Fall From Grace

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Chapter 4

I heard Lea’s laughter in the kitchen and smelled the fresh aroma of dark brewing coffee. My mouth watered. I had missed Lea’s muddy strong coffee.

I still had my heels on. So I slipped out of them, changed my jeans for a pair of boy shorts and just left Shane’s shirt on. Then I walked out into the hallway and into the bathroom. I wondered if Conner was still here. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I walked out of my room to run into one of Lea’s friends. I laughed remembering the time one of them tried to jump in the shower with me. The poor guy didn’t know what hit him, but the way he screamed like a girl, made Lea and me both laugh for days. I could tell that Conner was different for Lea though, she was serious about him. As long as he didn’t try to bathe with me, I figured he was golden.

I floated into the kitchen, grabbed a mug, filled it with coffee and turned around to find Shane leaning up against the sink, watching me. He ran his hand through his mass of sweaty hair and wiped his forehead with the tee shirt he had hanging around his neck. He wore nothing else except a pair of black running pants and sneakers.

Conner came into the kitchen dressed the same way. Apparently, they went jogging together every day, Conner was explaining to me, but I was too distracted by the sight of Shane to listen. He was ridiculous to look at; every single muscle on his body was clearly defined. The only word that popped in my mind was delicious.

Shane cocked his head and gave me a sideways smile. His eyes were the lightest shade of blue I’d ever seen. They were intense and alarming. They reminded me of something from long ago. “Red, you still have my shirt on.” His voice was low and raspy, wrapping itself around me. I could understand perfectly how any girl could fall for him; he was dangerously beautiful.

Embarrassment spiked through my veins. I was standing in front of him with his shirt still on and a pair of tiny boy shorts. I saw him smiling and appraising me. There was no way I could let this man know how he affected me. There’s no way, I could let any man affect me, period.

His eyes continued to sweep over my legs, and I could swear that everywhere his eyes locked on me, I could feel a slight touch. I kept my gaze steady on his eyes until he locked back onto mine. An alarmingly gorgeous half-smile stared back at me.

“Would you like it back right now?” I asked daringly.

Conner had stopped talking at some point during our conversation, but neither Shane nor I noticed when. I only noticed Shane’s slight forward movement at the thought of me returning his shirt at that moment. Like I would fall into his trap and take my shirt off for him.

“Sure thing,” I said and bounced my way out of the kitchen and back into my bedroom. I change into an oversized sweatshirt and sweat pants, ran back into the kitchen and tossed the shirt at him. “Thanks again,” I called to him as I left the kitchen.

Lea was laying on the couch in the living room in the same exact place I left her the night before. She had her Kindle eReader on and was probably devouring some cheesy romance novel. I sat down next to her and sighed. “What are you reading now?”

“Vampire romance. It’s pretty hot, you should read it after me, and get away from reality for a while.”

I barked out a laugh. “Nothing can make me forget my reality,” I answered flatly.

Looking up Lea asked, “Why do you have an aversion to reading all of a sudden?”

“Why bother? There’s no book; fictional, horror, fairytale, anything that could come even close to the warped disturbing reality of my horrible existence,” I shuttered.

“Gray,” she leaned forward and hugged me. “Why don’t you just try to live a little? Do what makes you smile. Stop looking for things that aren’t here. Just enjoy the things that are here.”

If only it were that easy. I leaned back and smiled at my friend. In a blink of an eye, this life would be over.

Conner and Shane strolled in and stopped abruptly, feeling the seriousness of our conversation. I stood up and without a word walked back down the hallway and into the kitchen to reclaim the coffee I had left there. I needed to escape before anyone saw me cry.

“Everything okay?” I heard Conner ask.

Shane chuckled. “Did I piss her off? Shit, I didn’t make her cry or anything, did I? She just asked if I wanted my shirt back. I thought I’d get to look at her half naked again!”

I heard Lea stomp off the couch. “Shane, you are the biggest egotistical self-centered man I have ever met. If you think for one minute, someone like Grace would spend more than a minute with you on her mind, you’re more than stupid.” Her voice got louder. “Her brother died yesterday. Ass hat!”

She stormed through the hallway. The sound of the bathroom door slamming shook the walls.

Within two seconds, Conner’s voice was murmuring to her though the locked door. I leaned my hands on the kitchen countertop letting the cool granite calm me.

The floor creaked softly behind me. Shane leaned against the counter next to me. He was so close that I felt his breath on my temple. It took all the control I possessed in my body not to scream at him to get away from me. “I’m sorry...Grace, I didn’t mean to be a smart ass. I didn’t know about your brother. I didn’t mean to...”

I shook my head and sighed. I didn’t even turn to look at him.

“I’m being serious, Grace. I know how much it sucks to lose someone you care about.” I felt him lean in closer and it made me dizzy. “Look at me.”

I met his eyes with mine, and then his gaze traveled down to my lips. Of all the male egotistical, crappiest things to do, he was trying to use my grief to get me to kiss him! I swear, if he leans in and tries to kiss me, I’ll bite his lip right off!

His eyes lifted back up to meet mine. He had to have seen the disgusted expression on my face. “It is what it is. You said nothing that affected me Shane. Thanks for the condolences for my brother. And, do yourself a favor, don’t bother trying to mess with my head, it’ll be a waste of your time. I won’t sleep with you. Just treat me like one of the guys and we’ll get along fine and then you won’t have to stand over me in a kitchen pretending you give a shit about anyone other than yourself.”

He blinked and hesitated for what seemed like an eternity. Then a devilish smile crept across his face, “Who said I wanted to sleep with you? You’re just one of the guys. I don’t do guys.”

I burst into laughter and matched his smile. Leave it to an egotistical man to make a joke about it.

He slid his hands off the countertop and dropped them to his sides. His smile lingered for just a moment and he backed away. “Although, I have to admit. You are the sexist guy I’ve ever met.”

The totally goofy grin that was plastered on his face right before he walked out of the kitchen made being mad at him almost impossible. Almost.

After a few minutes, the four of us converged back into the living room and hung ourselves over the furniture. For some odd reason, Shane and I found ourselves sitting next to each other on the couch. Lea was cuddled on Conner’s lap in one of the chairs, and she was spastically flipping through the channels on the television. Shane was continuously texting someone, or a bunch of someones, and smiling like an ass.

Every so often, he’d read a message from off his phone and brush his arm against me and laugh. I forced myself to ignore him, but he still hadn’t put his shirt on and the closeness of him made me want to reach out and feel his skin. He really was ridiculously beautiful. Too bad, he wasn’t much more then eye candy.

Another twenty minutes was all I could stand. I jumped up, grabbed my sneakers, and put them on.

Lea sat up. “Where are you going? We were going to go to the bar again tonight around ten.” She gave a nod towards Shane. “His band is playing another gig there. Want to hang out again? I’ll let you get drunk this time and hold your hair back,” she pleaded.

I tightened my laces and stood up. “I’m getting antsy. I thought I’d go for a run.”

Shane put his phone on the table and watched me.

“Well, what about hanging with me tonight? We haven’t seen each other in six months, I missed you!” Lea whined.

“I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel after my run. If you’re not here when I get back, I’ll text you.” I hurried out of the room and out of the front door. I just needed to be outside.

The minute I turned around to stretch my legs against my front steps, Shane was standing right next to me. I rolled my eyes and ignored him. That is until he started stretching alongside me. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“I thought I’d run with you,” he said laughing a little. “I figured you wouldn’t care; you know, since you’re just one of the guys, and this is what I do with the guys. Unless you don’t think you could handle it.”

Mentally flipping him the bird I smiled sweetly, “I’ll try my best.” I took off running along the street and headed towards Fifth Avenue; hooked a right and sped passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It had been a little over six months, but I could do this run in my sleep. Even at the hospice, I ran at least ten miles a day at the gym, just to separate myself from what was happening. I took up running after my accident when they taught me how to walk again in rehab and I never stopped. Running is as natural to me as breathing now.

Once in Central Park, I started on the Reservoir Loop around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Shane kept pace with me silently. The only sound I focused on was my feet hitting the soft cinder pathway. My eyes stayed focused ahead of me, never once acknowledging Shane next to me.

The Jackie O Loop is about 1.5 miles long, and as soon I completed it, I started on one of the full loops through Central Park along the East side. I vaguely remembered each loop being about five miles long. I ran them twice. I think I hit my runner’s high twice; it was pure bliss. Starting the second loop, my mind took over; my soul pushing me forward as it always does, my body just a machine.

Shane kept pace still. I decided that he wasn’t human.

I ran through the 86th Street Transverse, out onto Fifth Ave, and slowed my pace. I continued to slow until I was cooled down and walking; breathing evenly. I walked towards my apartment steps, only then noticing night had fallen and the temperature had dropped to around 35 degrees. I stretched my legs against my steps; still remaining silent.

I guessed Shane was somewhere behind me doing the same thing. I didn’t care to look at him until he cleared his throat, seemingly to get my attention.

I spun around to face him. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk glaring at me in what looked like disbelief.

“You’re a runner, huh?”

I made a stupid face at him. “I said I was going for a run. You assumed that I wasn’t man enough?” I snapped.

Shane shook his head at me and gave me an amused expression. “Not many people surprise me, Grace, but you just surprised the shit outta me.”

Ignoring his statement, I got out my key and unlocked the front door.

I heard him sigh behind me. “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty ’til this night,” he murmured.

My hand released its grip from the doorknob and I looked back at him. One arm rested on the railing of the stairs, the other lay over his heart.

“Shakespeare,” I whispered.

He nodded a sad smile at me and turned to walk away.

I opened the front door and stepped halfway inside.

“Hey, you coming to the bar tonight?” he called out after me.

I stopped and turned around, “Maybe, I don’t know. I have to see how I feel after a shower.”

A smile burst onto his face, making him more stunning than it was humanly possible. “Do you need help with that? I’d like to see how you feel after a shower too...”

I slammed the door on him, but I couldn’t help smiling. Crap.

Less than an hour later, I was dressed in a pair of jeans, an off the shoulder sweater that Lea forced me to put on, and a pair of knee high leather boots that I had forgotten I bought last winter.

I was then locked in the bathroom and again forced to endure a complete hair and face make-over from Lea, who decided it would be her mission to get me to look, as she so eloquently put, doable.

My jet-black hair looked bouncy and wild, and she did the makeup around my eyes to make them look smoky and sexy. Oh dear God, even I wanted to take me home! She wasn’t going to stop until I went out on a date with someone.

This wasn’t the first time she did this either, it was probably more like the fifth. Each time, I ended up going out with some guy who was nice, but who just wasn’t for me. I hated this game.

“Lea, I don’t want to try to impress anyone, this isn’t me,” I said.

She rolled her eyes so expressively I thought they were going to pop out of her head. “Gray, I could cover your face in shit and make you wear tampons as earrings and you still would be the hottest girl in the bar. Besides me, of course.”

“So why am I getting all dressed up. Where’s the shit and tampons?”

She slapped me across the shoulder playfully. “Look, I just think you need to feel a little sexy and try to live a little, that’s all.” She sat down on the edge of the bathtub and a serious expression crossed her face. “Gray, all you got is me now. I just want you to have fun. Make this life the best you ever had. And, you know who was asking a ton of questions about you?”

I pretended to care, “Hmm...who?”

“Tucker. He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?”

“Sure. Come on. Let’s go have some fun.” I said pulling her out of the bathroom.

When we walked into the bar, the guys were already there. Tucker and Conner sat with their backs to the empty stage and waved at us. Shane was sitting on the right of them in between the longhaired drummer and bass player of his band. Leaning against his chair with a beer in one hand and his guitar in the other, he looked relaxed. I hoped that he was utterly exhausted from the run; it would serve him right.

Tucker stood up when we got to the table and gave me a broad smile. It made me want to throw up, and I didn’t even understand why. Conner grabbed our coats and put them on the back of various chairs.

“Grace, you didn’t get to meet the rest of the guys last night. Of course, you know Tucker and Conner,” Lea said, sounding oh-so-dorky. “This is Ethan, the drummer,” she pointed to an extremely blond guy who looked to be the size of two NFL football players. He saluted me with a drumstick. “And, this is Brayden, the bass player, and you know Shane already.” Brayden nodded at Shane and me. Well, Shane just stared at me saying nothing. I chuckled inside; the run must have gotten to him!

The last band member, who was introduced as Alex, showed up with a huge bucket of ice-cold beers for everyone.

Lea grabbed me by the hand and shoved me into the seat next to Tucker, who promptly handed me a beer. I tried to twist my face into a smile. This was going to be a long night.

Tucker leaned closer to me and whispered into my ear, “You look incredible.”

I leaned back and smiled. “Thank you.” He was sweet. Very attractive too, just, well, I guess I’d give him a chance. A small one. I looked up to see Shane watching me. He didn’t take his eyes off of me until the drummer, Ethan, hit him on the head with one of his drumsticks to let him know they needed to be on stage. Shane was definitely not used to a girl saying no to him. He looked pissed at me. Oh well.

“What the hell was that look?” Lea asked when Shane got up to leave. He had to have heard her, but he didn’t acknowledge the question.

Tucker leaned in smiling, “Well, take a look at her, she’s beautiful. Of course, Shane is going to look at her!”

I shook my head. “No. I think he’s pissed at me. I sort of told him off this afternoon and then he challenged me to a run.”

Lea’s eyes widened. “He ran with you?”

I nodded my head and laughed.

Tucker and Conner both looked confused. “Why is that so funny?”

“I made him run about twenty miles without stopping. I didn’t jog either. I ran. I think he’s pissed, because his ego got a little wounded.”

The guys burst out laughing. “That’s awesome!”

A moment later, the emcee was introducing Mad World again and the crowd tripled before my eyes and went wild. Shane’s unbelievably sexy voice cut through the noise of the screaming audience and silenced them. The power his voice had over everyone was crazy.

The music was absolutely moving. Whether they played a fast or slow song, they were talented. I found myself ignoring the conversations I was involved in with everyone at the table just to hear the words to the songs or the sweet chords thundering from Shane’s guitar.

I was grateful when Tucker left to use the bathroom. I stood up and watched Mad World play. A slow piano melody drifted softly to my ears, I closed my eyes and listened. Lea walked over and grabbed my hand.

“Come on, Gray, let’s go up and watch them. This is one of my favorite songs.”

We made it up to the stage without getting into any brawls like the night before. I laughed at the thought. Lea stopped in front of Shane and he winked at her. As Alex played his keyboard, Shane walked to the back of the small stage, grabbed a guitar, and started playing an intricate melody.

My breath caught in my lungs. Shane was playing a twelve-string double neck harp guitar.

Lea watched my expression. I looked at her with my eyes wide. “Yeah, I know right, Shane’s freaking talented.” She laughed. “Gray, close your mouth, you’re drooling. I would tell you to take a chance on that kid, but he’s just as fucked up as you are. I just thought you’d get a kick out of him playing that. I figured you are the only other person on this planet to know what that instrument is.”

Shane poured his soul into the rhythm, blending the notes perfectly with Alex’s classical piano melody. You couldn’t hear anything from the crowd of people who were watching the band, awestruck. Ethan slowly started a beat and Brayden’s bass collided with the soulful sound of Shane’s voice.

I stand there

And no one knew me

I reach for her

She looks right through me

I can search this world over

She can’t see me

I drown in tears

They look right through me

From behind me, a strong hand grasped my shoulder and Tucker’s face appeared next to my cheek. “I was wondering where you went. Do you want to dance?”

Without waiting for my answer, he spun me around and wrapped his hands around my shoulders. Conner had already grabbed Lea and she winked at me. I gave in and danced, swaying to the music.

When the song ended, Shane said goodnight to the crowd and bras and panties where thrown onto the stage. Shane grabbed a black lacy bra and held it up to his nose and the crowd roared. The band jumped off the stage and they were immediately surrounded by a group of blonde half-naked girls.

Canned music drifted from the speakers and people started dancing again, blocking my view of the band.

Tucker and Conner dragged us back to the table where Lea and I decided we should play a drinking game called Fuzzy Duck. It was definitely time to let loose.

Lea and I got the bartenders attention and he brought two bottles of Tequila and grabbed a handful of shot glasses. We got back to the table where each band member had returned to the table; each one had a hot blonde on their lap, except for Shane. He had two. I shook my head, smiled and raised the bottles of Tequila over my head.

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the first drinking game of the night. Fuzzy Duck!” I announced.

Everyone stared at me.

“Fuzzy Duck?” Tucker asked.

“Yes, Tucker. I said Fuzzy Duck,” I replied. “Here are the rules. Everyone starts by taking one shot. Then we pour another. We go around the table and each person has to say Fuzzy Duck. The first person who messes up has to take a shot and around and around we go!”

“Fuzzy Duck?” Tucker asked. Again.

“Yes, Tucker. I said FUZZY DUCK.”

I filled all the shot glasses and we all took a shot. The first round was hard. Not all the groupies could remember what they were supposed to say. Within an hour, and two more drinking games, everyone was pretty much buzzed; the blonde groupies more so than everyone else.

They fell over each other laughing and giggling. One of the girls who had occupied Shane’s lap was aptly named Barbie. She abruptly caused the end of our drinking games when she heard a song she liked and began giving Shane a lap dance in front of everyone.

Lea rolled her eyes and pretended to dry heave. She threw a fistful of waded up napkins in their direction, hitting Barbie in the head. “Holy Strippers, Batman! Are you that desperate to make sure he goes home with you?”

Barbie didn’t stop and she pretended not to hear Lea’s question. She ground herself into Shane’s lap, grabbing his hands and placing them over the edges of her hiked up skirt. He grabbed into the flesh on her legs and she arched back and let out a high-pitched moan. Oh, crap.

“Maybe she just needs a few dollar bills?” I said. Everyone laughed. But it didn’t stop her. She moved his hands up over her breasts, and then making it worse, the other blonde who had been sitting on his lap before joined in too. Spikes of heat flamed through me. No. This should not affect me.

“Ah! Change the porn channel! You’re gonna give me an STD over here!” Lea shouted.

That made Barbie stop and stand up. She put her hands on her hips, which made us all laugh because her skirt was still hiked up and we all saw her neon pink thong. “Why don’t you mind your own business, skank!”

“Skank? Me? I’m not the one giving a guy I just met a lap dance in public.” Lea jumped to her feet.

Barbie backed off a step and started to say something, but Lea cut her off. “Don’t even try, because you might find me smacking the slut out of you in a minute!”

The song changed into one I knew and I pulled Lea towards the dance floor. “Let’s dance. Who cares what she’s doing.”

With one hand on me, Lea grabbed for Conner with the other. “Well, I care. My boyfriend is watching it!” Conner didn’t seem fazed though, which made me think he was probably used to Shane and his many friends.

Tucker followed us to the dance floor and we all moved to the music together. Well, all except for Tucker, who sort of bounced back and forth against the music. Lea and I giggled into each other, watching him and his Stereotypical White Guy Dance, forgetting about Shane and the blonde airhead Barbie.

We left after a few songs, and Conner and Tucker walked us home. When we rounded our corner, I started to feel nervous. Tucker was probably going to try to kiss me. The kiss didn’t worry me as much as the feeling behind it. Would I feel anything? Or, would it be like every other time when I felt nothing but hollow; empty?

Lea fumbled with the keys to the front door as Conner gave her tiny butterfly kisses on the back of her neck. She laughed, opened the door and pulled him in by the collar. They disappeared into the darkness of the hallway and probably headed straight for her room.

I hesitated on the first step. Torn between finally wanting to feel whole again and yet knowing I never would. I climbed to the top step with Tucker right behind me. I swear time slowed as I turned to face him. His hand was already against my chin pulling me forward. His eyes gazed into mine; warm chocolate. I wanted to feel something; I wanted the longing to be over. Closing his eyes, he touched his lips to mine. Dry and chapped. His body leaned into mine, his tongue separating my lips. His kiss turned strong and rough, with the edge of his teeth sharp and lusty.

He pulled back and we held each other’s gaze. A lifetime of averageness flashed before my eyes. Despair and sadness seeped through my veins. Law firms, stuffy office parties, civil ceremony, miscarriages, suffering. Not that he wouldn’t love me enough, I just would never love him enough, and he would never be faithful. Why settle for something like that, when you’ve tasted heaven and you’ll always know what you’re missing? I was still alone in this life.

Tucker smiled down at me as if he had felt something different. “I’m sure you hear this every day, but you have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re almost silver.”

All I could offer was a half-smile. I clutched his jacket tighter in fear that I might run and never come back. All I could think of was Lea and how I couldn’t hurt her like that. Nevertheless, I wanted this life to be over. I would never stop longing for something that would never be real. The emptiness in my soul was physically painful.

Why couldn’t Tucker be the one I’ve waited for?

“Could I take you out for dinner next weekend? Just you and me?” he whispered as he planted little kisses on my nose and my cheek. Any girl would be happy about this!

“Like a date?” I moved back, trying subtly to stop the continuous kissing. “Um...sure. That sounds...nice.”

He smiled wide and waited for me to say something else. Did he think I was going to invite him in? God, the thought of sleeping with him made me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong, my body was up for it, but my mind was screaming obscenities at it. Shane’s haunting lyrics played in my mind.

I stand there

And no one knew me

I reach for her

She looks right through me

I can search this world over

She can’t see me

I drown in tears

They look right through me

That’s how it felt. As if Tucker looked right through me, I was invisible. He couldn’t see the real me standing in front of him, just the body of a pretty girl with light gray eyes.

I was trapped; imprisoned.

I backed up and tried to give him my best Oscar winning smile. “I can’t wait.” I moved closer to the door and turned the knob.

For a split second, Tucker looked disappointed and then contentment covered his face. “Great. How about Friday night around seven? I’ll pick you up.”

I pulled myself through the front door. “Sounds like a date! I’ll see you then. Goodnight, Tucker.” I closed the door on him, but not before seeing another flash of disappointment cross his face.

I leaned my back against the door and hung my head in my hands. I don’t even know how long I stood there. The only reason I remembered to move was because I heard Lea and Conner laughing from her bedroom.

The sounds of their happiness made my insides ache. I glanced at the clock; it was almost two in the morning. If it wasn’t so early I’d run. I probably wouldn’t even make it a mile. Best thing to do was sleep; figuring I’d weigh my options on what to do with Tucker in the morning.

I opened my bedroom door and froze. An icy cold breeze blew my curtains gently; casting shadows across the room from the moonlight. I flicked my light on; I never left my window open. Gabriel lay sprawled across my bed, his hands folded behind his head.

Relief flushed through me. I was afraid it might have been Tucker waiting for me.

“Gabriel,” I greeted him. “What did you do, climb the fire escape? You couldn’t use the front door?”

Gabriel frowned. “You were busy at the front door. You didn’t even notice me standing on the sidewalk. How was your kiss? I thought you might vomit on the poor boy.”

“Hmmm. Yeah, I guess I almost did. Do you think he noticed?”

“Mr. Kissy face? No, Grace. He’s way too captivated by…what does he call it…your smokin’ hot bod, to notice.” The only emotion he showed was a slight hint of amusement.

“Yeah, I figured. Geez, did you really hear him say that about me?”

He ignored my question. He reached for my guitar case, opened it gently and took my guitar out. Closing his eyes, he strummed the strings creating a melancholy composition that hurt to listen to. The notes silently sung of longing and need. Tears filled my eyes.

“Why are you here, Gabriel?”

His eyes opened and the color in them made me want to curl into a ball and die a thousand deaths. They reminded me of the one I searched and longed for.

“I just wanted to see how you were. You looked fine outside. Moving along in your life, I see.”

“Get out.” I whispered. I walked over to where he lay and took my guitar from his hands. “Get out and don’t come back. Ever.” I placed my guitar back inside its case, and a million thoughts ran through my head of how I could possibly get away from all of this.

He was next to me in an instant, grabbing me by the shoulders. My skin burned uncomfortably under his touch. He forced me to look into his eyes.

“Gabriel, please. Leave. You can try to spin whatever you want to what I do, but I’m done. I want this to be over. I can’t do this anymore. I’m looking for someone that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t exist. If I have to keep doing this, just let me quietly exist without coming here and making me question things further.”

“Grace, you have never and will never quietly exist. You shine on earth as if the sun was born here. You have been a beacon for all of humanities sufferings and exhilarations.” His voice became a whisper, “And you, my dear, have been steadfast in your belief of finding something that I know for a fact, does still exist.”

His words brought me to my knees and I crashed to the floor. “Please, Gabriel. Please tell me where he is.” I pleaded.

Embracing me tightly, he whispered against my cheek, his lips just brushing against my skin. “I’ve told you too much already, Grace. Just live this life of yours.”

My head spun franticly. “Please, Gabriel. Please!” I begged. But in an instant, he was gone. Out the window, through the door, or into thin air, I had no clue. My heart pounded against my chest, remembering the words Gabriel said to me. I wondered what his punishment would be for helping me keep my faith.

Sleep came swiftly and heavy. Tucker’s kisses and Shane’s hands on Barbie haunted my dreams until my body could take no more of it and I woke at six. Three hours of sleep was not nearly enough, but my body wouldn’t let me stay in bed any longer.

I slipped on my running gear and headed towards the front door. I ran down the steps and almost tripped over Shane who was sitting on the last step.

“Ouch!” He scrambled to his feet as I ran into him.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded.

“I was going for a run and I thought you or Conner would be up for one.”

I laughed. “Conner won’t be up for a while. Shane, did you even sleep? I only got like three hours.”

His face flushed. “Nah, I’ll sleep later. I have too much energy.”

I smiled, “Wow, that must have been a really great lap dance, huh?”

“Shut up!” he muttered elbowing me. He started running towards Central Park and I followed, laughing. Gabriel gave me hope last night and nothing Shane would do could make me feel bad.

We repeated the same trail as the day before, our feet hitting the ground in unison creating a calming rhythmic cadence.

Less than three hours later, we collapsed sweaty and exhausted on my couch. Shane aimed the remote toward the television and flicked through the channels. We settled on some unknown comedy show and laughed uncontrollably at the jokes we heard. That’s exactly how Conner and Lea found us when they woke up and stumbled, groggy from sleep, into the room. Shane and I slumped over the couch, both of us sweaty, panting and laughing.

“Oh my God! Did you two just have sex out here? Ewww. Grace! Come on, Shane really?” Lea yelled.

We laughed even harder. “What? You seriously think that we just had sex? Here on the couch?” I asked.

Shane looked at Conner and gave him a thumb up. “Dude, if you guys look like this after you guys get freaky, that’s awesome. But, no we just came back from a run. I wouldn’t touch Grace if you paid me. She’s really a man.”

Shane stood up still chuckling. “I’m starving. Grace, you hungry, bro? I’ll make you breakfast.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, immediately suspicious. What could this man possibly make me for breakfast? “Are you even capable of pouring cereal into a bowl?”

He arched one eyebrow at my joke; eyes sparkling. “Are you insulting me?”

I shrugged. “Um. No, not really. It was an honest question.”

He walked across the room and theatrically waved his arms toward the kitchen door. “C’mon. You have to be just as hungry as I am after all that sex…I mean all that running.”

I threw a pillow at him. He ducked. “Oh, so now you’re saying you do have sex with guys?” I laughed, following him into the kitchen.

Most of Shane’s body was already deep in the refrigerator piling stuff into his arms. When he was satisfied with what he found, he dropped it all on the counter and reached for a frying pan. “So, honestly, why did you think I wouldn’t be able to cook?” He was facing the stove pouring a cap full of vegetable oil into the pan, so I couldn’t see his expression. He cracked three eggs at a time right into the pan. I wonder how many shells just dropped in there?

He flipped the top of the garbage pail open, tossed the shells in, and repeated the process. After chopping, dicing and adding all the ingredients, he turned the burner on. He lifted his sweatshirt over his head and wiped the sweat off his forehead with it.

Oh dear God, he is perfect! A large black tribal tattoo that began as a dragon at his elbow curled around his right shoulder and traveled onto his shoulder blade. The thick black tribal strokes exquisitely turning into a dove, wrapping its wings around itself. His skin was a soft bronze stretched over the ridged hardness of his muscles. It was completely understandable how girls threw themselves at him. I pitied him, wondering if he’d ever feel anything more than the sensations of his own skin.

He got out two plates from the cabinet as if he owned the kitchen. Geez, how many times has he cooked in this kitchen in the last six months?

Placing one plate in front of me and another in front of him, he sat down and shoved a fork full of food into his mouth. “Spinach, mushroom, green pepper and cheese omelet ala Shane,” he said between chews. “You haven’t answered me. What is it about me that made you think I can’t cook?”

I stabbed the omelet with my fork and took a bite. Crap, it was delicious. “You just strike me as a shallow person who gets everything they want from other people. I would have bet that you’ve had a different blonde make you breakfast every morning of your life.”

He gave me an amused look. “Well, you’re half right. I am shallow, but I can cook, and honestly, I like chicks with jet black hair better than blondes,” he laughed. His icy blue eyes regarded me. “Well? Is it good?”

Best freaking omelet I’ve ever had. I stopped the words from fumbling out of my mouth. “Yeah, sure. Thanks. I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” I grumbled.

He shoved another fork full of food in his mouth and chewed. He leaned forward with a serious expression on his face, “So, what’s the deal with you? What’s with the intense Shane revulsion? I’ve never had a girl not jump at the chance with me. Or, wait, are you into chicks?”

I laughed at his audacity. “So you think because I’m not falling for your crap that I’m a lesbian?”

“Bi? Maybe just playing hard to get?”

“You really are full of yourself. Brace yourself Shane, this might be hard to hear,” I teased. “But you just don’t do it for me. Sorry.”

Shane’s eyes brightened at my words. “So, who does it for you then?” He purposefully drew out the words, making me shake my head.

I stood up and placed my plate into the dishwasher. I leaned back, rested my elbows on the counter, and thought for a minute. “Someone who doesn’t think of me as a walking vagina.”

He howled with laughter. “A walking vagina! Oh, shit, if only there was such a thing!” He was laughing so hard he had to wipe tears from his eyes.

I smiled. “And what’s your deal? What happened to you making you think that women were put here just to serve you? Maybe something happened that makes you so insecure that you would be incapable of having a relationship or normal friendship with a girl?”

His smile faded. He stared at me with those eyes. “There’s no deep dark reason, no insecurity, nothing to read into. I just don’t want anything more from someone. Ever. There is no need for it. Every girl I sleep with knows my intentions clearly. They want to fuck the lead singer of Mad World, so I give them want they want and get what I want from them. There’s no need for more. None of them are worth more than that.”

That was so sad.

He stood up, stretched his arms over his head, and yawned loudly. “So, what do you do? Where were you living all this time?” he asked, immediately ending his sad monologue.

I squirmed, not meaning to. “Jobless at the moment. I’ve been living with my brother in a hospice for the last few months, so my job was just to trying to make him comfortable.”

A sympathetic expression passed across his face. It didn’t fit his self-proclaimed moral free ideals, making me think that there was way more to Shane Maxton than a pretty faced lead singer. But, what did it matter? I had my own problems, my own past to deal with, and I was positive mine was more unbelievable than his was.

“That’s heavy. What about your parents? Did everybody in your family just move there to be with him?”

“Nope. My parents are both dead. It was just me and Jake.” I wanted this Spanish inquisition off me. “How about you? What’s your family like? Where are you from, what do you do?”

“Normal family. They all live in Florida now. Nothing dysfunctional. My parents are still married, no one had dependency problems, and no one ever hit me,” he said flatly. “And being the lead singer for Mad World really pays all my bills.” He seemed curt and uncomfortable.

I nodded. “Hmm. Sounds like you’re put together all nicely. Even though you’re standing here having a difficult time having an innocently normal conversation with someone of the opposite sex, knowing that there is no way in hell I’d ever sleep with you. No, Shane, you’re not dysfunctional in any way.” I pushed myself off the counter and walked out of the kitchen, done with the stupidity of our discussion.

Shane knocked the kitchen chairs against each other trying to make sure he’d get the last word in, “Hold on!” he yelped.

“Save it for someone who actually would care about what you had to say, Shane,” I called from the next room.

I locked myself in my room, inserted my iPod into its speaker dock and melted into oblivion when the first sounds of music touched my ears. I was determined to spend this entire Sunday in bed, reliving Gabriel’s words repeatedly in my head.

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