“I’m fine. Just, please continue.”
He sighed, and ran his hands through his hair. “I wasn’t sure it was the same guy. His hair’s shorter for one. But when he acted all possessive with you, I was pretty damn positive it was him. I remember Shelby saying he had a jealous streak and did the same thing with Logan, like he needed to mark his territory.”
“So who is he?”
Porter shook his head. “I can’t remember his name. I only met him once.”
“Why are you telling me this? What happened to him and Logan? Do you think Shelby knows anything?” My heart pounded faster, like I was on some secret mission and was about to be discovered at any moment.
“Shelby will know all the details, I’m sure. But I didn’t know if you’d want me to include her, I didn’t want this getting out and compromising your research, but I trust Shelby. She’ll be discreet.”
“Yes, I need to talk to her. I have to know.”
He nodded. “The only thing is…”
“Shelby’s out of town for a few days. Do you have a picture of him on your phone or something, so we can at least confirm it’s him?”
I was about to answer no when I suddenly remembered the stupid shot I’d snapped of him with Tom in the living room. I dug through my bag and produced my phone. It took me three tries to get the passcode right and then several fumbling attempts to pull up my photo album since my hands were shaking so badly.
It was a close up shot and you could clearly see Logan’s face in the frame as he smiled at the camera. I turned it to show Porter.
“Good, that will work. I wanted to show his picture to Shelby to make sure it was him before I got you all worked up over nothing.”
I nodded, it seemed like a good idea. Porter typed her email into my phone and I sent the photo. Tapping my finger against the send key felt like a direct hit to my relationship with Logan. I’d always told him I’d trusted him. But now, facing the truth, I needed some time to process it alone and examine what it would mean for us.
“Just be careful, okay?” Porter said, his hand reaching across the table to squeeze mine.
“I will. Do you know anything else, about him and Logan, I mean?”
He frowned. “I only caught bits and pieces second hand through Shelby. I know it ended badly and that Logan was in the hospital after they broke up.”
I pushed the coffee away from me, as my stomach twisted violently.
Porter reached across the table and patted my hand. “It’s going to be okay, let’s talk later. Maybe I’ll have heard back from Shelby,” Porter suggested.
“Don’t call,” I blurted suddenly. “Logan lives with me. Just text or email.”
He shook his head. “Geez, Ashlyn. You don’t even know this guy.”
“I know, all right. Don’t rub it in.” I didn’t need to hear his disapproval too; I already got plenty of that from Liz.
“Fine. Let’s just figure this out together, okay?”
I nodded. “Thanks for your help.” Having Porter’s help in this eased my anxiety just a bit. I left my coffee mug in the busing tray near the door, and strode out into the cool fall air. I caught sight of something familiar and glanced up just in time to see Logan crossing the street, headed in the opposite direction. Had he been watching me with Porter? A chill skittered up my spine, and I wrapped my cardigan tighter around myself, picking up my pace towards home.
Neither Logan nor I spoke about spotting each other outside the coffee shop. I started to believe maybe he hadn’t seen me, but one morning a few days later when I got ready to leave, telling him I was having coffee with friends, he turned to me and said, “Tell Porter I say hello.”
My stomach clenched with nerves. He had seen me, but neither of us was willing to admit what we were up to that morning. It went both ways. It felt deceptive going about things this way, but I needed answers. Something compelled me forward to investigate this man I’d so freely been sharing my bed with.
I’d merely nodded weakly at him and slipped out the door. I kept up a fast pace the entire walk to the coffee shop. When I got inside, Porter and Shelby hadn’t yet arrived, so I got in line to order. I ordered a tea hoping it would help calm me, but I was too nervous to drink it, and it sat growing cold on the table.
Finally, the bells on the door chimed and I glanced up to see Porter and Shelby entering. Shelby was just like I remembered her, with long tangled tresses and a kind, but unkempt look about her. I stood up and shook both their hands, not knowing what else to do with myself. I was a nervous wreck.
Porter hadn’t told me much, just that Shelby had recognized the picture and wanted to meet with me, which made whatever this was seem all the more ominous.
“So, do you know the guy in the picture?” I asked her, unable to take even a nanosecond of silence.
“Yeah. That’s Aiden.”
“Aiden,” I repeated. The name felt foreign on my tongue.
“Yep, Aiden York, the youngest Art History professor ever to work at Northwestern.”
Art. History. The pieces mentally clicked into place. “What else do you know about him?”
Shelby bit her lip. “Porter, will you go and order us some coffee?”
He nodded and stood from the table.
Shelby swallowed and continued, “I’m sure there are two sides to every story.” She twisted her hands on the table. “Logan’s relationship with him was passionate, but rocky. They met down in Memphis where Aiden was contracted to paint a mural for a bar one summer a couple of years ago. Logan’s an artist too and was there for a summer seminar.”
My stomach was a tense knot of nerves, and I tucked my hands into my lap, waiting for her to continue.
“So where’s Logan now? Were… are they still together?” If I had the chance to help Logan…Aiden, I corrected myself to get his identity back, I would. Even if the truth would mean the end of my relationship with him.
Shelby sighed. “Things ended badly between them, and I’m not sure how much Logan would want me to tell you. I’ll have to check with her first.”
I couldn’t bring myself to ask anything further. I wasn’t ready to have my world come crashing down all at once.
I scrawled my phone number, email address and address down on an old receipt for Shelby. “Please. Let me know whatever you can.”
She nodded. “I will.”
The urge to search the web on my phone for Aiden York pulled at me. Even though I was investigating him behind his back, that was where I drew the line, but it nearly killed me not to on the walk home. I stuffed my ear buds in and cranked up my music to an ungodly level to avoid even thinking.
I didn’t go home right away. I couldn’t face Logan, or Aiden or whoever the hell he was. So many thoughts swirled in my mind. What exactly had happened between him and Logan? Did their relationship mean that he was gay and he was just…confused with me? How had an art history Professor ended up that in that dingy warehouse that day? Even with this new information, there were still too many unanswered questions.
I sat on the train and listened to my music, blankly staring out the window as the thoughts swirled in my mind. I kept my ear buds firmly in place to discourage any chatty strangers.
Later that afternoon, I found myself wandering down Lakeshore drive, but when the passing couples holding hands became too much, I fled down a side street. I indulged myself in a chocolate ice cream cone from a street vendor after realizing I hadn’t eaten all day. Then to avoid going home just yet, ventured into a cute boutique and bought myself a few new tops and a pair of jeans.
When I knew I couldn’t avoid the situation with Logan/Aiden any longer, I finally got the train headed towards home.
I let myself inside and tossed my bag of clothes on the floor. “Logan?” I called out in the seemingly empty apartment.
“In the kitchen,” he called.
His voice instantly calmed me. What was I so afraid of? We were perfect together. I held onto the tiniest bit of hope that everything would work out. I leaned against the doorframe to the kitchen, watching as he laid lightly floured chicken breasts into a skillet simmering with butter.
He looked up and smiled. “I found a recipe for chicken marsala online today.” He tossed in a handful of sliced mushrooms and splashed the pan with a gush of Marsala wine.
“It smells awesome.” The garlicky aroma coming from my kitchen was mouth-watering.
He washed and dried his hands at the sink. “Come here, baby.”
I obeyed, walking silently towards him.
He pulled me into his arms and kissed my mouth. “Why’d you leave all day?” he murmured.
“Sorry. I just needed to get out.”
He pulled back and studied me with a confused expression. He had just opened his mouth to speak when a light knocking on the door caught our attention.
“Who could be here?” I wondered, as I moved away from him to answer the door.
The knocking continued until I reached the door and pulled it open.
A woman stood before me, looking frazzled. She was thin and petite with dark hair and glowing olive skin. I got a nagging feeling, and it took me only a second to make the connection; she was the woman from the paintings.
I stood there, mouth open, taking her in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. What was she doing here?
“Is…um, Aiden here?” She lifted on her toes to peek around me into the apartment.
“Who are you?” I didn’t mean the bitchy tone in my voice; it just inserted itself into the question.
“I’m Logan.” She smiled a dazzling megawatt smile that made my knees weak and my stomach turn queasy. Holy shit! This was Logan?
Aiden must have heard her voice from the other room, because when I turned around, he was standing in the doorway with a dishtowel draped over one shoulder and his face a mix of emotions.
“Aiden,” her voice broke and she rushed to him, jumping into his arms, knocking them both to the floor with a thud. She plastered her body to his, attacking his mouth and face with kisses. He seemed stunned, but didn’t push her away.
It was sickening to watch, but like a bad car accident, I couldn’t look away.
After several seconds of her mauling him on the floor, he stood and helped her to her feet. Her cheeks were flushed pink and her smile could not be dampened. She hung to his side like a needy puppy.
I hadn’t realized it, but tears had welled in my eyes and were threatening to overflow.
He spoke to her in a hushed tone and motioned for her to have a seat in the living room, shthen he led me into the kitchen.
The chicken simmered in wine sauce, our once romantic dinner for two had just turned into an awkward party of three. Or maybe it was still a date for two – the two of them.
He pulled me into his arms and hugged me. A muffled sob escaped my throat. “Aiden. Your name’s Aiden,” I told him.
He nodded, remembrance crossing his face. “Yes, Aiden.”
Tears leaked from my eyes and streamed down my cheeks.
He patted my back and then released me. “I’m sorry, Ashlyn, but do you mind if I …” He tipped his head toward the living room.
My heart constricted painfully in my chest. “Of course. Go to her.”
I grabbed my bag and fled the apartment, unable to bear witness to their touching reunion. He had her name tattooed on his fucking arm. You didn’t do that for someone you felt lightly about.
I headed straight for the corner bar at the end of the street. I needed alcohol, and I needed it now.
I stumbled home much later and feeling even worse than I had when I left home, if that was even possible. I tried unsuccessfully to jam my key into the lock at least seven times when the door pulled open. A sleepy-eyed, shirtless Logan, I mean Aiden, stood in the doorway. He pulled me inside and against his chest and hugged me. His warm scent enveloped me in a comforting embrace.
“You’re still here,” I commented, unable to keep the surprise from my voice.
“And you’re drunk,” he whispered, his voice deep from sleep. I realized then that he was holding me upright, keeping me from tumbling headfirst over the pile of shoes near my door.
He guided me into the living room, and sat me down on the couch. “I’ll get you some water.” He turned and headed to the kitchen. “And some aspirin,” he called over his shoulder.
I kicked off my shoes and laid my head against the back of the sofa. What was he still doing here? I assumed he’d be gone. I stared up at the ceiling, which seemed to be spinning in a circular pattern at the moment. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Open,” Aiden said. I opened my eyes and saw him holding two white pills in front of me. I opened my mouth and he placed the aspirin on my tongue and tipped the water glass to my lips. I tilted my head back, swallowing the water and pills in one big gulp.
“I thought you’d be gone,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
He let out a deep sigh. “I wouldn’t have just left without talking to you first.”
Oh. “So you still intend to leave, just not until after you’ve talked to me.”
He sighed and rubbed his hands across his face. “Fuck, this is complicated, Ashlyn.”
“What’s so complicated? You either want to be here with me, or you want to go with her. Simple.”
“That’s what’s crazy. I don’t have any emotional connection to Logan.”
“You have her fucking name tattooed on your arm!” I shouted.
He pulled me by my upper arms until I was pressed up against him on the sofa. “I don’t even know her,” he growled.
My heart pounded in my chest. I swallowed and looked longingly at his mouth.
He released my arms, separating us, and our connection. “But she holds the key to my past.”