I stared at him across the desk
for the longest time as the world began spinning around me. Us, really, because
while he remained stationary, the office around us blurred until all I could
see apart from his face was streaked lines. The edges of my vision were fading
black when I noticed him moving. Toward me. Oh God, what was he going to do to
me when I was within reach? I scooted the chair back a bit, as if the extra
inch of space would hold him off. “H-how did you... How long...” I just
couldn’t finish a question as he continued his approach. Except he wasn’t coming
toward me, I realised. He was crossing to the door.
Turning in my seat to see what he was doing, I found a confused looking Darren standing in the doorway holding a brown paper bag with a very recognisable red and yellow logo on the side in one hand and a large drink in the other. On his face was a rather confused expression, clearly wondering why he’d been asked to bring McDonalds into a building that forbids fast foods, but I could have cried I was so grateful. Ranger had finally realised it was me and had figured I would be incredibly hung over and sent one of the men out to get me the cure. Maybe everything would be okay afterall.
Ranger handed me the items on his way back to his desk, settling into his large, intimidating chair with and ease I didn’t believe for a second. Ranger could seem relaxed and carefree whenever he planned to, but I knew from past experience that he was always ready for action. His posture was relaxed, but his muscles were most likely tensed.
“Thank you,” I sighed, unable to think of anything else to say at that point in time. My options were acknowledge that I’d just fumbled through some unfinished sentences in the face of his revelation, or thank him for thinking of my fragile post drinking state by providing me with The Cure.
“Does the Cure still work?” he asked almost curiously as I scooted my chair close to the desk and set the cup and bag on the desk so I could begin eating.
I shrugged, pulling out the fries and a napkin to spread out my food. “I assume so,” I mentioned, focussing on my task to avoid his gaze. “I hope so.”
“Haven’t had the cure in a while?”
He was acting as if he hadn’t just revealed that he knew I was me. But what was worse was, he was asking me questions, articulating thoughts I had previously thought he kept a tight leash on. I was sure he had questions and thoughts like this, but he never asked them aloud. He always just seemed to know the answer, whether he sensed them or found them in history searches, I’m not sure.
“Haven’t needed to,” I said truthfully. “Haven’t had a hangover in six years.”
“Didn’t drink down in Mexico?”
I shoved a few fries into my mouth while squeezing tomato sauce onto the inside lid of the nugget box, shaking my head in answer. “Drinking ruined my life once, I wasn’t prepared to repeat that particular mistake, even though it probably wouldn’t have mattered. It wouldn’t have been the same circumstances.”
“You’re handling this conversation remarkably well,” Ranger mentioned.
I shook my head again, finally looking up to meet his eyes. “I’m really not,” I assured him. “The only thing keeping me from running from this room and locking myself in a broom closet is the fact that I really need this food to survive.” I thought about that for a moment. “And you probably have complicated locks on your broom closets.”
“Babe,” he said, reverting to his old ways of just saying the pet name he’d assigned me and letting me attempt to figure out what he meant by it.
“Please don’t start that,” I requested. “I can’t process your tone right now.”
“Why did you leave?” he asked instead.
“It’s complicated,” I warned him, staring anywhere but his face. I focused on my dipping motion for a moment, until I couldn’t stomach any more sauce on my nugget and shoved it in my mouth, chewing slowly as I scanned the room. It was the same smooth, dark wood I remembered, all polished and masculine with only slight hints of colour; a deep crimson couch cushion, a row of emerald books on the shelf across the room. “Can we work up to it? Like, why I came back?”
He just nodded, like that was all he needed to give me.
I sucked the coke up through the straw slowly, feeling the pull of gravity as I blocked the end of the straw. I needed to word this carefully or he could take it the wrong way. Or he could take it the right way and still end up angry or hurt. Finally, I let the straw slip from my mouth and rested my elbows on the desk, fiddling with a fry between my hands.
“I wasn’t ready to come back,” I admit. “I don’t think I would have ever made the decision to come back on my own. It was only Tank turning up and pestering me non-stop for like four months that made me decide to suck it up and come back.” I paused, gazing at the space of desk in front of Ranger where his hands were splayed. His fingers were so relaxed on the blotter, not an ounce of tension in them, unlike my entire body. “I’d found a niche down in Mexico. I had a good friend who seemed to be on a similar path as me, and I made new friends with each new appointment. I was comfortable. My life was predictable, something I could never count on back here.”
Ranger said nothing, and I didn’t dare look up to his face. All I needed to know I could tell from the sound of his breathing, light and even, like we were talking about the weather, not life changing events and decisions.
“So I let Tank coerce me,” I repeat, unsure of where to go from there. “He promised me anonymity for my job interview. He came up with my cover... well, he and his sister did... and he set up the interview with a panel of men I didn’t know. But then you decided to take over.” I glanced up at him then, briefly meeting his eyes. His expression was unreadable, but not blank. The look in his gaze was peculiar. “I kept expecting you to call me out at any moment,” I informed him, maintaining eye contact. What was going through his head? “Every time you opened your mouth I was dreading and hoping that your next word would be ‘Babe.’ And it would all be over before it began. But you didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. Did you really not recognise me until last night?”
He shook his head, eyes closing briefly. “I recognised you the moment you stepped into the lobby and I saw you on the screen,” he admitted.
“But you - ! I was - ! Why didn’t you...” I spluttered, unable to finish a sentence for the life of me. He’d known? I’d been busting my ass playing up the Kit Danger thing so that he didn’t catch on, and he knew?? Anger bubbled up inside me and I was almost ready to rise from my chair and do something rash when he spoke, his even tone washing over me and soothing me just as he’d always been able to do.
“I wanted to give you time,” Ranger informed me quietly. “I didn’t want to force you into big confrontations the moment you walked in the door. I wanted you to be ready to talk to me. So I let you pretend, hoping, each time we spoke, that the next words out of your mouth would be you revealing your identity. I just didn’t want to rush you. Tank said you were still struggling with issues from your past.”
I nodded in agreement for a moment before his words sank in. Did he really just say that? “Tank?” I asked. “Tank told you I was working through some issues? Told you Kit had some issues? Or told you I had some issues?”
A grimace flitted across his face, there and gone again almost before I could register it. “I could have done things differently, I admit,” he said. “Tank called me when he came across you in Mexico and I suggested he should bring you back. He’s been keeping me informed.”
“And you’ve been instructing him on how to proceed, no doubt,” I added, crossing my arms over my chest and scooting back in the chair. Suddenly, the thought of finishing the breakfast he’d so thoughtfully provided made me sick to the stomach. “I don’t believe you!”
“Babe,” he said. “I did what I did because I love you and I don’t want you to have to hide from your problems for the rest of your life. Do you know how hard it’s been for me not knowing why or how you left? Why you didn’t tell me? Why you didn’t come to me for help? I thought we’d been working past your commitment problems. We were on a good road. And then suddenly you’re gone? It hurt.”
It was as if his words were physical blows dealt solidly to my torso. All the breath left my body and my chest ached. Ranger would never have admitted to such feelings if he didn’t feel them strongly. Suddenly, I was ashamed of the decisions I’d made all over again. I was ashamed that I’d allowed myself to let ill thoughts creep into my head and tarnish the best relationship I’d ever had. I was ashamed that I’d gotten so drunk that I couldn’t remember what happened that night. I was ashamed that I hadn’t pursued the truth from the beginning. I was ashamed that I was so unaware of my own body that I had no idea I was pregnant until it was too late. I was ashamed that I never even thought to share my pain with the man who claimed to love me; still claimed to love me. I was ashamed that I’d let it all mound up until the only option I could see was to leave without a trace.
Tears filled my vision and one by one tracked down my cheeks, forging wet paths that probably resembled trails left by snails in the garden. I sniffed back the snot threatening to drip from my nose and swiped the back of my hand over my face to get rid of the moisture.
“You’ll hate me if I tell you why I left,” I informed him, my voice thick as I tried to pull myself together. I didn’t want to break down in front of him, but his actions hurt. How could we be any good for each other if we just kept hurting each other?
“I could never hate you, Babe,” he said gently, moving around the desk once more. He was stood in front of me in seconds, pulling me to my feet and folding me into his arms. It was then, held firmly against his hard chest, breathing in the familiar scent of his Bulgari body wash, that I finally let the sob that had been working its way up my throat burst forth. “Shhh,” Ranger murmured. “Everything is all right,” He added in Spanish. “Nothing can harm you as long as you’re in my arms.”
The familiar words, words that had once been nothing more than comforting sounds whispered in his low, rich timbre, calmed me quicker than I thought possible. A cough ended my sobbing abruptly, and I jerked my head back, away from the large wet patch I’d made on his t-shirt. “Me lo prometes?” I asked, attempting to look up at him through my wet eyelashes.
“Si,” Ranger replied with confidence, running a thumb under my eyes to catch the moisture still there. “I promise.”
Taking a deep breath, I extricated myself from his embrace and took a moment to compose my thoughts and straight my clothes. Was I really going to just come out and say it? Yes. I was. It was the only way.
“The reason I left,” I started, finding the courage to stare straight into his deep brown eyes. “The reason I felt it necessary to leave, was because I’d let a personal situation get out of hand.” His eyebrows twitched as if he was thinking about asking a question, so I made an attempt at answering him. “I... There was a... development... that I kept to myself. I should have shared it, but I was uncertain, and didn’t want you to think badly of me. I tried to forget about it, but it’s the kind of thing you never really forget. I tried to be happy with you, but I just couldn’t take that extra step to accept that you really loved me and would do anything in the world for me.”
“The night I proposed-,” Ranger tried to ask something, but I didn’t let him. I wasn’t done. I hadn’t told him the whole truth yet.
“You already knew about my commitment issues,” I agreed. “You were trying to help me get past them. I know. But, this is bigger than that. And I know now that I should have handled things differently, but I was just so... The shock at first and then later the grief...”
“Grief?” Ranger said, confusion clear in his face and voice. It was the most dynamic I’d seen his face since returning from Mexico. “Babe, what happened?”
I bit my bottom lip. Hard. I had to tell him everything, even if it meant he would hate me for it. He deserved to know. He should have known six years ago. I’ve been too selfish. “The morning after I stormed out of my apartment,” I said, maintaining steady eye contact with his chest. “I awoke hungover and with no memory of the night before. I was naked in bed. And the only clue I had of anything was a text. From Morelli.” I watched as his muscles tensed, but couldn’t bring myself to look at his face. I knew it would be blank, but I feared it would be filled with anger.
“The text made it sound like we’d been together the night before. Been intimate. I was afraid that I’d gone back to my old ways, hopping between men. I... just ignored it. If I didn’t acknowledge it, whatever ‘it’ was, it didn’t happen, right? I started feeling sick a couple weeks later. I was nauseous and vomiting. I thought it was just the flu. But then things started feeling really off and my period came off schedule. At least I thought it was my period. I...” I took a breath, wrapping my arms around my middle as I remembered. “I knew something was wrong then, and I went to the doctor.” Another slow breath, as I tried to suck in enough courage to finish. He needed to know. “It was a miscarriage,” I whispered, staring at his chest. “I lost the baby before I even knew it existed.” Finally, I found the nerve to meet his eyes as I finished off. “I never told you because I didn’t want you to mourn a baby I wasn’t even sure was yours. I kept thinking of the text and what if I’d actually slept with him. I should have asked him, found out as soon as possible, but it felt like it was too late. And I...”
I didn’t get the chance to explain that I now knew that the baby was his, because at that moment, he turned on his heel, the way men are taught to in military training, and strode from the office. Stunned, it took a moment before I was able to move, to follow, but by the time I reached the open office door he was at the stairwell, pulling the door open and glancing back toward me, the hatred he’d promised he could never feel toward me written clearly over his usually expressionless face.
What had I done?