She tossed her purse onto the couch. “Seriously gal, you need to reel it in.” She waved her arms, motioning to the state of my apartment.
Despite any evidence to the contrary, my life was neat and logical. My piles of books and papers were concrete, things I could grasp. My kitchen contained only the essentials –coffee always left out on the counter and cupboards filled with cups of instant noodles. I didn’t have time for fluff, for boys and their nonsense, and certainly not for one I was studying who had baggage than a celebrity’s luggage cart.
But maybe my life needed the excitement Logan could provide. Things had gotten damn predictable: classes, boring professors, a drawer full of vibrators and romance novels dog-eared at my favorite scenes.
Still, against all common sense, I couldn’t seem to keep Logan off my mind. With the criminal case against him weakening with each passing day, and the likelihood that he would soon remember his former life, I knew he’d be moving on and I needed to let it go. Heck, it’d occurred to me more than once with how good looking and charming he was that he probably had a girlfriend waiting for him, wondering what had happened. Although in my opinion, any girlfriend who didn’t scour the city, search the hospitals, and jails and even under the overpasses didn’t deserve a guy like Logan. Period.
Still, it probably wasn’t healthy to ignore my friends, and my poor apartment hadn’t seen a vacuum in weeks. That realization smacked me in the face when Liz wrinkled her nose in disgust, weaving her way through my cluttered apartment.
“Okay, it’s decided. We’re going out tonight. Cocktails, mancandy, it’s happening. Because, this…” She gestured to the wreck that was my home. “Is concerning. You need to move past Logan, I know you think you feel something for him, but it’s only because of how passionate you are about your work.”
I’d told Logan I’d be back to see him this afternoon after my coffee date with Liz. I hadn’t missed a day since we’d met. Even though I didn’t like the idea of standing him up, I knew there’d be no dissuading her. Besides, one night out wouldn’t kill me. I could call the hospital and ask that they pass a message on to Logan that I wouldn’t be able to make it today. That way, at least he wouldn’t be waiting for me.
“Fine. I’ll go.”
She smiled. “Go shower. And I’ll do my best to clean this mess up just in case you get lucky and bring a guy home tonight.”
“I won’t be…”
She silenced me with a slap on the behind. “Oh yes you will. Now go.”
I took a brief shower and quickly shaved, unsure of what Liz might be doing to my apartment. Despite being cluttered with textbooks and papers on every available flat surface, I knew where everything was. I didn’t need her meddling with my system. When I emerged from the shower, pink and scrubbed clean, I found Liz sitting on the sofa, texting.
The apartment looked the same as it did before my shower. “Gave up?”
She glanced up from her phone. “Oh, yeah.” She waved a hand absently. “There’s no hope for this place. Just wear some damn sexy underwear, and hopefully the lucky guy won’t notice or care that you live like an animal.”
I sent a quick email to the hospital receptionist on Logan’s floor and dressed in jeans and a tank top. Liz helped me dry my hair pin straight and did my makeup too, and then I hobbled on my seldom worn heels to her apartment for some pre-drinks.
Around ten-thirty, we finally stepped inside a sleek lounge, an off-campus favorite that I hadn’t been to yet. Liz kissed the bouncer on both cheeks and he swatted her backside, leading me to believe she was here more often than I’d thought.
We sipped on cosmopolitans in sleek martini glasses, and the combination of vodka and liqueur went straight to my head. Before long, Liz and I were gyrating on the dance floor to techno music, writhing together to the delight of a group of guys observing us from across the room.
When I could no longer stay steady on my heels without spilling my drink from the rim of the martini glass, I made my way to the side of the dance floor and slid into a booth. I slipped off the heels underneath the table and stretched my aching feet. I watched Liz continue to shake her booty and grind into the lap of an overeager frat boy.
I ordered a water and rested my chin in my hands, watching Liz enjoy herself. Sometimes I was jealous of her ability to embrace the moment and live life to the fullest. She didn’t have a care in the world. Besides working, school, studying and reading, there wasn’t much else to my life. Until Logan came along.
One of the frat guy’s friends slid into the booth next to me, smiling at me with a drunken grin. “Hey,” he called over the thumping music.
“Hey,” I returned. I was so not interested, but managed to engage him in a conversation, mostly to please Liz who offered me encouraging looks from the dance floor now and then.
About ten after one, I was exhausted, tipsy and ready for bed. Alone.
I said goodbye to Liz, who was practically attached at the face to frat boy number one. She waved and made me promise to call her in the morning. As if she’d even remember this conversation, I vowed to call her first thing.
I stumbled to the street and began walking toward my apartment, confident that I could hail a cab on the way if I didn’t feel like walking the eight blocks. And in these shoes that was a distinct possibility. At least I felt safe here. The streets were well lit with streetlamps every dozen feet and the sidewalks were fairly well populated with college students out looking for a good time. Not to mention a police officer or two could be spotted fairly easily if you were looking.
I passed by a Thai restaurant, glancing up at the sign above me with a gilded golden elephant. I wondered if Logan would like Thai food, or if tasting it would spark a memory for him. A smile pulled at my lips at the thought of bringing Logan here, watching him lick spicy peanut sauce from his lips. I felt lighter in his presence, incredibly alive and carefree, something that was rare for me, since most of my days were spent worrying about my mounting student loans debt, the endless research papers that needed writing, and even my dad who was all alone back in Michigan. At least tonight the alcohol left me with a fuzzy buzz and I could daydream about Logan on my walk home.
I passed by the small park I often sat in to read or study. It was little more than a cluster of trees and some park benches, but in the heart of downtown, you couldn’t be too picky with green spaces.
The evening air was cool and felt great against my overheated skin and the nearly full moon made it a beautiful night. It would have been a nice night to walk home, if it weren’t for these blasted shoes. I stopped to lean against a lamppost and removed my heels.
A policeman prodding a homeless man on a park bench caught my attention. The man sat up, and rubbed his hands across his face. It was the same mannerism Logan used when he was tired or frustrated. It must be a guy thing. But then the moonlight caught on his bicep and a tattoo…. Logan.
It couldn’t be. Yet I found myself jogging towards them all the same, heels dangling from my hand.
The police officer had roused the man onto his feet and was urging him along. Like a slap to the face, it hit me that this was Logan. I didn’t understand how or why he’d been released, but there he stood, in my neighborhood park in the middle of the night.
“Logan!” I called.
He turned suddenly, his gaze locking with mine. He looked tired, weary and untrusting. My heart sank. There wasn’t even a question; I had let him down by not coming today. Had he snuck out to see me? Why did that thought make me deliriously happy? Sick, Ashlyn, sick. I was becoming obsessed with him and Liz was right, this wasn’t healthy. But seeing Logan here, the feelings he roused within me, I just didn’t care. I needed to see him.
I jogged the last few paces and stopped in front of him. He didn’t greet me with his customary hug, but instead stood coolly observing me. A pang of regret flared up inside me. I shouldn’t have ditched him to hang out with Liz tonight. Especially when she was ditching me for another guy right now.
The police officer cleared his throat. “You know him?”
“Yes, I know him,” I said, without taking my eyes from Logan’s. His gaze softened just the slightest bit.
“Just move it along, folks. No sleeping in the park.”
“No problem, officer.” I nodded, not breaking eye contact with Logan.
A moment later the cop turned and left, leaving us alone in the dark, silent park.
Seeing him outside the hospital was throwing me off more than I cared to admit, like he only existed within the walls of that tiny hospital room. “What are you doing out here?”
Logan rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, looking down at the ground. “They dropped the charges against me today. And then you didn’t come…”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. I knew from overhearing hallway conversations in the hospital, there was no case against him.
“And since they couldn’t legally hold me in the hospital anymore, I signed myself out.”
“Oh.” Oh was all I could come up with. He’d chosen to be homeless rather than stay another night in the hospital. It didn’t make any sense. “Well, do you have anywhere to go?” I reached for his forearm and he stepped back, out of my reach.
“I’ll be fine, Ashlyn. You got what you wanted for your paper. I heard Dr. Andrews say something about your thesis being nearly finished. I figured that was why you didn’t come back today. You’re free to go on with your life. Forget about me. Everyone else has,” he added under his breath.
I stepped in closer, placing my palm on his cheek. “No, Logan. You’ve got it wrong. My paper’s been done for several days. I couldn’t come tonight, but I left a message for you with the hospital staff.”
He raised his eyebrows, like he was deciding if he should believe me. “I never got a message.”
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t ditch you. Come back to my apartment for the night. We can figure things out in the morning.”
He removed my hand from his cheek, lowering it to my side. “I don’t want your pity, Ashlyn.”
“Logan, we both know there’s something between us. This isn’t pity. Please come with me. You need somewhere to sleep tonight. Let me be there for you.” Those last words seemed to soften him, because he closed his eyes for a moment, then nodded.
“Okay. If you’re sure it’s no trouble.”
I looked at the ground, my throat tight, and my stomach a bundle of nerves. “I promise it’s no trouble.”
I led Logan the few blocks to my building in silence, while the tension rolled off him in waves. I hated that he thought I’d abandoned him once I got what I needed for my paper. Couldn’t he see that it was so much more than that for me? We walked up to the third floor, which I’d grown used to and no longer left me winded. I unlocked the door, and grimaced when I remembered the state of my apartment and Liz’s warning about bringing a man home tonight. Who could have known she’d be right and that it’d be Logan? It seemed impossible, but he really was here, stepping inside my crowded one-bedroom apartment, making it look even smaller than it was with his large frame.
I flicked on the foyer light, illuminating the crazy mess that was my apartment. “Home sweet home,” I murmured, tossing my keys onto the side table.
“Wow. I can…see that.”
“And no cracks about my house keeping. Despite the mess, I know where everything is.”
He chuckled. “You don’t have people over often, do you?”
I shook my head. “Just my friend Liz. You’re the first guy I’ve had here.”
“Really?” He seemed surprised, almost unbelieving.
“Yep.” I tossed my heels in the corner on top of my mound of shoes and motioned him toward the sofa. “Have a seat. Can I get you anything? I’m going to grab myself a bottle of water.”
“Water would be nice, thanks.”
I grabbed the bottles of water from the fridge and when I returned to the living room, I found Logan standing in front of the single painting that hung on my living room wall, a rendition of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. His finger lightly traced the blue swirls of the sky as if he was remembering some detail. He dropped his hand and went to the sofa at the end of the room. He looming presence dominated my tiny apartment, his handsome features contrasting with the shabbiness surrounding us.
We sat down on the sofa, sipping our bottles of water. My apartment was every bit the student-on-a-budget look, cheaply furnished with hand-me-downs and furniture from Ikea. But I felt comfortable here. I had two large bookcases in the living room overflowing with classic novels and my favorite textbooks, plus various medical journals. My couch was a rich wine color with throw pillows in bright shades of lime and tangerine. The coffee table was a pale wood with enough nicks and dings to make it inviting to put your feet up on. But at the moment, neither of us seemed overly comfortable. We both perched on the edge of the sofa, with several feet separating us.
Things felt strange with him here, outside the hospital room I’d seen him in every day. It was like his every movement was magnified, his scent invading my space, his forearms tense with muscles and veins as he held the water bottle. It was hard to pay attention to anything but him.
After a few minutes of uneasy silence, Logan stood up. “Ashlyn, I think I need to be going. Being here with you isn’t a good idea. You don’t even know me.”
I didn’t point out that I probably knew him better than anyone. “Logan, I want you to stay. It’s late and we should both get some rest. You can sleep on the couch tonight, and we’ll figure everything out in the morning. I’m not letting you go anywhere. You cooperated with me for my paper, and now I want to help. In the name of research, of course.”