The phone began ringing the moment Michaela stepped foot into her apartment, but she ignored it. She knew who was calling and she did not care to answer. John did not deserve a second of her time. That was the decision she made and the one she stuck with for the last couple of days. Her phone never stopped ringing. The text messages kept on coming, yet she refused to respond to a single one of them. It was amazing how those texts changed from pleas to have her believe him, to apologies for cheating on her and finally to blame for ruining his life. Appearently, telling his wife and the other woman he was seeing about what he did behind their backs was exactly what she needed to do to get him to drop the act.
The grocery bags Michaela had carried for four flights of stairs were beginning to threaten to sever her fingers, so she dumped them by the door with a loud expletive and began massaging her hands. This was possibly the tenth time that the brats of the new family that moved into the building got the elevator to stop working. As if their screaming, yelling and running everywhere was not enough of a nuisance, they thought of the elevator as part of their games. They would push the buttons and run up or down the stairs to race it to a certain destination. This game would last for hours until the old elevator gave out. The super complained a number of times to the parents, but they seemed to have lost hope that any disciplinary measure would work.
Michaela’s phone rang again, so she snatched it from her purse, silenced it and threw it at the couch. She was already in a foul mood, and she did not feel like talking to anyone right now. Her relief at having her phone silenced for some peace and quiet was short lived. Somebody’s jacket was on the couch. It was his way of telling her that he was in her apartment after the many times he had scared her senseless with his unannounced visits.
She stood there fuming as she stared at the jacket. He was the last person that she needed to deal with at the moment. Why did he have to drop by today of all days?
“You’re finally here,” announced a masculine voice from behind her.
“What do you want? Make it quick,” Michaela asked without sparing him a single glance as she went back to the door to pick her grocery bags.
“You didn’t answer any of my phone calls.”
“I didn’t feel like talking to you or to anyone else,” she answered him before she carried some of the bags into the kitchen. Chris carried the remaining bags and followed her.
“Are you okay?” He asked as he laid the bags on the kitchen floor, but she still did not spare him a glance. She was focused on taking her items out of the bags and placing them in the cupboards, so he tried talking to her again.
“What?” She snapped.
“How are you holding up?”
She paused and looked at him. “Is that what you came here for? To ask me how I am doing?”
“I’m fine. Now leave,” she demanded sternly before she resumed the task of putting her kitchen into a state of order.
He tried apologizing for causing her this much distress. It was him after all who told her about John and the fact that he was a repulsive philanderer. He could see how much the truth upset her when he told her about it. At first, she was in denial, but then when she managed to put all the pieces he revealed to her together, she was so mortified for not noticing that she lashed out at him. She was right. It was none of his business. Nonetheless, he firmly believed that she deserved to know the truth.
She was still heartbroken, possibly more heartbroken than he had ever seen her before. She tried to hide it, but it was clear to him that she liked the guy so much that she was immensely hurt by the truth. It was no secret that she wanted to settle down and have a family of her own. She told him about it once during one of her drunken episodes. After years of disappointments and failed relationships, she firmly believed that she had paid her dues. It did not help that John appeared to meet all criteria. She thought she had more in common with him than any of the guys she had been with before. She thought he was someone who got her. She even thought that he was the one she was meant to spend the rest of her life with after he told her that he wanted to settle down with her, too.
To learn that he had not only been married to a woman for four years, but also in a relationship with another for months almost shattered her. Her tough exterior was close to falling apart. It was barely hiding the extent of her pain.
Chris tried to get her to vent, but before he even got a single word out, she spoke to him. Her back was turned to him.
“I don’t wanna talk.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You should leave,” she demanded.
“I’m not leaving you like this.”
“Just go,” she sighed in annoyance. “This doesn’t concern you.”
He refused to move. She could sense him standing in the kitchen behind her, his eyes staring at her. Bent on ignoring him, she grabbed a glass, poured some alcohol into it, and drank it in silence. A moment passed before her landline began ringing. A loud expletive escaped her lips in a clear sign of exasperation before she placed the glass on the marble surface and marched towards the phone.
Chris watched her as she picked up the phone and began talking to whoever was calling. She was calm at first, but he knew from the words she spoke to the person on the other end of the line that it was only a matter of time before that act crumbled.
“It became my business the moment you cheated on them with me. I do not appreciate being lied to.”
“Do you realize the damage you’ve done?”
She began laughing derisively. “Seriously? You’re gonna blame that on me? You did this to yourself.”
“If it weren’t for you, no one would’ve gotten hurt.”
“If it weren’t for me, they would’ve never known what a major scumbag you are,” she corrected. “You can say I did them a favor.”
She continued arguing with him for a couple of more minutes. Obviously, John was not calling to apologize, but rather to blame her for telling the two women in his life about how big of a cheat he was. The argument was taking a turn that made Michaela more upset with every passing second. Her tone remained calm, but Chris could see her shaking with rage at whatever outrageous statements John was making to shift the blame on her.
“Listen to me and listen well you asshole. I swear if you show your face around me or even as much as make another phone call, I’ll make sure you won’t be able to use that appendage you’re so proud of ever again. Mark my words.”
At hearing John’s angry voice mutter some indiscernible words to Michaela, Chris decided that he had had enough. He walked over to where Michaela was standing, grabbed the phone from her hands and slammed it shut. She glared at him but he was too busy tracing the wire to its socket so he could unplug it. The phone began ringing again almost instantly, but Chris forcefully pulled the plug and almost knocked over the phone in the process.
When he turned around, Michaela was still glaring at him with her arms crossed over her chest. She eventually muttered another expletive and walked back into the kitchen to finish the drink she poured earlier. Chris followed her. He leaned against the cabinets and watched her silently. When she did not say anything for a while, he could not take the silence anymore.
“Michaela, you should talk to someone.”
“Lesly,” Chris suggested.
Michaela sighed loudly, “Lesly has enough problems as it is. Talking to her is only going to make her worry.”
“Talk to me then.”
She scoffed, “What do you want me to say? That I was an idiot for thinking that it was going to be different this time?”
“I’m sorry,” he responded in a low voice.
She paused and looked over in his direction as she contemplated a matter in her head before she redirected her attention to the glass in her hands.
“What made you look into him?” Michaela asked after a moment of silence.
“I was worried.”
“Worried about what?”
He chose to remain silent and did not answer her, so she asked again, “Chris, what were you worried about?”
He still kept his silence. She heaved an audible sigh and took another sip of her drink. “Let me guess. You thought that given what happened to Lesly, someone would come for me too?”
He finally answered her, “I didn’t wanna scare you.”
“What made you think that something like that would happen to me?” She asked calmly. Her eyes were still fixed on the drink in her hand.
“She stayed with you for a bit after the incident. You guys are always together. I thought that maybe someone would try to get to her through you.”
“You know I could take care of myself if something like that ever happens. You don’t have to worry.”
“I care about you. You know that.”
He watched her as she placed the glass on the marble surface and began rubbing her temples. Her voice was low as she continued talking to him, “Do you think it’s fair?”
“That you get to check on me whenever you’re worried, but I can’t even tell if you’re alive or dead.”
“That was never my intention, Michaela.”
She said nothing in response. Chris continued to look at her as she picked up the glass and took a few more sips of her drink. Worried that she might drink herself to oblivion, he tried to talk to her once more.
“Listen, I’m sorry that you had to find out about John this way. I debated with myself a lot before I told you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she responded coldly, “I might have not liked the truth at first, but I’m glad you told me.”
Chris continued to watch her as she finished what remained of her drink. He wanted to say something when he saw her reach for the bottle for another refill, but she spoke before he got a chance to say anything.
“You’d never lie to me, Chris. Would you?”
“Of course not.”
“Fine. You’re a guy. Explain this to me. How come that no matter how hard I work on a relationship, it never works?”
“It’s not you,” Chris responded.
“It sure enough feels like I’m part of the problem.”
“How come then that only the absolute worst specimens are drawn to me?”
“It’s not your fault, Michaela.” Chris was emphatic in his reply, but Michaela would not let the matter go. She continued to press him for a response.
“Seriously Chris, I need an honest answer.”
She could hear him taking slow steps in her direction. “What do you want me to say?”
“Tell me what is wrong with me,” she said in a small voice.
“Nothing is wrong with you. You’re perfect.” He was standing right behind her now. His hand held her arm gently and he tried to turn her so that he could see her. She did, but her eyes would not meet his, so he lifted her chin, “Hey, look at me.”
It took her a few seconds to comply. When she finally did, he stared deep into her eyes and told her exactly what he thought of her.
“You’re the kindest most warm-hearted person I know. You’re smart, charming, funny and on top of that, you’re pretty. Any guys who is incapable of seeing all that doesn’t deserve you.”
He could see the effect of his words on her. Her eyes were overbrimming with tears. Her voice came out small as she spoke to him, “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”
“I’m not. I meant it...every word.”
A tear trickled down her cheek. He wiped it with his thumb before he held the back of her head and drew her to his chest.
“Come here,” he whispered.
She gripped the front of his shirt and took deep breaths to keep herself from crying. Still, her tears continued to trickle down. She could feel them soaking up his shirt. It was a difficult decision to make, to bury her head in his chest, thereby alerting him to how crumbled she was, or to pull away and put on an act even though her face would surely betray it.
She did not have to contemplate the matter for long because he made the decision for her.
He pulled her away a little and held her by the shoulders. When she looked into his grey eyes, he was smiling, “Come on, Mike. You’re tougher than this.”
She smiled back. “I thought I warned you not to call me that ever again.”
“You really hate it that much, huh?” He asked, chuckling.
“You have no idea.”
“You do know why I keep calling you Mike now, do you?”
She frowned at him. “Because I grew up with five brothers and have a tendency to behave like a guy.”
“That’s part of the reason,” he responded with a shrug.
The threatening tone and the menacing look in her eyes were not missed. She was mad, which was exactly what he hoped to accomplish. A slow smile began tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“And she’s back,” he announced with a whistle before he took a couple of steps in the direction of the couch. Michaela followed him. Her arms were crossed over her chest in anger.
“Seriously? That’s why you keep calling me Mike?”
He said nothing. He simply turned, winked and picked his black leather jacket off the couch.
“So it’s intentional? You knew how much it bothered me.”
“Of course, I did. Why do you think I stuck with it?”
“You wanted to get on my nerve?” She tried to confirm.
“I did,” he answered innocently. “I still do.”
“The hell do you wanna do that for?” she asked in disbelief.
“Fun,” he shrugged.
She glared at him; her frown never left her face. He barely contained his laughter as he looked at her. Her eyes were still red because of the crying she did earlier, but the old Michaela he loved and admired was back. There was still a tear in the corner of her eye. He wiped it and smiled at her.
His question took her by surprise. She searched her mind for a word to say, but when she couldn’t come up with anything, she nodded hesitantly.
“Good. I’m off then,” he announced as he slipped his arms through his black leather jacket.
“Yes. Please pick up when I call if you don’t want me to show up unannounced. I get worried when you don’t.”
“And if I get worried?”
“Leave me a message,” he answered evasively.
“No,” she responded firmly, “that won’t do. I wanna be able to reach you, to talk to you directly.”
“Michaela, you know that’s not possible.”
“It would be if you wanted to, but you don’t.”
“It’s the same reason why you intentionally say things that irritate me. You’re purposefully trying to keep some distance.”
Chris sighed in defeat, “I have to.”
“Michaela, I didn’t even want to contact you in the first place. If I hadn’t been injured that day, I would’ve never come here. It was bad judgment on my part.”
“Bad judgment? Really?”
“You know what I mean. Whatever is happening with Lesly now is happening because someone has the slight suspicion that I’m still alive. It’s precisely the reason why I never want Lesly to know about me. Trust me. If she did, whoever assaulted her that day would have seen through her and would have never left her alive. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you, too.”
“Why do you keep on coming here then?”
Her question caught him off guard. Unable to answer her question, he kept on staring at her as she waited for a response he knew he did not have. Michaela took a step forward; her arms were still crossed over her chest.
“I’ll tell you why. You’re torn. On the one hand, you want to keep me and Lesly away from whatever shitty situation you were roped into seven years ago. It’s eating you alive…having to watch your sister cast herself into one precarious situation after another because she blames herself for your supposed death. You feel helpless, lost, powerless. Those emails are your only way of maintaining contact with her. They’re also your only means of keeping an eye on her and making sure she doesn’t get herself killed. Of course, when you failed to keep her safe during the Mason Arch incident, you blamed yourself and stopped sending them entirely. It was only after she begged you repeatedly for a response that you resumed sending them.”
Chris did not like where she was going. She could see it in his eyes, but she firmly believed that he needed a dose of reality too and she was not going to stop until he heard what she had to say to the end.
“Michaela…,” he tried to stop her when he noticed that she was not done, but she quickly interrupted him.
“On the other hand, as much as you want to keep the two of us safe, you feel isolated, detached and alone. Every time you came close to resolving your situation, you find yourself back at square one. You can’t take it anymore. You feel like you’re going insane. That’s why you keep on showing up here. You need someone you can talk to.”
Chris stared at her without uttering a single word. Michaela arched an eyebrow in question, “I’m right, aren’t I?”
He still chose silence which was all the confirmation she needed. She took one step closer to him; her tone softened at the pained look in his eyes, “I can only imagine what it feels like being in your shoes.”
“I’m sorry…,” were the only words he whispered.
“You don’t have to apologize. If you’re here to talk, talk. Don’t say something you don’t mean just to make it easier for yourself to walk away.”
“I’ll get greedy…I’ll want more,” he answered hesitantly.
“That’s fine,” she assured him.
“You don’t get it.”
Before he could object, Michaela wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. She felt his arms wrapping around her too and crushing her to him.
“You can stay if you want,” she spoke softly against the crook of his neck.
His hold around her tightened. “A moment ago you wanted me to leave.”
“I was mad.”
Michaela pulled away a little. Her searching eyes examined his face. It was strange how much he had changed in the last couple of years. He was a few years younger than her, yet all the painful ordeals he had encountered made him look older. He was handsome. The Collins had amazing genes after all. Still, it was painfully obvious how much he had suffered since that fateful day seven years ago.
Chris could not say a word as he kept his eyes locked with the redheaded beauty standing right in front of him. Her fingers were lightly caressing the side of his face now and he could not help but shut his eyes and lean into her touch. When he finally opened his eyes, he found hers fixed on his mouth. He, too, could not help but stare at her full rosy lips. His breathing quickened when she stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. Almost instantly, he buried his hand in her red locks and deepened the kiss. His tongue rubbed against her lips demanding access, and she gave in immediately. They were locked in a heated kiss for what seemed like an eternity before Chris tore his mouth from hers.
“Michaela, I think I should leave,” he said, panting.
“What if I asked you to stay?” She spoke against his lips. Her hands were coiled around his neck.
“If I stay, this won’t end here,” he tried to reason.
“I don’t want it to end here either.”
Chris cradled her face and searched her eyes. “Are you sure?”
Michaela did not answer him. She simply stood on her tiptoes and crushed her lips to his. It did not take the two long before they began discarding one item of clothing after another. Between getting this task done and engaging in one passionate kiss after another, it was difficult to find their way into the bedroom. Chris eventually lifted her up, pinned her against the wall and proceeded to make love to her right there. When the two finally found release, he let her down gently, pressed his feverish forehead against the cool wall behind her and tried to catch his breath. Michaela had her hands wrapped around his neck for fear that if she let go, her legs would not support her. Never in her entire life had she experienced something as fervent as this.
Chris pulled back a little and kissed the top of her head. He kissed her forehead next before he rubbed his nose against hers.
“I’m fine,” Michaela spoke softly with a smile.
He tried to pull back a little, but he immediately held her by the waist when he noticed that she lost her balance. She started giggling against his chest.
“Damn it, Collins. That was intense.”
He chuckled, “Don’t tell me you’re spent already. I’m not done with you yet.”
She thought he was joking, but he proved to her that he was not.