I sat there long after my dry heaves had stopped and my legs had gone numb. My phone, dropped somewhere on the carpet in my haste to make it to the bathroom, chimed every few minutes, alerting me that I had a new message.
Finally, I dragged myself up off the floor and sank onto the mattress after grabbing my cell phone. I scrolled through the missed calls to my brother’s number and hit call, running a shaking hand through my hair as I waited for him to answer.
“Fucking hell, Chloe! What is going on? Are you okay? Where the hell are you?” Jackson roared, completely foregoing the standard hello-how-are-yous.
“I’m fine, Jacks. I just needed some time, okay?” I said quietly.
“No! No, it’s not okay, Chloe! You can’t just fucking disappear like that, especially after…have you talked to mom?” he asked, his tone turning subdued.
If I hadn’t already gotten a text from my mom, I’d have known something was wrong right then. “She texted me. I know that…I know.” I couldn’t bring myself to utter it out loud, afraid that it would make all of this real instead of the dream I was hoping it was.
“Where are you? We’ve had people looking for you ever since mom called me, even though we’ve been trying to get ahold of you long before that, at least just to make sure you were okay.”
I rubbed my eyes and yawned tiredly as I answered, “I just needed some time.”
Jackson sighed. “You already said that. Luke and T.J. are out driving around and so am I. Just tell me where you are so I can come check on you.”
“I don’t need anyone looking for me, right now. I just need time. I’m safe. I’m in a hotel in Florence, Kentucky,” I said, begrudgingly.
“Florence? What the fuck are you doing there?” he asked.
“I just drove and this is where I ended up. Look, I’m just gonna ride out the night here, okay? It’s already late, isn’t it? I don’t even know what time it is…but I’ll be back in town tomorrow. Call off your dogs. I’m fine.”
Jackson gave a short, barking laugh, filled with mocking. “It’s only seven in the evening and, yeah, fine is one thing you’re not. This is gonna stop, Chloe. I want the whole story from you so I know what the hell is going on. Stop shutting us all out!”
He cut me off. “Just tell me what hotel you’re in at least,” he said impatiently.
I told him and hung up, curling up into a ball on the bed and sobbing my eyes out. I cried, finally, for everything that had happened with Greg, which is something I hadn’t really let myself do. I cried about the whole Brandon situation, and I cried because I could only think about how much I let everyone down…I felt like such a piece of shit for running off, making everyone worry.
I cried until I could cry no more, my sobs were just little hiccups, and my face was completely red and swollen, my eyes gritty and burning. I switched off the light and hunkered back down under the covers, ready to slip into a, hopefully, dreamless sleep, when there was a knock at the door.
I rolled my eyes and stomped to the door, knowing that my brother couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to have driven down here. I peeked out the peephole and about swallowed my tongue when I saw Brandon standing on the other side. His face was drawn, almost haggard, but he looked pissed off.
I gulped and stepped back from the door, hoping if I ignored him he’d just go away. I should have known better.
“Chloe…” he said softly, dangerously. “I know you’re in there. Quit peeking through the peephole and open the door.”
With a shaking hand, I released the locks on the door and swung it open, stepping back as Brandon pushed past me into the room. I closed it behind him and locked it once more, squeaking in surprise when he swept me into his arms the minute I turned around.
He hugged me to his chest tightly, murmuring ‘I’m sorry’ into my hair. I tensed briefly and then allowed myself to melt into his arms, taking his offered strength without question, even though I wasn’t letting him get away with the hot and cold game anymore. He came after me…surely that meant something, right?
“Brandon…what are you doing here?” I asked him softly after a few minutes, tilting my head up to look into his stormy eyes.
He gazed down at me as he cupped my cheek with his hand, our eyes locked as he lowered his head and brushed his lips gently back and forth across mine.
My breath left me on a sigh, my lips parting to grant him the access he so sweetly sought. He kissed me carefully, tenderly…like he was afraid I would break. The sad thing was, it felt like I still might.
After our lips parted, he closed his eyes and rested his forehead against mine, still holding me close. His breath, warm and minty, bathed my lips as he spoke.
“I never should have said what I did earlier in the shop. You know it’s not like me to be so…so fucking indecisive! I know what I want and I go after it, but, with you, I just…God, Chloe you tie me in fucking knots! I don’t know which way is up and it’s something that I never felt before.”
He blew out a breath and moved away to sit on the edge of the bed, pulling me down beside him. He turned, angling his body so that we were face to face as he took my face in his hands, staring at me earnestly as he continued speaking.
“I’ve felt lust before. I’ve been in love before, too, with Allie. She made me feel invincible and happy but there was always that little part of me that was levelheaded. She drove me nuts wanting her and-Jesus, I’m not saying this very well. What I’m trying to say, Chloe, is that, that one kiss with you, it shook me. It opened my eyes and I found myself looking at you in a totally different light and I felt guilty about it. I seriously felt like a fuckin’ girl, changing my mind over and over because I was so afraid to let you in because I don’t want to ruin what’s always worked for us, for our friendship.”
He shook his head. “And then you pushed me away, hid from me after we…I just…fuck, Chloe! The things I feel for you scare me!”
“And you think they don’t scare me, Brandon?” I interjected. “I’ve been petrified since I kissed you, someone who’s always been a good friend to me, someone who was involved, seriously involved, with a woman that I love like my own sister! But then Allie and I talked and I started hoping…and then…and…I fucking fell in love with you!”
The last words came out on a shout, echoing in the stunned silence left behind. It stretched on, that silence, for what seemed like eternity before Brandon said, quietly, “That settles it, then. You’re mine, Chloe, because, God help us both, I’ve fallen in fucking love with you, too.”
I gasped, scared to believe I just heard him correctly…to think that maybe, just maybe, this could really be happening.
I searched his face, finding nothing but honesty written across it and my heart swelled with hope. I leaned in and captured his lips with mine, sweeping my tongue across the seam of his mouth, seeking entrance. He parted his lips on a groan, his tongue meeting mine in a tangling frenzy, kissing me deeply.
Breathing hard, we broke apart and just held each other, taking everything in. After a while, Brandon pushed me back so he could see my face.
“It’s time to talk, Chloe. No more hiding, especially now that Jackson told us Greg is out. We all need to know what that means, what exactly happened with you two.”