"Can you stay here with me?"
Her voice is so low that I'm not sure I heard her right. She keeps on watching me and her hand still holds mine as I try to figure out if she really asked me to share a bed with her tonight. I don't dare to move, only my eyes flicker to meet with hers and she holds my glance.
"Alicia…" I sigh, slowly retracting my hand from hers but she tightens her grip around my fingers and I realize she really means what she asked. I see a new tear trickle down her cheek and close my eyes for a moment as memories of our first shared night flash in front of my inner eye. The feeling of total happiness as I held her in my arms after we made love for the first time starts to overwhelm me, so I force my eyes open to push the images away. Her gaze still rests on me and once more I am too aware of the tingling that spreads through my arm and whole body from the place where her hand holds mine.
"Please?" she murmurs and another tear follows the trail of the previous down her face. I close my eyes again briefly, trying to figure out what agreeing to this might do to me, to my feelings for her that I struggle to keep at bay since I see her regularly again. I still love her and I doubt this will ever change though I try to adapt to the truth that all we can be at best are friends who raise our child together. I inhale sharply, about to open my mouth to tell her I can't do what she asks of me as my eyes meet hers again and I see the fear in them more clearly than before tonight. I also recognize the insecurity and loneliness in them I feel myself.
"Okay." I breathe, squeezing her hand lightly as I push all doubt from my mind.
"Thank you." she whispers, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. I return her smile, lifting my hand to brush the tears from her face once more. She peers up at me and I can see some of the scare is gone from her eyes but the solitude is still palpable in them and I wonder if she can see mine as well.
"You want to use the bathroom first?" she asks hesitantly, stepping back, letting go of my hand and I miss the contact instantly.
"No, you go ahead." I tell her and she nods before turning and leaving the room. I sigh deeply as the door closes behind her, shaking my head in disbelief of what I just agreed to. I step inside the room, not sure what to do while I wait for Alicia to show up again. I wander around the room, walking towards the dresser to look at the pictures standing atop the piece of furniture. I see a lot of photos of Grace, some of them with Alicia, her brother and mother. One of them catches my eye particularly as it looks like it was taken in a hospital room, so I pick it up to look at it more closely. I see Alicia sitting on a hospital bed, holding Grace in her arms. I swallow hard as I realize how tiny Grace looks and I assume it was taken only a while after her birth. I put the picture down again as it stirs the guilt up inside of me about the fact that I wasn't there for both of them during that time. I let my eyes wander over the other frames, drawing a surprised breath as I see myself on one of the photos. I pick it up and recognize the picture as one of those Richard made when I saw Grace for the first time. It is the one where I hold my daughter in my arms, placing a kiss on her forehead. I smile as I have the same picture standing on my nightstand to always remind me of one of the happiest moments in my life. I put it back as well, only realizing then the round object standing next to the frame. I take it in my hand and recognize it as a paperweight. I turn it between my fingers and see a red rose inside. I gasp as a thought appears in my mind.
"This can't be." I mutter to myself but push the thought aside and put it back down as I hear the door open behind me.
"Your turn." Alicia tells me and I step back from the dresser.
"I put some shirts that Owen left next to the sink." her voice sounds almost shy and I glance at her. She is wearing a pajama and looks even more fragile than earlier in the hospital as we saw Grace in her bed, hooked up to the drip.
"Thank you." I reply, walking past her into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. I take my time undressing, only keeping my boxer shorts on and slip into one of the shirts I find there. I brush my teeth with a brush Alicia put on top of the shirts and splash some water on my face before I leave the room again. I find Alicia already lying in bed, the ceiling light turned off and only the two lamps on the nightstands illuminate the room. I walk around the bed, sitting down on the edge, feeling her gaze on me. I turn to look at her, intending to tell her I'll go sleep outside on the couch but as my eyes meet hers I can see a silent plea in them, one that let's the words die in my throat. So I scoot back, sliding under the sheets and rest my back against the headboard.
"I guess we should try to sleep." she murmurs, reaching for the lamp next to her, switching it off.
"Yeah." I reply, killing the light on my side as well. I feel her slide deeper under the sheets next to me and after a few moments I settle down too, resting my head on the pillow.
"Good night." I whisper, closing my eyes.
"Good night, Peter." she replies and suddenly I feel her hand on mine, squeezing it lightly before she interlaces our fingers. My eyes fly open and I turn my head to look at her but can only see her outlines in the dim light cast down through the window. I hear her even breathing and listen to it, soon sure she fell asleep. I sigh deeply, certain that I won't sleep a minute tonight.
It seems that I fell asleep after all but wake up during the night, not knowing at first where I am. But the memory of last night, Grace's sickness and me agreeing to stay the night at Alicia's is instantly back. I wonder what woke me up when I hear a muffled sobbing next to me. I turn my head and see Alicia next to me, her face buried in her pillow, obviously crying.
"Hey, what's wrong?" I turn towards her, carefully stroking her trembling shoulders.
"I didn't…want…to wake…you." she lifts her head, drawing deep breaths in-between her words.
"It's okay." I try to calm her, sitting up and sliding my arm around her to pull her closer. She rests her head on my shoulder and her breathing gets more even, the sobs dying away.
"Did you have a nightmare?" I murmur, drawing soothing circles with my hand on her back.
"No." she sighs. "I just woke and realized Grace is all alone in the hospital." her voice still quivers and I can see the streaks on her face from the tears.
"I understand. But I'm sure she's sleeping, Alicia. As should you. Grace will need you at your full strength when we pick her up later. Go back to sleep." I whisper, hoping it will calm her down.
"I can't." she lifts her head, resting her arms on my chest. "Every time I close my eyes I see her, lying in that bed all alone." she squints her eyes, new tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I know, I know. But no more tears. Just rest for a while. Just lie back down. No need to close your eyes." I lean in and place a kiss on her forehead. As I move back she looks at me, a tiny smile playing on her lips. Our eyes lock and before I know what I'm doing I lean in again, kissing a tear away from her cheekbone. I expect her to draw back but she doesn't move, her gaze still meeting mine.
"I'm sorry…" I start but she tilts her head forward until our faces are only inches apart.
I stop breathing, watching her as her eyes flicker over my face and she leans in more, brushing her lips softly over mine. I feel frozen in my spot, not knowing how to react when I feel her hand slide over my chest and up my neck. Her fingers run through my hair as she places another kiss on my lips. A voice in my head starts to scream at me to make her stop, that letting this happen is a bad idea but at the same time it feels so good to have her in my arms. I'm still motionless but she keeps on kissing me, her other hand running down my chest. Her tongue starts teasing my lower lip and that's the moment I abandon all doubt and kiss her back. I feel her smile against my lips as the kiss intensifies. We break for air and I search her eyes for any hesitation but all I seem to see is the same want and need I feel myself. She starts kissing a trail down my chin and neck as her fingers find the gap between my shirt and boxers and she lets them slide under the fabric, caressing my chest. I sit up and push her backwards until she lies on her back. She pulls me down and our lips meet again, our tongues slowly exploring. I shift, so my weight rests on one of my arms and my other hand finds its way to her stomach, gently caressing her through her pajama top. She gasps into the kiss as my hand travels up, brushing against her breast. I break the kiss, searching her eyes for a sign she wants me to stop but she slides one hand over my arm to my neck while her other hand finds mine and places it on top of her breast. She reaches for my face, gently caressing my cheek as she draws me closer, kissing a trail from my temple to my lips which she captures in another deep kiss. I cup her breast in my palm and let my thumb run over her peak, feeling her arch into my touch. I move my body so I come to rest next to her, freeing my other hand as my lips leave hers to kiss down her neck up to the first button of her top. I start unbuttoning it, caressing every part of exposed skin with my lips and tongue. I feel her hands glide under my shirt, her fingertips running along my spine. I reach the last button and peer up to check her face before I carry on. Her eyes find mine, she's smiling and her hands run through my hair again, softly pulling me down to her breasts. I smile back at her before I brush the top from her chest and pick up where I left off.
I wake from a ray of sunlight that peers through the window. I feel another body pressed up to mine and I need a second to remember what happened. I exhale deeply as images from our love-making flash before my inner eye, the feeling of being loved which I had missed, but only realized it last night in Peter's arms. I snuggle deeper into his embrace, clutching his hand tighter with my own, both still resting over my heart, where I placed them before we fell asleep. I close my eyes, enjoying the feeling of happiness washing over me as I remember Grace and her sickness. I gasp, my eyes fly open and I sit up, guilt rushing through me. How could I do this while my little girl was all alone in a hospital? How could I think of anything else than her well-being? I glance over at Peter, who's still sleeping despite my sudden movements and another thought crosses my mind. Why did I ask him to stay with me? What drove me to kiss him? Was it only the yearning to feel close to someone again, the need to be seen as a woman once more and not just as a mother? Would I have let my guard down with anyone else than Peter? I sigh as I try to listen inside myself for answers to all my questions, but I only seem to know one for my last, as I suddenly realize Peter is more to me than just the father of my child, though I still have no idea how to name what he means to me.
I slowly scoot to the edge of the bed, reaching for my robe from the armchair next to it and put the garment on. I hear the rustling of the sheets behind me and as I turn my head I see Peter watching me, slowly sitting up.
"Good morning." he smiles.
"Morning." I reply curtly, the guilt and confusion still rushing through me. I can see in his face that he senses the change in my mood, the smile fading from his lips.
"Can we…do we need to talk about this?" he finally says, his gaze no longer resting on me but flickering over the empty space between us.
"No." I say, shaking my head, hoping he doesn't press me to talk as I know he'll want an explanation. One that I don't have. He looks up, searching my eyes and as I meet his gaze I can see a hint of fear in them. A fear I can understand.
"It's not gonna change anything between us, Peter." I tell him softly, trying to soothe his worry. And also mine as I really don't want anything to change at all. He nods, still holding my glance. The fear is gone but it got replaced by a sadness I've only seen once in his eyes before; the day I broke up with him. He casts down his glance quickly as if he wants to prevent me from seeing anything more in his eyes he doesn't want me to know.
"I better go." he finally states and I get up to leave the room. I head to the kitchen to make some coffee and I pour the first mug as Peter steps through the door.
"I'm going." he says, staying close to the door, not looking at me.
"You want a coffee before you leave?" I offer, trying to act normally as I imagine how this morning would've been if we hadn't slept together.
"No, I need to go." he peers down on his watch.
"Okay." I nod, putting my mug on the counter.
"Bye." he turns and walks down the hall. I hear him open the front door when I realize we haven't talked about Grace at all this morning.
"Peter?" I call after him as I hurry down the hall. He turns but I can see the impatience in his features, like he can't wait to finally leave.
"Will we pick up Grace together later?" I ask him and I see the same guilt in his eyes like I felt earlier.
"Sure, if you want me to be there." he eventually looks at me.
"Of course I do." I smile at him, hoping he realizes I really mean it.
"Okay. Pick you up around 4pm?" he replies but his glance stays indifferent.
"See you then." I agree, waving at him as he turns and leaves. I close the door and walk back to the kitchen. I reach for my coffee and lean against the counter, drinking it slowly as I ask myself if my words from earlier, that nothing's changed between us, can be true.
I don't call for the elevator but head for the stairs, not wanting to linger on her floor any longer. I really don't know what to make of her behavior, her refusal to talk about what happened this night. If I'd only knew what drove her actions, why she started kissing me and if I did something to trigger her rejection. I remember thinking I saw some feelings in her eyes, that run deeper than friendship, during our love-making but now all seems like wishful thinking, like I projected my feelings for her into every kiss and caress we exchanged last night. The realization she might never feel the same for me as I do for her hurts once again and my thoughts turn to search for fault on my end, wondering if I took advantage of her sadness and vulnerability. But as I recall the last night again, it seemed like she knew what she was doing, wanting it as much as I did. My thoughts go in circles and I realize I won't know as long as she isn't talking to me, but I also know I won't bring it up again as much as it will frustrate me. I understand I will need to try to act like her, as if nothing happened, attempting to erase this night from my mind though I'm aware that I won't be able to. I wish I would've listened to my inner voice that told me to make her stop. I'm sure I wouldn't be sitting in my car then, feeling worse than I have in a long time, but would have a coffee with Alicia in her kitchen, talking about Grace. The ring from my phone in my coat pocket jerks me from my thoughts and I realize how long I'm already sitting here, staring at the street. I reach for the phone and see Matan's number on the display. I decide to ignore it but finally put the key in the ignition and drive to work, pushing my worries away for now.