BURNING LOVE

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10 | Realization

Whatever it takes, Imagine dragons

Sawyer didn’t use to go out a lot, his working shifts and family life took most of his time—not that he minded, he loved those kids—but his parents had taken Sophia and Adam to Disneyland the whole weekend, and he was alone. So, when Ryan suggested they should go out one night to have a few drinks, he couldn’t say no. It had been a while since he hung out like that with friends. It could be good for a change.

He had been killing himself for a year, doing as many extra hours as his body—and his boss—allowed him, saving as much money as he could to buy a house where he could move in with his children.

It still sounded weird to call them his, but that’s what they were, and despite the dramatic turn their lives had taken, he was happy to say he was their father. They weren’t living with him at the moment because his apartment wasn’t big enough for all of them.

He had a spare room, but it wasn’t the same. His parents had one for each and an amazing garden with a small playground, besides his mother was in the house the whole day, not like him, who could work a normal eight-morning shift or twelve, or even sixteen long hours at night. There was no way he could take care of them properly, for now.

He had already talked with the chief of the fire department where he worked, his situation was far from ordinary, and they had agreed he would get a more normal schedule in the future, whenever he wanted. It would mean fewer hours and craziness, but also less money. That was why he needed to do this now. Sophia and Adam had been through enough for their young age and he wanted to give them the best life he could.

Sighing, Sawyer got out of the shower. He dried his hair and body with a towel and then shaved. After throwing a burgundy shirt over his head and putting on some black jeans, he walked out of the bedroom, fingers running through his hair, slicking it back.

“I’m just gonna be out for a few hours, don’t look at me like that,” he told Noah as he grabbed his phone and wallet. “I promise to take you for a long walk tomorrow.” He kissed her head, got his leather jacket, and locked the door, only to find Lizbeth outside.

“Hey!” she said.

“Hey, Liz.” Her cheeks slightly flushed and her ponytail a bit messy, a few strands of hair falling onto her face. She had her coat hanging on one hand and the keys on the other one. The high waist pants hugged her figure perfectly and emphasized her breasts, which seemed tight under her white shirt. He was gawking at her, yeah, but so was she, which instantly pressed the cocky attitude button. “Like what you see?” He smirked.

“What?”

Sawyer walked closer to her and leaned forward. “You just undressed me with your eyes.”

“What the hell?!”

Their gazes locked, the gold color of her irises darkening. The pull between them, as if they were two magnets of opposing poles, was undeniable and strong, almost suffocating—at least for him. He hadn’t played five knuckles shuffle so much in his life. Okay, yes, when he was younger, but as he grew older he didn’t feel that irrepressible desire to get off every damn day.

For real, it was annoying, but she had settled some invisible boundaries between them and he didn’t want to step over them. Besides, he was a father now, and he had to be careful with whom he picked to fuck, especially when the woman could potentially be more than that—and she was.

Lizbeth made his insides writhe in a way no one else did, his entire body reacting to the amazing sound of her laugh as if time had stopped during all those years they had been apart. He hadn’t felt so lighthearted since Beth passed away, he was aware, but Sophia and Adam, and their well-being, were always first… And she didn’t seem very sure about the whole having a family thing.

Nervously laughing at how stupid they were being, building up barriers to protect themselves from getting burned again, he got louder when she slapped his arm. She had been living there only for three weeks but was already scared of Karen—not like he could blame her, that woman was like the devil with a blond quiff.

Shaking his head, he wished her good night and left.


As he entered the place where he had agreed to meet his friends, his ears got immediately swamped in the music pounding loud. Everyone was drinking, dancing, enjoying the moment as if it was their last day on earth. The atmosphere among the crowd was unbearably humid and hot. He could smell the pheromones flying in every direction. If people weren’t wearing clothes that would have been an orgy.

Sawyer felt old. When Ryan told him he wanted to go to a new place, he just put the address on the GPS of his SUV, didn’t even listen when he told him the name, and drove there. He thought it would be an Irish Pub since they used to go out to have a few beers, talk, watch some sports on TV…

Ugh.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked as he reached Ryan and Jim, gesturing towards the bacchanal going on behind them.

“Hey, man!” Jim greeted him, shaking his hand and giving him a side hug.

“A nightclub,” Ryan replied, patting his shoulder as he laughed.

“You know what I meant.” Sawyer shook his head.

“I asked him the same.” The police captain—Jim—sighed. “I’m too old to be surrounded by all these monkeys in heat.”

“That’s the point of this night.”

“What?” he retorted, scrunching his nose.

“Look, you haven’t been with a woman since you separated from your wife,” he pointed at Jim. “And you... you’ve been acting weird for weeks now, so get laid and fucking relax.”

“Whoa!” Sawyer had to laugh.

Ryan was so blunt he could sound like an arrogant dick, and he was, but deep down he was a good guy. He was thoughtful and a great support at work, Sawyer would put his head on the block for him—though one had to get to know him to see that part of him.

“Are you ever going to change?” Jim asked him, grinning.

Ryan was just Ryan, and nobody could be angry with him for a long time. He was a great friend and, as annoying as he could be sometimes, he would never do something to hurt his loved ones.

“Not in this life.”

“What can I get for you?”

“Whisky,” Ryan said, smirking at the waitress.

“A beer for me, please.” Jim was always so polite.

“Bourbon for me.”

“Right away!” The woman smiled at them right before moving to prepare their drinks.

“She’s mine,” Ryan stated as she walked away.

She was tall and her skin looked like caramel, crazy dark curls framing her beautiful face and eyes that shone shining like emeralds. Stunning indeed.

“All for you.”

As the night went by, Sawyer and Jim relaxed, sitting on some red leather couches in the back of the club. The blond had abandoned them and was blatantly flirting with the waitress, leaning on the counter bar, taking sips from his drink from time to time. She kept smiling at him, the kind of nervous and cute smile women gave you when they were interested. She had already fallen into his trap.

“How does he do it?” Jim asked, chuckling.

“I’m not sure I wanna know,” Sawyer said before bringing the glass to his lips.

“It’s not that I’d like to have his life, but sometimes I’d like to be so casual.”

“What’s holding you back? You’ve been single for four years now.”

“I don’t know... I guess I‘ve never been that kind of guy.” He shrugged. “It’s hard for me to open up like that.” Jim wasn’t shy, but he wasn’t exactly outgoing either. Being raised by a traditional Korean family had probably made him more cautious and respectful towards relationships. Getting over a divorce after fifteen years of marriage didn’t make it easy either.

“After some time it gets boring, to be honest,” Sawyer admitted.

“But you still have your flings from time to time,” Jim said in a mocking tone, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, but there’s nobody I really want to get in my bed right now, which is pretty sad ’cause I could really use some hard bang.” He laughed at himself.

“Not even that neighbor of yours?”

“She’s off-limits.” Sawyer frowned looking at his almost empty glass. It was the fifth one and he was starting to feel a bit dizzy.

“Why? You like her and, from what you’ve told me, she doesn’t seem exactly disgusted by you either.”

“Yeah, but it’s not that simple.”

“Why? You’re both single.”

“It’s complicated.”

“It’s as complicated as you want to make it. You’re grown-ups attracted to each other, if you don’t talk about it and don’t give it a try, you won’t ever know the outcome of you being together.” He paused to take a sip from his drink.

Sawyer didn’t answer right away. What Jim said made him realize that he was actually scared, using every little thing to stay away from her.

They were tangled in a ball of old memories and new possibilities of what they were and what they could be, afraid that going any further would explode in their faces and ruin it all, again. But that was the worst case scenario. What if it worked? What if they were just being stupid, letting their past control their present and future, depriving them from making right all the wrongs?

“... I’m going to get another drink. You want anything?”

“Nah, I’m fine. Thanks.”

He got up from the couch and walked towards the bar. Trying to ignore all the swirling emotions in his chest, he ordered another bourbon. He knew he shouldn’t drink more as he had the car parked a few blocks from there, but he needed to drown his thoughts.

I’ll call a cab and pick up the car tomorrow.

While he waited for his drink, a familiar voice called him from behind. “Sawyer?”

He turned around and froze on the spot. It had been a long time since they last saw each other.

“Madison?”

“Long time, no see!” she exclaimed as she hugged him.

“What are you doing here?” He was dumbfounded. After definitely breaking up, she moved to Manhattan. He hadn’t heard anything from her since then, but now she was there standing in front of him.

“I came back a few months ago.” She smiled, letting her empty glass on the bar.

“I see…” He cleared his throat and took a sip from his drink as the waiter placed it in front of him. He felt a bit awkward, confused.

After everything that happened between them, he learned to let go. He had forgiven her and turned the page, locking the past deep down, but the memories of their life together still lingered in his mind.

He thought that whenever they met again he would flip, that he would have some sort of odd and painful emotion he wouldn’t know how to deal with. Sawyer knew he didn’t have those kinds of feelings for her anymore, but he still cared. She had been the most important person in his life for a long time. But also the one that showed him what betrayal felt like.

However, none of that happened.

She was there in the flesh, talking and smiling as if it was the most normal thing. His brain recognized her features and her voice but it felt as if those memories were shared with someone else.

“So... How is everything going?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” He gave her a faint smile as his body slowly relaxed. “Not many changes in my life since we last talked. What about you?”

“I’m great!” She grinned. “New York is incredible, loved living there.”

“I bet, especially since you’re an artist…” He chuckled. “So, why did you come back?” he asked, trying to have a normal conversation.

“Well… Nana needs help. I owe her everything, and she’s got old and lives alone…”

After her parents and her brother died in a fire that burned her house down to ashes, Nana—her real name was Ruth—her grandmother, took her in. She didn’t need to because Madison was already twenty years old when that happened, and with the inheritance they left her, she could have lived twice. But they were everything that was left of their family.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It sucks, but it’s life… Nothing we can do.” She shrugged and looked to the floor for a few seconds. And when she raised her head and their gazes again, she asked the most unforeseen question. “Are you... dating anyone?”

He raised an eyebrow, wondering why she was asking him that so out of the blue. “My schedule makes it pretty hard, you know…” He bitterly chuckled—they used to fight a lot about it.

“Yeah…” She averted her eyes and fixed them on her glass. “You’ll find someone soon enough.” She pressed her lips together.

“What’s taking you so long, Madison?” A tall brunette called from behind her, a pearly white smile painted on his face. He had this rich playboy vibe, all dressed up with a casual style in a dark, expensive as fuck suit, no tie, and shirt slightly open on the neck.

It clicked. She felt guilty.

“Oh, hi.” The man’s face seemed familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on why.

“Hi.” He greeted, shaking his hand.

“Well… We were leaving...”

“Sure.” He nodded.

“It’s been nice seeing you again, Sawyer.” She looked at him through her long eyelashes, putting a lock of her blond hair behind her ear as she placed her other palm on the chest of the stranger, motioning him to move.

“Same.” He smiled at her, jaw clenching when they walked away.

He knew he didn’t have any romantic feelings for her, but it still bothered him seeing her with someone else. His mind, heart, and his entire being were focused on Lizbeth, almost obsessed, and it wasn’t as if any of them had been celibate during the year and a half they hadn’t been together, but that shit still stung. What the fuck?

As he was approaching Jim, he noticed his astonished expression. “What?” Sawyer asked him.

“You’re asking me? What was that?” He pointed to the direction where he just came from.

“Madison and I talking,” he stated in a mocking tone.

“Since when?”

“She said she came back a few months ago.” He shrugged.

“Oh.” Jim looked at the people dancing a few feet away from them. He was lost in thought. “Are you okay?”

“I was expecting that, whenever this happened, I’d feel something more distressing, but I was wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“It just felt as if she was an old colleague,” he admitted, looking at the ice cubes spinning in his glass as he slightly rotated his wrist. “Is that weird?”

“Not at all,” the police captain stated. “You know what that means, right?” He grinned.

“What?” He huffed, eyes rolling.

“That you’re completely over her... And I think I know the reason why.” He smirked but didn’t say anything else.

“I felt weird when I saw she was on a date.”

“Weird, how?” Jim tilted his head, staring at his face. While he waited for him to answer, he took a sip from his beer

“I don’t know. Jealous?” Sawyer wasn’t sure.

“That’s pretty normal.” Jim chuckled. “You were a couple for a long time, imagined a lifetime together, it’s not like she’ll fade away from your memory with the snap of your fingers. No matter what she did, she was important to you. Wondering about the what-ifs it’s completely normal… Especially after what she did. That’s just your ego kicking in.”

“You might be right.”

It wasn’t that he wanted to go back with her. Even if he got paid he wouldn’t do that, but seeing her moving forward with someone else made him wonder why… Hadn’t he been understanding and considerate with her? Hadn’t he supported her through thick and thin? He had accepted all of her, the good and the bad, even certain quirks she had inside the bedroom that made him grimace at the beginning. But still, he hadn’t been enough... How would that not annoy him?

“Of course I’m right. Experience makes one wise.” Jim cheekily grinned.

“You’re so damn old, I forgot about that,” Sawyer sarcastically said.

“I’m already over the forties, show some respect for your elders.” He laughed. “Anyway, when are you gonna say it?”

“Say what?”

“That you want your new hot and sweet neighbor. You want to hug her, you want to kiss her…” he teased with a singing voice, making Sawyer cringe. Although, deep down, he knew he was right.

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