“I shouldn’t be here,” I tell her honestly.
“But you are,” she whispers.
“I shouldn’t be,” I repeat again.
Jessie reaches up and the tips of her fingers drag through my beard. The touch is gentle, but it’s the look in her eyes that I actually feel. It’s almost physical and it seeps into the darkest parts of me, calming the darkness like nothing else has.
“Come upstairs and have coffee with me. We’ll talk,” she says. I look beyond her to the building in front of us and the purple painted door on the side. It’s an old brick building in the middle of historic St. Augustine. The bright purple seems out of place, but I like it because, it’s just like Jessie… Unexpected. “Allen?” she prompts and the urge to leave is strong. I should say no.
“Okay,” I tell her, knowing better, but unable to stop myself.
“You shouldn’t invite strangers into your home,” Allen murmurs as we make it to the top of the stairs and I unlock the door to my apartment.
“I didn’t. I invited you,” I answer with a shrug, opening the door and walking in. I stand there holding the door open as Allen looks in, clearly unsure about coming inside.
“You don’t know me. I could be a rapist or a murderer.”
“Fair enough. Have you murdered anyone?”
“No one that didn’t deserve it,” he answers and his face looks extremely solemn.
That wasn’t the answer I was expecting and I can tell it hits a nerve for him—maybe even reminding him of something he doesn’t like. I should be scared. His answer should terrify me, but for some reason it doesn’t.
“Come inside, Allen,” I tell him, leaning on the door. He looks at me intently. For a minute I think he’s going to turn me down and leave. I’m preparing for it, but he crosses the threshold, surprising me.
I close the door as he passes me and I lean against it as I try and get my thoughts in order.
“You have a nice place, Jessie.”
I turn to look at him. He’s so incredibly tall and broad that he fills my small living room. He also looks completely out of place in a room with pale green walls and pink flowery accents and white furniture. I almost want to giggle, but Allen is still lost in his thoughts, I can tell, and he looks unhappy and I don’t like that.
“It’s small and honestly the furniture was here when I moved in, but it’s comfortable,” I explain while I walk into the adjoining kitchen.
“It’s sweet without being overrun with color. It’s peaceful. It fits you.”
“You make me sound so exciting, Allen. I’m starting to understand why you call me Mouse now.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being peaceful, Jessie. It’s something most would kill to have in their lives.”
I think about his words while I fix the coffeemaker. I hear a chair scrape against the floor and look over to see Allen pulling out a stool from the bar. He sits down, but he looks extremely uncomfortable.
“You don’t look at peace right now, Allen.”
“I shouldn’t be here,” he mumbles, rubbing the side of his face as he looks at me.
“I’m… We’re never going to work.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, blinking. I feel like he slapped me; that’s how dramatically his words jar me.
“Jessie, you and I are too different.”
“I don’t remember us ever dating for you to determine anything about me.”
“There’s a pull between us. You can’t deny that. I know you felt it that day in your shop,” he says.
“This always happens to me,” I grumble under my breath.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I hadn’t planned on him hearing me, but it doesn’t really matter.
“What happens?” he asks again, stressing the words.
“Crazy men,” I mutter with a sigh.
“I attract crazy men.”
“Allen, I really like you.”
“And I mean, I really like you. I like you in a I’m-thinking-of-sneaking-into-my-bedroom-and-putting-on-my-good-underwear kind of way.”
I watch as my words register and, despite the worries clogging his mind, he starts laughing.
“I prefer no underwear if you were wondering.”
“That would be good advice and maybe I would listen if you weren’t sitting at my table wishing you were anywhere else.”
“If you want to go, Allen, just go. But if you want to stay, how about I fix some dinner, we watch a movie and actually get to know each other before you decide we don’t even deserve a shot?”
“Trust me, Jessie. I’m only trying to protect you.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be protected,” I answer.
“It’s too late to cook. I can take you out—”
“How about I order a pizza?”
He studies me and I’m pretty sure he wants to say no, but for whatever reason he nods his head in agreement.
I smile, really glad I won this battle—even if I’m not sure why.
“So, what do you like on your pizza?”