While I'm Alive

Chapter Fourteen

I kept busy for the rest of the day, doing what I could to avoid thinking about Owen and what had almost happened between us. Instead, I ended up doing the opposite. I'd finally come to the conclusion that there no doubting he had been about to kiss me. It wasn't something I had imagined. For some reason, it was both thrilling and scary at the same time.

I felt my phone suddenly vibrating in my pocket. I tugged it out and felt the breath sucked from my lungs. It was him. He was calling me. I panicked and hit the ignore button. I had no idea what I was doing. I wanted Owen, yet at the same time, finally letting that secret come to the light terrified me. In my head there were two scenarios, the one where Owen and I ended up together, and the one where he pretended nothing had happened and we went about our lives.

"Are you sure everything's okay?"

I was jolted out my thoughts and sent plummeting back to reality by the sound of another voice. I blinked at Violet from across the table as she swiped another fry from my plate and popped it into her mouth. She gave me a questioning look, still waiting for an answer.

"Yeah, sorry. Just tired." I lied, giving her an apologetic smile. She looked like she wanted to contest that, but thought better of it when I pushed my plate towards her. "Finish these. I'm stuffed."

She popped another fry into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. I propped my elbows up onto the table, resting my chin in my hands. Every time the cafeteria door would open from behind Violet, I would twitch, trying not to look obvious as my eyes searched for Owen's familiar build. "You know, I was going to let it go but your edginess is starting to make even me feel nervous." She said. "Something happened, didn't it? And I have a very good feeling that it has everything to do with Owen."

I groaned, running my hands over my face before peeking at her between my fingers. "It's a long story." I mumbled. She gave me a disbelieving look and I dropped my hands back into my lap.

"Well, it's fine if you wanna spare me the details but this is a very small place. Meaning you can't avoid whatever happened forever and at some point, because it's Owen, he's going to corner you about it." Violet shrugged.

"I mean I don't want to avoid him forever..." I trailed off, and I really didn't. Not at all. I just needed to get my head straight first.

"Listen, I don't know what's going on with you guys and it's none of my business." Violet said quietly, leaning across the table so none of the other employees in the cafeteria would feel tempted to eavesdrop. "Romantic, platonic, whatever. But I wasn't kidding you when I said I've never seen him so set on spending this much time with somebody. Regardless of in what kind of way it is, he cares about you. And you care about him too. So grow some balls and deal with whatever it is that happened."

I stared at her with wide eyes when she finished, watching as she casually squirted another heap of ketchup onto my fries. "Jesus, for somebody so small you can be pretty intimidating."

She smiled at me, pushing her dark her out of her eyes. "It's a gift."

"Yeah, well, it worked. I'll talk to him." I sighed in defeat. "Tomorrow. I have to close tonight."

She shrugged. "Just don't wait too long, Rylan. I know he can be cocky, but Owen's one of the best guys I know."

"I know." I agreed, thinking back to the first night I'd spent with him, sitting in the stadium underneath a view he'd never shared with anyone before. I pulled back my plate towards me and grabbed a handful of fries, forcing myself to eat even though my stomach was in knots, and tried not to worry about how I would be able to talk to Owen without not thinking about that tiny, inch of space that had been the only thing between our lips.

Work had been consistently busy the entire night, which I was thankful for when it finally created a distraction for my active thoughts. It wasn't until the rush had died down, and the last customers of the night had trickled out, that the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach had returned. I was moving in slow motion, not wanting to go home just to lie in bed while my mind occupied me for hours and hours and it made it impossible for me to sleep.

I had just finished restocking the bar and wiping it down when Denny appeared from the back office, looking surprised to see me still working. "You the last one left?" He asked.

I nodded, giving him a sheepish smile. "Yeah, I told everyone I'd finish up so they could get home early."

"Well I hate to leave you alone here, but I'm dead on my feet. You okay to lock up without me?" He asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I'll be fine, don't worry about me." I assured him.

"Don't work too hard." He joked, giving me a small smile. He gave me a friendly squeeze on the should as he walked past me and out the front door. When he was gone, I grabbed the remote off the bar and pointed it at the stereo, shutting it off and casting the restaurant into silence.

At my old job, I had always loved closing up on my own. The quiet and stillness after a long day was peaceful, the emptiness of the restaurant calming. It was the same here and I reveled in the feeling as I grabbed a rag from the soapy water bucket I'd brought out from the kitchen, moving into the dining room to wipe down the tables. I took my time, wiping underneath the condiment bottles and napkin holders, even wiping down the upholstered chairs and booths. I was lost in the mindlessness of the job, so much in fact, that I nearly had a heart attack when I glanced towards the door and saw Owen standing there.

I gasped, stumbling back into one of the tables and knocking over the pepper shaker. "Holy shit. You scared the crap out of me!" I breathed, placing a hand over my racing heart. I glanced down to see tiny grains of pepper had spilled everywhere. I went to work cleaning it up, trying to busy my hands and eyes. I still couldn't stop myself from looking up at him again, where he was leaning against the doorframe in his jeans and t-shirt, arms crossed over his chest. My eyes flickered back towards the tables as I wiped the soapy rag across the surface. "I was planning on calling you back later. I didn't mean to ignore you. I've just been working and-"

"Creating terrible lies in order to avoid me?" He interrupted and my eyes shot up to see an amused smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

I felt my face flush as I turned my back on him and moved towards the next table. "No, but I'm sorry if it feels that way. I really was gonna call you later. I mean after my late dinner with Claire." The words fell from my mouth in a rush and I realized I was rambling and probably sounded ridiculous. "Did I tell you that I was having dinner with her earlier? I swore I did but maybe I didn't."

"Rylan, shut up."

I froze, whirling around to look at him. The rag was forgotten on the table for the moment. "What?"

He pushed himself off the door frame and crossed the room in sure, even strides looking every bit the self-assured man I knew him to be. Everything about the moment made me feel incredibly nervous. My heart pounded erratically against my ribcage as he stopped, barely leaving a foot of space between us.

"I need to kiss you. Right now." He said in a low voice. I stared at him, a wave of nerves, excitement, and uncertainty rushing through me. "So please, just shut up.'

I opened my mouth and quickly shut it again, floundering for words. He needed to do what now? Before I had a real chance to process Owen's words, coherent thought was out the window as he took one last step forward and closed the space between us. The warmth of his mouth against mine sent a current running through me. There was no hesitation, no uncertainty like there often was with first kisses. Instead, his lips moved against mine in a tenacity and boldness that made my heart falter inside my chest.

I threw my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, his hands sliding over my shoulders and down my sides until they were gripping my hips tightly. My back hit the side of the booth as he pushed me backwards, pinning me against it with his body. He smelled like peppermint and something that reminded me of the way the earth smelled after it rained, and it was intoxicating and thrilling all at once. He deepened the kiss, one of his hands finding it's way into the back of my hair as his tongue slid over my bottom lip and into my mouth. I was only half aware of how heavy my breathing sounded, but couldn't seem to control it when all I could think about was the way my body felt against his, the way his hands seemed to spread electricity through me everywhere he touched, and that kissing him sparked a hunger in me that wanted more more more.

Time felt nonexistent, it could have been minutes or hours, but eventually it ended though I couldn't remember who had pulled away first. My arms were still locked around his neck as we both struggled to get our breathing back to a normal pace. More than that, it was still a struggle to think straight, too aware of the heat radiating off of him and his hands on my waist. When I opened my eyes, he was smiling at me in a way that made me start blushing all over again.

"Stop by my place when you leave Claire's...I wanna see you." He said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. He leaned in and my eyes fell shut as his lips brushed softly against mine. Then, the warmth of his body was gone. I opened my eyes again to see him heading towards the door of the restaurant, shooting me one last crooked grin before he was gone.

The second I was alone, I felt behind me for the booth's opening before dropping down into the seat. My pulse had yet to slow down, my heart pounding against my ribcage like waves against a shoreline. My legs felt like rubber, and my stomach was still fluttering like I was standing still at the top of roller coast before the unavoidable drop. It was overwhelming how aware I was of all these things so strongly, and all at once. Dazed, I lifted my hand and felt my lips. Sore, and like the rest of me, aching for more. Never in my life had a kiss left me feeling so...discombobulated. Never before had I been kissed like that at all, actually.

An uncontrollable smile tugged at my lips until I was sitting there grinning like an idiot. I buried my face in my hands, feeling incredibly silly. If there had been any doubt in my mind before, it was gone now. There was no avoiding it, ignoring it, pretending it didn't exist. The anxiety and the nervousness of the future suddenly seemed unimportant and I remembered what I had said to Owen weeks ago...the future was happening either way. I'd rather feel this, whatever this was, right now than run from it because I was afraid it wouldn't last.

Owen had kissed me, and now he wanted to see me later.

I slumped back against the booth, hands falling into my lap as I shamelessly grinned to myself, wondering how it was possible for one person to have such a monumental, significant effect just by one, not so little kiss. Then I realized something.

I wondered if Owen had any idea he had just given me my first lightning strike moment.

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