What If I Am
Book 2 kicks off here! But if you wish to read it as a separate installment, I've added the second book separately. It's on my profile but in order for book one to keep getting recognition, I have to keep the updates continuous. Hope that makes sense to you. Please don't forget to leave a comment or vote etc... Thanks for sticking with me guys.
The heavy glass door leading to the lobby of The Bright Technology building gives under Lucas’ firm push. He’d have preferred to use the elevator in the underground garage that leads straight to his office but no one else has a copy of his key which is currently sitting in his apartment. As he expected, a few heads turn when he steps into the wide lobby and eyes stare a little longer than they normally would. His employees are not used to seeing him in anything less than a suit. It must be very obvious to everyone that he had no intention of being here today.
With no more than an hour until his flight is scheduled to depart, he should have been at the airport already. Which is why he doesn’t stop to greet anyone as he hustles for the elevator that will take him to the main area on the top floor.
The glossy doors slide open just as he steps around the corner so he almost bumps into his assistant rushing out of the metal box.
She takes a step back and smiles when she sees him. Whatever Natasha was about to say dies on her tongue as her eyes trail from Lucas’ face to rest on the bit of skin showing above the neckline of his sweater. Then they move lower appreciating the way his dark gray material fits over his sculpted chest and his trim forearms exposed by the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. They travel down his slim fit jeans to take in his casual shoes before returning to his face again.
Recovering quickly from her surprise, she says, “I thought I’d save you some time,” and hands over the documents that he’s supposed to sign.
Lucas grasps it appreciatively. “Always efficient, Ms. Ingram,” he comments.
She adjusts her jacket and sticks out her upper chest a little more hoping to call his attention to her cleavage peeking out of the unpinned top of her shirt. Earlier she’d contemplated undoing the top three buttons but hadn’t dared be so blatant and settled for the top two.
To her disappointment, Lucas keeps his eyes bent to the large, brown envelope in his hands and pulls out its contents for a quick perusal.
Satisfied and happy that this deal has gone his way and come through much earlier than he anticipated, Lucas smiles to himself. The good news works as a pick-me-up for his subdued spirit but his first thought is to share the exciting news with Alaine.
“Do you have a pen?” Lucas asks.
He takes his first real glance at Natasha since she stepped off the elevator and notices that there is a pen clipped inside the V between her breasts but he pretends not to see it.
“Of course,” she replies.
Her tone rings with displeasure. It’s laced with disappointment but there’s also an undertone of resignation. For the first time, he considers how uncomfortable the situation must be for her. Being infatuated with her boss while he wants nothing to do with her outside the parameters that govern the employer/employee code of ethics he expressly adheres to can’t be easy.
He wants to say to her that she is a beautiful woman and should not spend her time pining after him -- that it’s never going to happen. Maybe if their circumstances were different --if he wasn’t in a position of power and authority over her or maybe if he lacked the most basic scruples, they could have pursued a casual thing. However, he’s always known that it would always end in disaster. He’d sleep with her once or twice and then what? Just imagine the strain on the already awkward state of affairs between them and the fallout.
Keeping his opinions to himself, Lucas rests the documents against the wall to scrawl his signature over the dotted lines and hands over both pen and papers.
“Scan these,” he orders. “Send a copy to my email immediately.”
“Yes, sir,” Natasha answers. “Have a safe flight and I hope...”
“Thank you,” Lucas interrupts. “Don’t forget, I’m not going to be on vacation. Forward my calls and once I’ve landed we’ll work out the changes in my schedule. Anything that has to be done in person, my father will stand as a proxy for me. Everything goes through me or him. Thank you, Ms. Ingram,” he says before walking away.
Ordinarily, the sun winking glimmers of gold off the city’s most notable giant, glass towers would hold some intrigue for him. Sometimes, going from one event or meeting to another, in between his long stints at the office, presented the rare minute of stasis in the backseat of his SUV. Usually, he used that time to focus on anything other than work. It was a good way to free his thoughts from all the other things cluttering his mind. Studying the infrastructure always provided the best distraction. He can say exactly how many floors there are in every building by now, he’s done this so many times.
Today, it doesn’t work. Nothing seems to work long enough to expel the gloominess from his spirit. Not even the billion dollar deal he brokered.
Lucas glances at the empty seat across from him and tries to stuff down the loneliness permeating the inside of the car. Since Alaine, his quiet drives have never been the same. Recently, she’d almost always taken up that space beside him. She’d filled every breath he breathed with her sweet fragrance. She’d filled his vision with her beauty and his mind with her complicated, unusual attitude towards the things that should be standard for just about everyone else. She’d filled his soul with longing and then she’d followed through on it by filling the void in his heart. A heart right now that’s on the verge of breaking.
The city shifts like a blur through the windows of the SUV after they pull back into Manhattan’s chaotic, stop-and-go traffic. His vision shifts out of focus as he works to recall every minute detail he’s discovered about her over the last two weeks.
Every thought she stars in brings a different reaction out of him. Sometimes he can’t help but smile or chuckle at the memory of something she’d said or done. Another thought makes him sigh wistfully and other more sinister ones make him frown and regret his decision not to invite her along.
He’s late for his flight and though a stickler for time, he cannot bring himself to care.
Seth races across the highway to beat the hands of the clock and Lucas really doesn’t care if the plane leaves without him. This will be the first time he’s ever been late for a flight and he wonders just how long the airline would be willing to wait for someone of his caliber.
To try to keep his mind distracted from the ache in his heart, he does his best to focus on that single thought. Anything that will keep him from ordering Seth to turn the car around and return to McBride Street is welcomed.
Pulling up the airline’s website on his phone, he sifts through the contact information to find the number he’s looking for. Normally, something like this, he would leave in the hands of his capable assistant but he just needs to be occupied. The most trivial of things will do.
“Hello,” Lucas says into the phone when a woman’s voice disrupts the ringing in his ear and chimes out the company’s greeting.
“Yes, this is Lucas Bright,” he says.
After giving her his information and an estimate of how long it should take for him to get to the airport, she assures him that they will wait for his arrival.
With that out of the way, his mind takes him right back to where it was.
A heavy sigh escapes him as once again he quiets the voice that wants to scream ‘take the next exit!’ It’s already clawed its way through the column of his throat to rests at the tip of his tongue, so he clenches his jaws tightly against the urge.
What has Claudia ever done for him that warrants dropping everything – Ali –to run to her side? Other than birth him, the answer is nothing. But she is his mother. Despite everything, she has done – or hasn’t done – he cannot bring himself to abandon her. Moreover, his grandparents need him there.
Yes, he’d put off his departure for as long as he could in an attempt to milk as much time as he could to spend with Alaine. In the end, he knew within himself that he could never turn a deaf ear his family’s plight.
Sadness, like a burning poison, heats his insides and spreads through his blood, infecting his heart. A heart that has grown to love a woman.
I love you, Alaine, he thinks.
The thought brings with it both relief and more anguish. Relief because it’s one of the best things he’s ever felt and anguish because he’s only just learned what it is to love her. As soon as he made the discovery, their time was cut short.
Why had he not told her?
He should have.
Why hadn’t he at least given her the option to accompany him?
Lucas continues to stare out the window, seeing nothing while he tries to rein in this unbearable desire to turn back.
He should have told her, he thinks again.
“We’re here,” Seth announces and Lucas blinks himself back into the present.
He looks around to see that they are parked in front of the departure terminal at JFK International. He nods in acknowledgment but continues to stare straight ahead while contemplating his options.
Seth steps out of the vehicle to open the passenger side door and even then, Lucas remains unmoving.
“This is a no parking zone,” Seth reminds him.
Drawing a deep intake of breath, Luas finally steps outside but drags his feet doing it. Seth stands there with a hand still braced on the opened door regarding him with an amused expression.
“What?” Lucas snaps, channeling his irritation to his driver.
Chuckling, Seth raises his hands in surrender and moves to the trunk to get the lone suitcase. Thinking better of his silence, he turns a knowing glance to his boss and says, “you have the means to take her with you, you know.”
Lucas sighs and shakes his head. “It’s not that simple,” he replies, with no intention of offering further explanation.
He runs both hands over his face hoping that his expression doesn’t mirror the fact that he feels like he is dying on the inside. Nothing in life has ever made him this distraught. The thought gives way to a mirthless chuckle. Apparently, the idea of losing Alaine trumps anything he’s been through.
“What?” Lucas snaps again when he finds himself once more under Seth’s grave scrutiny.
“If you have another woman over there,” Seths begins accusingly.
The suggestion is appalling and it shows on Lucas’ face. Not just because it calls his ethics into question but because it’s far too inappropriate. Sure, it’s not a farfetched assumption based on what his driver has probably learned about him in the time they’ve worked together, but hearing it hits a nerve.
“I do not,” Lucas responds angrily. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I would never hurt her,” he adds.
In his indignation, the admission, I love her, almost leaps out of his mouth but he swallows it down while willing Seth to believe his intentions with Alaine to be sincere.
“Good,” Seth mumbles after considering him for a little while.
There is a lot more he would like to say to his employer -- things he would want to share with him about Alaine. Not all the gory details but just enough to let him know that he needs to be cautious with her.
He opens his mouth to say something but the words refuse to come.
“You can’t park here,” a voice announces beside him.
Thankful for the intervention, Seth dips his hand into the trunk to pull out the suitcase.
“Take care of her,” Lucas tells him. “I’m counting on you.”
Accepting the unexpected and firm handshake his boss offers, Seth nods his head.
“She won’t like it,” he jokes.
“She’ll probably hate it,” Lucas agrees with a chuckle.
Before stepping off the curb, Seth gives him a final glance and says, “she’ll wait for you.”
Strangely, despite the obvious strain in the cousins’ relationship, Seth’s faith in Alaine makes him feel better.
“Alright,” Lucas answers before dragging his suitcase into the terminal.
The day turned dull the minute Lucas drove away. Nothing Alaine has tried helps in improving it any. The only thing that might work is leaving the apartment but she has no desire to do so. The air outside is bright and crisp. It’s so hopeful and completely contrary to the dejection swallowing her.
Since her arrangement with Lucas, her day always included him in some way. If he’s wasn’t with her physically, he was texting her and when that failed he commanded the majority of her thoughts.
Since he left her earlier, it’s been radio silence. Knowing the circumstances that engendered his hasty departure, she doesn’t only miss him. She’s worried about him and how he’s handling everything. The stories he shared about his childhood are horrific. So horrific, in fact, her mind is still having trouble imagining it.
How did he do it? How did he survive?
Her own tale is nothing like his yet she needed to leave it behind. It’s been eight years since it happened but sometimes it still feels like yesterday.
Four years ago, she left home and in all that time, she hasn’t once been able to bring herself to go back. Thoughts of facing the guilty parties again always make dread expand in her chest.
The quiet phone that she’s been eyeing all afternoon long keeps tempting her to send him a message. Would he be able to answer while he’s in the air? She has no clue if the rules of flying coach apply to first class. Plus, it might be best not to add any more pressure to his situation by harassing him with her foolishness.
Sighing, Alaine turns her back on the device where it’s lying on the table and decides that it’s better to wait until Lucas contacts her.
If he contacts her.
Those doubtful thoughts -- the ones declaring that she’s already been forgotten -- are still trying to grow stubborn roots despite Lucas’ fervent promises to come back to her. In spite of her best efforts, they are impossible to push aside.
Alaine drops herself noisily onto the airbed and closes her eyes to call on her memories of him to keep her company. They’d created so many delicious ones over the last two weeks.
“Stop it, Alaine,” she chides herself. “Stop thinking about it.”
That’s how she spends her entire afternoon -- trying not to think about Lucas.
The shrill ringing from her phone has Alaine scrambling to find it on the large inflatable bed taking up most of the space in her living room. She grabs it quickly to bring the volume back down to the vibrate setting. It’s how she normally keeps it. However, her hopes of Lucas calling as he said he would, made her bring it all the way up.
He hadn’t called.
No one would ever contact her this late at night so she expects nothing more than some notification. Without checking the screen she tosses the phone aside and lays her head back down on the pillow.
Even if she is tired, it’s impossible to fall asleep when he one track mind keeps treading a field of thoughts featuring just one person. The phone vibrates this time and she wants to turn it off like she’s been tempted to all day. Maybe that will keep her from torturing herself. Picking it up again, she blinks repeatedly to focus her gritty eyes and her heart performs a series of little somersaults in her chest.
The emptiness that had taken hold of her all day vanishes as the two text messages he sent in quick succession paint a smile on her face.
Lucas: Hey baby. I know it’s late and you are probably sleeping. I just landed and wanted to let you know that. I hope you dream of me. Of us. Together. Call me when you get this.
Lucas: I probably should have said that I miss you in that first text. Forgive me, all of this is new. I miss you.
Without delay, Alaine pulls up his name in her contacts.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” Lucas answers after one ring. “It’s after midnight for you.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits.
“Missing me?” he asks with a grin on his face that Alaine can almost hear and most definitely picture.
“What if I am?” she responds.
“Then I would say that I miss you too,” he replies softly to keep other persons in the cabin from hearing his words. “I’m getting off the plane now and you need to get some sleep. I will call you again when the sun comes up for you. I just wanted you to know that...well...I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” she tells him again.
“Bye, baby,” Lucas says before ending the call.
Italy is a home away from New York for him. Before he left, Alaine asked whether he ever vacationed. This is the only place which comes close to that. Here, with the love of his grandparents, he’d always felt safe. Kurt wasn’t exactly welcome in their home so it’s one of the places his stepfather never got the chance to assault him. He came around, sure, but he was only allowed entry because of Claudia and he always ensured to put on his best face. Not that his grandparents were ever fooled by it.
They’ll want to meet Alaine, although he has no idea if it’s too soon. What will they think of her? She’s already met the rest of his immediate family but that was before they’d decided to explore something more than their arrangement. Now that they are, it changes things a lot.
Lucas lets out a little huff at his inability to immediately grab hold of the reins to navigate his way through this new relationship.
“Are you okay, Luc?”
He turns from staring out the window at the silhouetted shape of Italy’s rolling terrain to look at the woman in the driver’s seat. Remembering how tightly she hugged him at the airport has him feeling guilty. With everything that’s happening, her display of affection should have been comforting. Instead, all he could think was how much he wanted it to be Alaine.
Sympathy for him is written on her face and felt in the gentle squeeze of her hand on his thigh.
“I’m fine, Rory,” Lucas assures her after swallowing the lump in his throat. “You didn’t have to come out here this early. When I called, I simply wanted you to send your driver to collect me.”
“I wanted to be here for you,” she tells him. “I know this cannot be easy,” she adds withdrawing her hand to the steering wheel.
If only she knew what his real difficulty is.
Although they’ve known each other for years, he’d never thought to burden her with his problems. There’s simply isn’t that type of relationship. Sharing with Alaine hadn’t been easy but it did seem like a natural progression if they intend to be serious about each other.
Again he finds himself that she was here to face whatever is about to come with him.
Lucas chastises himself for the selfish thought. Aurora had driven a few hours to pick him up at the airport and it’s not even sun up. So he attempts a smile, that he knows is weak, at her stilted English and the familiarity and warmth in her voice.
“You don’t have to speak English, you know,” Lucas reminds her.
“I have an expo in New York soon,” she informs him. “I need to practice,” she says and his eyes widen with surprise.
“That’s great Rory,” Lucas says trying to muster some enthusiasm. “Congratulations.”
“It’s all thanks to Claudia,” she admits with a sigh and takes his hand in hers.