated.
The night before our flight to Chicago, I found myself full of nervous energy. Taylor would be picking me up at five thirty a.m. to take me to the airport for our eight o’clock flight.
For the first time in five years, I wished my closet had more of a variety of clothes to choose from. I folded my favorite jeans and set them atop the rest of my things. As a freshman in college, even a weekend trip had called for at least a large rolling suitcase and a carry-on. Now, my things barely filled the rolling carry-on duffel I’d borrowed from Chuck.
Standing over the packed bag, I wrung my hands together, wondering how on earth I was going to fall asleep. It was already eleven o’clock. If I didn’t go to sleep right then, I might as well just stay up.
I frowned. Exhaustion did not fit into my fantasy of how the weekend would go.
Someone knocked on the door, and I jumped.
“It’s me,” a deep voice said from the hall.
I rushed to the door and jerked it open.
Taylor was standing there with a wide grin on his face and a full backpack hanging from his shoulders. “I just figured I’d crash here. Is that all right?”
I threw my arms around him. Time reversed to the last moment we had been together, almost directly below where we now stood. Standing on my tiptoes and squeezing him a bit too tightly made everything a thousand times better. It was as if the last wretched week hadn’t happened.
When we parted, he scanned me from head to toe. “I didn’t anticipate you wearing that.”
I looked down at the thin white tank top I was wearing, barely long enough to cover my navy panties. I tugged it down. “I was just getting ready to go to bed.”
“Awesome. I’m bushed,” he said, tossing his backpack to the floor. He closed the door behind him.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this for me. You don’t know what this means.”
“You’ve said that a lot this week, but you’ve yet to tell me why,” he said, slipping his arms out from his jacket. He took off his ball cap and tossed it onto the counter.
“I’m working it out in my head. I’m not really sure how I’m going to pull it off.”
“I’m not going to ask, but I have no idea how to prepare.”
He cocked his head. “Whatever it is, Falyn, I want to be with you.”
“If you say so,” he said, sounding frustrated.
I couldn’t blame him for being unhappy. He was doing me a huge favor while being left in the dark about what exactly it was. I hadn’t said it out loud for more than five years, and being this close, I was afraid that if I did, I would jinx it.
We both looked around, a sudden awkwardness invading the room.
“Do you … want some sheets for the couch?” I asked.
“I have a choice? Then you take the couch.”
I smacked him on the arm and then shifted nervously. “It’s got that, um”—I pointed, my finger making small circles—“that broken bar thing. It’s a bitch to sleep on.”
He raised an eyebrow, three lines deepening across his forehead. “I remember. So, I guess this means we’re having a slumber party.” He began walking toward my bedroom.
“Seriously, Ivy League, just tell me where to go. I’m fucking tired, and we’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
I held out my hands and then let them fall back to my thighs. “Okay then. The bed. But that’s not an invitation for anything else.”
Passing him, I switched off the light and pulled back the covers. I crawled into bed, watching his bulky frame fill the doorway. He eyed me as I settled against the mattress, and then he crossed the room, standing next to the bed while he kicked off his Nikes and pulled his T-shirt over his head. His muscles stretched and strained while he unbuckled his brown leather belt and unbuttoned his jeans, and then he pushed them down over his backside and thighs, letting them drop to the floor.
As hard as I tried to seem unimpressed, Taylor was fully aware of the masterpiece that was his body. After all, he was the one who would spend hours in the gym each week to perfect it. Regardless, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of staring. My facial expressions, my breathing, and my every movement were all at the forefront of my mind. I was wary of the rising level of lust I felt for the mostly naked man in front of me.
The tattoos on his arms extended over the hard slopes of his pec muscles, displaying thick black tribal art, flames, and a skull, all amazingly detailed with beautiful shading.
Not that I was looking.
Down to his gray boxer briefs, Taylor crawled into bed next to me. I turned away from him, feeling my cheeks heat to a bright pink. Without apology, he wrapped me in his arms and pulled me closer to him, my back warming instantly against his skin.
“I wish I could have gone with you to Don’s funeral. I know it sucked.”
“It was awful,” I whispered. “I haven’t cried that hard in a long time. I can’t imagine how his family must have felt.”
“You were family, too. You were the highlight of his day. You seem to be that for a lot of people.”
“I’m glad you weren’t there. I went through at least one box of tissues. It wasn’t pretty.”
He hugged me to him. “It gets easier, but it never goes away. It changes you forever.”
“Let’s go to sleep. I don’t want to get into it tonight.” He relaxed his grip, bent his arm under his head for extra support, and kept his other arm draped over my middle.
I rested my arm on his, lacing my fingers between his. He squeezed and then took a deep breath.
“I know this weekend is important for you. But when we get back, I just want you to know that I don’t want to be friends anymore.”
My muscles tensed. “Like, you don’t ever want to see me again? Or you want to be more than friends?”