“You know, I’ve lived here forever and I’ve never done this,” I laugh as Allen lifts me up in the horse-drawn carriage.
“Then I’d say it’s past time,” he says once he’s settled in beside me. He leans down and kisses my nose. Which is probably not sexy but it feels good, especially when he puts his arm around me. I lean into him, happier than I can ever remember being in my life.
“This is one of the reasons I love this city. The architecture of the buildings and just the atmosphere in general, it makes you feel like you are transported back in time. It honors our past… The city is entrenched in it.”
“You never thought of moving?” he asks.
“Not really. St. Augustine is home.”
“I get it. I’ve settled in Miami. It might not have been where I would pick, but it’s home now. It’s where my family is.”
“My sister Ana, my nephew, and Ana’s husband Roman.”
“He’s the man you work for, right?”
“He’s my boss, but he’s more than that. I’ve never really had a friend before, but Roman has been there for me when no one else was. Actually I drove everyone else off and Roman refused to move. I mean, I get he was there because of my sister, but he didn’t have to be. I owe him everything.”
“I would have been there for you, Allen,” I tell him, my hand squeezing into his leg. I know I haven’t known him long, but I can’t imagine not being there for him anytime he needed me. I feel that drawn to him in ways I can’t truly understand. There’s a connection between us that defies explanation and I’m just going to embrace that—I’m that confident of it.
Allen’s dark eyes hold mine and there seems to be a storm brewing in them. Something in them—which I can’t name—sends a chill of alarm down my spine. Before I can question him, his hand comes out and slides against the side of my face.
“No, Mouse. You wouldn’t have been. No one could have saved me back then, especially you. I would have hated you for trying.”
I think over his words. They hurt me. There’s so much pain and self-loathing inside of them you can literally feel it. I bring my hand up to Allen’s and I hold him there. Needing that connection with him.
“It wouldn’t have mattered. I still would have been there,” I tell him, my voice strained by all of the emotions I’m feeling. It doesn’t make sense I feel this deeply for someone—especially so quickly, but I do. I’m not about to hide from it. It’s too important.
Allen’s too important.
“You didn’t know me back then, Jessie. I wasn’t a good person.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Then you’re being naïve.”
“Let’s not talk about this right now, Jessie.”
“But I want to.”
“I’m only in St. Augustine for a limited time. I’d rather not ruin our time together talking about my past.”
“I’m here for another week, but… My life is in Miami.”
“So I only have a week with you?”
“I should warn you of something, Allen.”
His face changes and he tilts his head to study me.
“I’m going to do my best to make you want to stay with me.”
“You won’t have to try very hard, Mouse,” he says quietly and he reaches down, bringing our lips together in a kiss that is definitely sweet but tinged with sadness too.
A kiss that tells me I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to reach Allen like I want to.
“Hi,” she whispers, blushing prettily as I let her in my hotel room.
This is our fourth actual date. I thought they couldn’t get better than pizza at her apartment. Then, the carriage ride left me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. The following night, I picked her up at work and took her out to dinner. I kissed her goodbye at her door and as much as it hurt, left without asking for more.
That was going to be my goodbye. I was going to leave with the memory of perfect dates, a beautiful woman and the knowledge that despite how twisted my world is, for a moment—however brief—I had known good, touched sweet, and tasted clean.
Instead, when last night ended, I invited her over to my hotel. As soon as I asked, I felt like an idiot, but it was just out there between us and I couldn’t call the words back, it would have hurt her.
I’m nervous. I’d forgot that feeling. Since getting clean and Roman helping me face my biggest demon… I haven’t worried about nerves. Things were a tight, steady routine and that’s how I liked it. I didn’t want surprises, upheaval. I’ve had enough of that and if I was truly going to survive in this world sober, I needed predictability, mundane… boring.