Like Real People Do

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It had been a long time since I’d been this relaxed. Not that I didn’t enjoy my job, but usually after I’d gotten the twins to sleep, I was too exhausted to make the most of my time to myself. So I’d lie on the couch and watch television until Jaxon came home.

But tonight, I was inspired. Which was strange, considering I was waiting for Jaxon to return from his date with Natalia. I’d felt a twinge of heartache when I’d waved goodbye to him alongside the twins from the hotel room doorway four hours ago, but now I just felt free. Perhaps him going on this date was the universe’s way of telling of telling me that things between us just weren’t destined to work out. And maybe I’d finally come to accept that fact.

So I sketched, sitting with my back to the arm of the couch and my knees bent with my sketchpad resting on my legs, lips pressed together in concentration. When I was young, I’d draw places I wanted to go and buildings I wanted to see and houses I wanted to live in, but today I was drawing hands. Strong hands. Hands that moved gracefully through the air. Hands that were tattooed. Hands with fingers which were calloused from being pressed against the strings of a bass guitar.

It was a kind of closure, I supposed. I drew them from memory, remembering their gentleness as they wiped away Finn’s tears after he’d had a nightmare or their certainty as they braided Audra’s hair. Eyes narrowed in concentration, I focused on the smooth curves of the knuckles and the long lines of the fingers, wanting so much to capture their beauty and warmth and tenderness on paper.

Maybe this could be my keepsake, I thought with a bittersweet sigh. Maybe, when the day came that I had to move on and leave the twins behind, leave Jaxon behind, this is all I would take with me. The memories of crinkled smiles and soulful glances and this drawing. So that I would never forget. As if that was possible anyway.

I startled when the door opened, the charcoal pencil pausing on the sketchpad as Jaxon entered the room, immediately kicking off his shoes before closing the door behind him.

“Hey,” I smiled widely, “How was it?”

He’d been nervous before he left to pick Natalia up from her hotel. Which was understandable. I’d be nervous even if it wasn’t my first date in two years.

But he was strangely calm right now. Stretching his lips into a soft smile, he shrugged off his canvas jacket and tossed it over the arm of the couch as he approached where I was sitting. “Hey. You’re sketching.”

“Yeah, I was in the mood,” I grinned, lowering my knees so that I could sit cross legged and giving him space to plop down on the other end of the couch.

I opened my mouth to ask why he hadn’t answered my question about the date, but he spoke again before I got the chance. “Can I see?”

I hesitated. He’d asked once before to see my sketchbook, but I’d refused because we hardly knew each other then. But that was months ago. Before I’d respected him. Before I’d started falling for him. And now…well, I still maintained that sharing my sketches was like revealing pieces of my soul, but somehow, I didn’t mind Jaxon seeing it. Maybe this was part of closure as well; that I was finally secure enough to show him the most private parts of me.

Setting the pencil on the coffee table, I passed him my sketchbook, praying he didn’t recognize the hands as his own. I hadn’t yet added the tattoos, thinking they could be a finishing touch, so right now, the hands looked pretty generic. Only I knew who they really belonged to.

He stared at it for what felt like an eternity, his eyes moving slowly to absorb every line and arc and inch of shading until he finally he lifted his gaze to meet mine, the corners of his lips lifting upwards. “Wow, you’re really good. Did you study art?”

“Architecture.” I let out a sigh of relief as he passed the sketchbook back to me, happy to have it in my possession once more.

Twisting his body, he crossed his legs so that he was mirroring my sitting position, leaning back against the arm of the couch as well. “So you have a degree in it?”

I suppose I always knew we’d have this conversation eventually. It wasn’t like I could keep it a secret forever. At least now, I was much more comfortable telling the story. “Yep. Went to grad school any everything.”

“And then?”

Here came the hard part.

“And then I choked,” I admitted, tracing a finger down the outside edge of the sketchpad. “During the interview for this super prestigious architecture firm, I choked. Like literally, I vomited into the partner’s trash can.”

He snorted with laughter and I couldn’t help but smile as well. “Yikes. Safe to say you didn’t get the job?”

“Nope,” I let out a soft laugh. “I think it kind of worked out for the best, though. My sister took me out for some retail therapy to cheer me up and that’s how I found the flyer for the nanny agency Amy hired me from.”

I’d always believed in karma and fate and that everything happened for a reason. When I’d first bombed that interview, I’d thought the universe was trying to tell me that I needed to find a new dream, because architecture just wasn’t what I was meant to be doing. So I’d switched to being a nanny and although I still wasn’t sure this was my life’s calling, I did think that maybe the universe brought me a new gift in the form of Jaxon Rigali. Because even if it was only momentary, even if it didn’t last forever, I was truly blessed to get the opportunity to know him at all.

“So I guess that was a good day for me too,” he blinked in amazement, realizing the implications of that statement, “Do you think you’ll ever try and go back? I mean, I assume you don’t want to be a nanny forever.”

“Sick of me already?” I quirked an eyebrow upwards.

His eyes widened in horror as he shook his head. “No, of course not.”

“It’s okay, you’re right,” I laughed, not wanting to keep him worried that he’d offended me for too long, “I guess I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

I thought that being a nanny would give me a chance to discover what I wanted out of life, but so far, I hadn’t had the time or the energy to do any serious soul searching.

“I’m sure you’ll get there,” he said quietly, his gaze direct.

Startlingly direct, in fact. So incredibly direct and deep and soulful that I felt as though I was going to fall into an endless abyss, so I quickly changed the subject. “Are you avoiding telling me about your date?”

It worked. He immediately averted his gaze down to his hands, where he was tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. “No, there’s just not much to tell.”

I found that hard to believe. First dates were goldmines for stories, whether they were good or bad. “It didn’t go well?”

“I mean, she’s beautiful and sweet and charming and I enjoyed myself,” he shrugged, “but I don’t know, there was just no…spark.”

“What does that mean?” I blinked in confusion. He’s just listed off a whole heap of amazing qualities, so it made no sense that he wouldn’t be giving the date rave reviews.

“You know. The spark,” he said, his voice soft, but clear, his eyes locking on mine, “When there’s tension between the two of you and your stomach is doing backflips and your heart is pounding in your chest and you feel like there’s electricity pulsing through your veins.” He listed those effects off deliberately, but with a sense of urgency, as though he wanted to feel exactly the way he was describing. And it was working, because my stomach was in knots and it was a wonder he couldn’t hear my heart beating. Eyes wide, I sat frozen as the rate of his speaking slowed and the volume of his voice lowered to just barely above a whisper, “and then all of a sudden, everything is perfectly calm. And there’s a shift and you’re hanging on to every word they say and you realize that you’d do anything to make them smile just one more time because it’s their smile that’s holding your entire world together.”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. It felt as though everything that existed in the entire universe had disappeared and all that was real was me and Jaxon and this moment. He was still on the other end of the couch. We weren’t even touching, yet this was the most intimate moment I’d ever experienced in my twenty-five years on this planet.

“Do you know what I mean now?” he asked, probably checking to make sure I hadn’t had a stroke.

“Yeah,” I let out a shaky breath, every muscle in my body still tense. “Yeah, I think I got it.”

He kept his gaze on me. “I didn’t feel it with her.”

I could practically hear the tension in the room, the sizzling of electricity, sure to start an explosion if I didn’t douse this entire situation in a giant bucket of cold water.

“B-b-but…,” I sputtered, frantically searching for some way to shift the conversation, “the whole relationship would be for publicity, so does the spark really matter?”

That didn’t work at all. The intensity of his stare remained. “It does to me.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t form any more coherent sentences.

Luckily, he decided that the meaningful stares should come to an end, so he sighed and lifted his shoulders in a rueful shrug. “I guess I thought that going on a date like this would mean there was no pressure, and it would sort of get me back into the groove of dating, since I’ve been out of the game so long.” The sizzling only stopped for a split second before we were in a locked eyed stare once more. “But the truth is that it made me realize that I don’t want to just go on dates to get myself out there. I want something real and deep and meaningful and I want it to last.”

“Well, I hope you find that person,” I managed to whisper, silently wishing that person turned out to be me. Because clearly, I hadn’t moved on at all.

The corners of his lips lifted into the slightest smile. “I hope so too.”

“I’m glad you had such an enlightening evening,” I exhaled deeply, uncrossing my leg and lowering them to the floor, suddenly in need of some fresh air or an ice cold shower. “I should probably get to bed.”

“Of course, goodnight,” he nodded, lifting one hand in a wave as I gathered my pencil and purse and slipped on my shoes and headed for the door.

I let out a shaky breath once I was in the hallway, feeling as though my nerve ends were on fire, only to have my senses become heightened even further when I heard his voice call out for me again. “Wait, Divya, I need to say something.”

“What’s up?” I said, thinking I’d almost made it out alive.

He dropped a shoe in the doorway to keep it from closing and strode quickly to where I was standing a few feet down the hallway. Shoving his fingers into the front pockets of his jeans, he rocked forward onto his toes, covered in mismatched socks. “This is absolutely the wrong time to say this and I know it’s such a dick move, but if I don’t get this off my chest, I’m gonna make myself sick.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I could sense that this was important, so I nodded, holding my breath. “Okay.”

“All that stuff I said about feeling a spark…,” he started off slowly, his voice a bit shaky, as though he was nervous, but with each word he spoke, he gained more confidence, until that startlingly direct gaze was on me once more, “the reason I was able to describe it so clearly is because I’ve felt it before. I feel it now. For you.”

This was a dream. It had to be. I’d fantasized about this moment enough times to know that I was going to wake up any minute. So I needed to tell him that I felt the same way before it all vanished. “Jaxon…”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything,” he cut in before I could finish my thought, “I don’t expect a response, especially since I was the one who told you I wanted to keep thing professional between us. I just really needed to say that. And now I have.” With a nod, he turned back towards his door, speaking to me over his shoulder. “So goodnight, Divya. Sweet dreams.”

I stood frozen in the hallway once his door closed, staring at the spot where he had been standing just moments before, wondering what the hell just happened.

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