“Crossman Estate Sales, this is Karla speaking.”
So the universe does have some compassion left after all, I mused. I cleared my throat awkwardly before speaking. “Hey Karla it’s me, Katrina.”
Brief silence on the other end and then finally: “Oh. Hi. What can I do for you?”
I paused. This was going to be hard, really hard. I let my breath out slowly. “I’m…resigning. I can’t come back to the store to do it in person, and if you could, would you let Andrew know that I won’t be coming in this morning? I’m really sorry to drop this on all of you, but…something has come up unexpectedly.” I was rambling, but for some reason the words kept tumbling out and over themselves.
More silence. No doubt Karla was gathering her own thoughts, or knowing her, possibly dancing a jig in celebration.
“Hello?” A brief moment of silence I could understand but nearly a full minute had lapsed. I heard muffled sounds on the other end of the line and my ears strained to make out what they were. Two voices—one male and one female—and some assorted ambient noises like thumps and drawers being opened and closed.
Karla’s voice came back on the line. “Yeah, hold on a minute. Andrew’s asking to speak to you and wants to know if everything is alright—”
“No!” I winced, then lowered my voice to normal human levels. “I meant, no, I don’t want to talk to him and yes, everything is fine. Just tell him that I’m sorry and that I…I can’t work there anymore.”
The male voice in the background—Andrew’s—was raised in question and it sounded like he was asking Karla for the phone. Fearing that he might succeed, I hurriedly tried to disconnect, but not before I caught his voice on the other end.
“Kat? Kat talk to me, what’s going—?”
The call ended. A moment later my cell phone began to buzz. I didn’t need to look at the display to know who it was and I angrily shut it off and then flung it on the counter where it bounced clumsily before falling off onto the floor.
It lay there face up, the screen staring up at me accusingly.
My resignation had lacked a certain element of finesse, but it had achieved the desired effect. I knew that Andrew’s caring nature would compel him to keep trying my phone over and over, despite the fact that he would only be able to leave me voice messages. I would keep a low profile over the next couple of days and I was confident that if not soon, then eventually he would accept the fact that I wasn’t coming back. Whatever lingering feelings he had had for me—and he had admitted that he did have them—would dissipate over time. Perhaps he and Karla would hit it off, and if they didn’t—well, at any rate all connections between us had been severed. He was safe.
Too bad I would never know such safety, not even from myself.
Three days later found me still moving around my apartment in a semi-zombified state. I had busied myself with mundane tasks and thrown myself into a zealous cleaning mode that bordered on manic. The fridge—already sparsely stocked—had been cleaned out, dishes had been washed and neatly stacked in the dish drainer, and my floors shown with a mirror-like polish.
I was at the small desk near the window perusing through junk mail when the rapping came at my door. Sighing, I set down the stack of credit card offers and grocery store leaflets and got up, then paused briefly to check my phone.
Three days of unanswered calls would have convinced anyone that I was purposely avoiding them, and while it hurt me more than words could say to do this to Andrew, I knew that it had been for the best. There had been an undeniable attraction between the two of us—whether I had wanted to admit it openly or not—and my heart still gave a twinge at the memory. Sighing, I dropped the leaflets in the recycle bin and headed to the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Wendell. Is now a bad time?
Relief. At least Wendell wouldn’t make me feel guilty even though it pained him to see me suffer in loneliness day after day. He at least would understand and support my predicament. I unlocked the door and removed the chain. “Wendell, am I glad to see you—”
The words died in my throat as Andrew practically barged into the room from where he had been hiding behind the door, and I had to step back to avoid his determined gait. I caught a glimpse of Wendell’s apologetic grin as the door started to close, and I could have sworn he mouthed the words, “You’ll thank me later.”
Andrew’s face was set and determined and while he was obviously upset at my having avoided him for days, there was something else lurking behind those dark eyes. He turned to face me with his arms crossed. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Try as I might, I couldn’t help but take in all the little details, from his florescent green shirt with a local marathon logo on it, to the way that he had clipped his hair shorter since last I saw him. Once again I found myself irresistibly drawn to him, found myself once again feeling as if I was at the cusp of possibility.
“You know what. Why didn’t you return my calls? I left over a dozen messages.”
“My phone was off.”
In answer, he strode over to the kitchen counter where my cell phone was and clicked it on, then proceeded to play all of his messages on speaker. His voice filled the tiny apartment as with each call the confusion and desperation increased: Why won’t I return his calls? What did he do or say to cause me to become so upset? Please call me back so that we can talk, please, please....
He set the phone down. “Now you’ve heard my messages; no more avoiding me or the answers to my questions.”
“Yes, especially when you conned my neighbor into letting you into my apartment—that was classy by the way.”
“Okay, I admit that it was kind of low, but the guy cares for you same as I do. I just don’t understand why—”
“There’s nothing to understand.”
“Bullshit.” First hint of anger in his voice. “Ever since that night at my place you’ve been cold and practically unapproachable. I mean, nothing happened other than me more or less admitting to you that I liked you, so what—?”
“Exactly. Nothing happened.” Could he see past my feeble attempts to appear indifferent? Could he see how each second alone with him was like agony for me, especially when I was trying to convince myself that sending him away was for the best?
His voice softened. “Are you sure of that? Or are you just trying to convince yourself otherwise? I know that you spoke about your past and how it was best for you to not become involved with anyone, but surely things can’t be that bad.”
“Yes, they can and they are.” Unable to keep up the charade any longer, I turned away and headed down the narrow hallway towards my bedroom, anywhere where I wouldn’t have to face Andrew and his persistent yet completely justifiable questions. Let him think what he wanted so long as the truth never touched him in any way.
I waved him away dismissively. “Just go away, please.” I was crying now and felt utterly miserable.
He caught up to me and actually blocked my path, a strange mixture of confusion, hurt and anger marring his handsome face. “Kat, stop! Just talk to me, please.”
I turned the full brunt of my fury on him, forcing him to step back. “Why?” The heat in my voice caught him off-guard, confused him. I continued before I could stop myself, the words rushing out in a torrent. “Why do you care so much about me? What have I ever done to deserve such kindness and concern from you? I’ve done nothing but be evasive and cold towards you, yet still you persist. Why?”
“Because I care about you. I can’t explain it, but I feel drawn to you like no one I’ve ever known before. Maybe it’s the fact that I instinctively know you’re hurting on a level few people could ever understand—believe me, I’ve been there myself—or maybe it’s the fact that I refuse to give up on people even if they think that they are lost causes.”
“You don’t know anything about me; the things I’ve done, people I’ve hurt….”
“Then give me the chance. That’s all I’m asking for, a chance.” He took a tentative step closer but I was rooted to the spot. His voice was soft, beseeching. “I know that you feel the same way about me as I do you, otherwise you would have denied it by now.”
Before I could even begin to form a response he closed the distance between us and placed his hands on either side of my face before drawing me into a deep, smoldering kiss. My immediate response was to pull back, to put a stop to a chain of events that could potentially end in disaster, and for a split second I pushed hard against him. Andrew grunted in a mixture of pain and surprise, and I realized that my actions had cut the inside of his lip.
A split second later I tasted blood.
My instincts kicked in before my mind could fully register what was about to happen and my senses flamed to life. In that moment I tasted not only his essence—the rich and vibrant force that was his life—but also his swirling emotions: confusion over my apparent animosity towards him, doubt over whether his current actions would result in yet another rebuff, and above all else, genuine concern and love for me.
The realization that this being—this fragile, innocent human—could feel these things for me with such a purity of intent was nothing short of amazing and I returned the kiss in full, drawing him closer. I carefully probed the tiny wound and as I sucked gently at the tender flesh of his lips, his taste filled my senses and the ever-present hunger inside me quickened, demanded more.
I will not harm this one, I vowed, this one who loves me and whom I myself have come to love in return.
It took all of my willpower to force the hunger down and away and I succeeded, but only barely.
As if sensing my inner struggle he drew back, gasping. “Kat?”
I silenced him with another kiss that dispelled all of our intermingled doubts. I could feel the open doorway to my bedroom at my back and without even realizing what I was doing, I found myself edging backwards into the room. We crossed the threshold still locked in a tight embrace and as my feet made their way back to my bed with Andrew following suit, I gave no thought to what the future might hold for us. The only thing that mattered was the two of us—here, now—and the new possibilities that this all-important first step had just opened up for us.
I lay on my back in the darkened bedroom staring up at the patterns of light and shadow dancing across the ceiling. A warm sense of peace and serenity filled me and I smiled before stretching languidly, my hands twisting in the soft sheets. Andrew lay beside me deep in sleep and I could hear his breathing, strong and regular.
The whole scenario—from that first tentative yet powerful kiss to what inevitably transpired only a few hours ago—was still largely a mystery to me, yet I trusted that what had happened was far from being wrong. I didn’t lie when I told Andrew that I loved him, when we were molded so tightly to one another that we seemed a single entity, meant every word that I whispered in his ear as he slowly yet gently dispelled any lingering doubts as to the sincerity of his feelings for me, as the last obstacle between my warring emotions and my heart’s desire vanished under his welcome weight.
There was a slight rustling of sheets as Andrew stirred in his sleep. “Kat?”
“I’m here.” I turned over and edged nearer to him, taking in his warmth and scent. He scooted closer and drew me close to his chest, enfolding his arms around me. I felt an overwhelming surge of protectiveness as he held me close, and I silently vowed to myself that I would not let anything or anyone harm him in any way.
I kissed the side of his neck which caused him to shiver slightly. Eventually his pulse and his breathing evened out as exhaustion claimed him once again, and I lay there merely content to watch over him as he slept. His face looked so innocent and peaceful as he dreamt, the corners of his mouth drawn up in a small, secret smile. I leaned forward and gently pressed my lips to his forehead, careful not to wake him. “Sleep. I promise I’ll be here when you wake.”