“Married?” Megan piped up.
“According to the Florida Marriage Records, nope. That same database clears him, or any other Brett Jacobs, of any crimes, convictions, or warrants. He’s good.”
“He looks pretty old to have never been married.” That was Chelsea, the voice coming from my right.
“Well, I couldn’t find an exact age ... I couldn’t find much of anything, really. Riley?” Jena’s voice softened on my name, and I felt her hand lighten, the woman probably peering over me like a hungry bird to a worm. I let out a deep sigh that closely resembled a snore and hoped this conversation would end soon.
“Ms. Crawford, we’re up next for takeoff, please buckle.” I peeked out of the bottom of my eyelids at the pilot who glared at Jena as if she would actually listen. Shockingly, I felt my seat snap back into place as she huffed into her seat, the click of her belt reassuring me of at least a brief interlude of peace.
Minutes later, the plane vibrating with the force of our departure, we were airborne, and everyone’s conversations moved to other gossip. I kept my eyes closed, my mouth slightly ajar, and faked sleep until the moment we landed.
I didn’t know what to think about the man, his number, or our night. But I did—as I sat in my car in the airport parking lot, the radio gently playing, the girls leaving one-by-one from either side of me—pull out my phone and send a text message to the number on the paper.
We made it safely. I’m home now.
I hesitated before pressing SEND, not sure what else to say. I felt as if I should thank him … but for what? We had sex. Slept some. Screwed some more. He gave me breakfast. I ran out. Maybe I should thank him for breakfast. I typed the words, then deleted them, my cursor making a hurried backtrack over the letters. I pressed SEND before I could think about it anymore, then tossed my phone into the passenger seat and drove home. Halfway there, at a four-way stop in the middle of cornfields, I picked it back up. Read his response.
Sleep well beautiful. My bed feels empty.
My bed feels empty? What a random ass thing to say. I stared at the text. Random ass and impossible to respond to. I rolled down the window and had the strong urge to chuck the phone as far into the dried stalks as it would go. The other half of me wanted to preserve the screen under glass forever. I was a complete head case. I thought having sex would clear out the cobwebs and help me think. Instead, I couldn’t function, my brain and thought process tied into knots that spelled out Brett.
I rolled up the window, turned off the damn phone, and swore I’d stop thinking of him for the rest of the night. It wouldn’t lead to anything, I knew it. Maybe one more trip, one more stab to my heart before he disappeared forever. Nothing to get excited or vulnerable about. I was me and he was him and he’d forget about me by Monday. It had been a fun weekend but I’d probably never hear from him again.
“You don’t get to tell me to stop. I am the only one with that power. The only thing I will grant you is the ability to ask for more. To beg.”
“I will never beg for you. Not in the way you are asking.”
“Oh ... Kitten. You have no idea.”
“Don’t call me that.”
In the cell, there were no books, no television. I had a stack of blank journals, nothing else. During my first few weeks I wrote in them. Once I realized that he read them, flipped through my pages, copied excerpts into his book, I stopped. I could hold onto my memories and thoughts without giving him a front-row seat to my truths. Instead, I used the pages to draw, to illustrate pieces of my past life that would make sense to only me. My sketches started out rudimentary, crude doodles of my friends, parents, a flower I grew once in a kitchen pot. But, with unlimited time devoted to my new hobby, I improved. Grew more detailed. More lifelike. Once, I earned a pack of colored pencils, so the sketches began to contain bits of greens and yellows, blues and pinks. I tried to ration them, too proud to ask for more.
Occasionally, if a sketch was particularly good, I destroyed it. Ripped off a piece at a time, letting the bits collect in a pile before I scooped them into my hand and let them flutter into the toilet. Flushed and watched the colorful fragments of evidence swirl away. It was a self-protective measure, verification that I was not placing too much happiness, too much identity in those pages. The more I cared, the sharper the edge of the item, the bigger the weapon I handed over for him to hurt me. In that room, in that environment, he was eager for shards, pieces of my heart to poke at and record the reaction.
It was why I flushed the paper.
It was why I never mentioned Brett to him.
I was at my desk, a collection of client files stretched out before me, when my cell buzzed.
I picked it up. Stared at the words, then moved hesitant thumbs.
I had a great time this weekend.
Agreed. Thanks for...
I bit my lip, my fingers hovering over the keypad. Thanks for what? The smoking hot sex? The resetting of my prude-o-meter? The reminder of everything my current life is missing? I deleted the words.
I pressed send and watched the curtest response ever sail off into cyberspace.
When can I see you again?
It was fun, but we live a thousand miles apart. It won’t work.
my map search says it’s 410 miles
My lip bite became less about indecision and more about holding back my smile. I locked my phone and tossed it onto the desk before I made a stupid decision and sent a text that would get me further into trouble. That was him. Trouble. I rolled forward and picked up my office phone. Dialed a number and waited for Mitzi to answer. Ignored the text alert buzz of my cell and swore to myself that I wouldn’t touch it. Not for — I glanced at the clock — at least fifteen minutes.
“Hey,” Mitzi’s snap into the phone interrupted my reach for my cell.
“Hey. Talk me off this ledge.”
“I assume this ledge you speak of is Island Boy?” In the background there was the clatter of pots and the shrill scream of a child. “Shit. Just a second.” I heard her scream, threats were made, and then she was back, not even a little breathless.
“Yeah, that ledge.” I spun a pen on my desk.
“Jump, woman. Jump with both feet and arms outstretched and pretty-fucking-please take me with you when you fall.” The smile in her words didn’t belie the truth I heard in the request.
“It’s stupid.” I started the debate we’d already had three times since Monday night.