Late Night Chitchat
She woke up to an empty bed. Chris was no longer around and judging by how cold his side was, he must have left a while ago. It was expected given how careful he was not to let his connection to her be known. Still, she thought she would be able to have a talk with him before he disappeared again for God knows how long.
Her hands searched blindly for the light switch. Once she located it and flipped it on, she laid on her back again and allowed her brown eyes to examine her surroundings. Everything was pretty much the same. The only thing that was different was the faint masculine scent that lingered in her sheets.
Michaela sat up, swung her legs over the bed and tried to look for her phone. It took her a moment to remember that she threw it on her couch earlier after John kept badgering her with phone calls. Realizing that she needed to check it just in case there was an important call or text, she decided to get up. Her lazy steps led her to the bathroom so she could take a shower before she could see if there are any matters that she needed to attend to. Once she was done, she slipped into a loose button up shirt and marched into the living room in search of her phone.
A pang of guilt gripped her when she noticed the missed calls and messages that came from Lesly. She was obviously trying to reach her to check on her and to make sure she was okay. Michaela did not know how to respond, especially after what transpired between her and Chris earlier, so she simply texted her friend that she was okay and threw the phone back on the couch. Her eyes darted into the direction of the bedroom again. Her recollections became more and more vivid the more she stared at the tussled sheets and the foil wrappers on the floor. She heaved a deep sigh at the realization that she had hit a new low.
Unable to process the ramifications of her earlier decision, she found herself craving indulgence in the one habit she promised herself she would quit. It should not matter now whether she gave in or not because her life so far had been nothing but one lousy decision after another. With that thought in mind, she marched into the kitchen, opened one of the cabinets, and got the lighter and the packet of cigarettes she had successfully steered clear off for two months. The moment she had the cigarette lit, she walked towards one of the windows in the living room and got it open.
The redhead smoked her cigarette silently as she leaned against the window. Her vacant eyes watched the residents of the neighborhood as they went about their normal lives with a lack of interest. Her attention was momentarily drawn away from the live scene in front of her when her phone lit up the dark living room. Someone must be calling. Michaela walked back towards the couch with the cigarette in her mouth and picked up her phone only to find that her friend was calling again. After hesitating for a few seconds, she decided to pick up.
“Where have you been?” Lesly’s worried voice came on the other end of the line.
“I’m sorry. I was asleep. I just woke up.”
“That’s not like you. It’s seven thirty in the evening.”
“I know. I was exhausted.”
“Are you okay?” Lesly asked with concern evident in her voice.
“For the hundredth time, Lesly, yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Michaela responded emphatically.
“Did you talk with John?”
The redhead shrugged, “Not only was the bastard married, he’s also been in an affair with another woman. Of course, he gave me all the cliches when I confronted him. Long story short, we broke up.”
“I’m sorry, hon,” Lesly responded sympathetically.
“Don’t worry about it,” Michaela blew a drawn puff of smoke.
Lesly went silent. Michaela thought her friend was trying to get to the privacy of her room because she could hear faint ruckus in the background. While waiting for Lesly to get her situation sorted, Michaela casually took a few more puffs of her cigarette.
“Are you smoking?”
The redhead almost coughed at the unexpected question.
“You’re smoking, aren’t you?” Lesly asked again.
“What if I am?”
“You do remember how long it took you to quit the last time.”
Michaela defended herself casually as she eyed the cigarette in her fingers, “I reeled it in. I wanted to smash the bastard’s face, but I held back, even after he continued to badger me with phone calls. I deserve this damn it.”
“So you’re rewarding yourself by slipping back into that obnoxious habit?”
“Wanna talk habits? Fine,” the redhead muttered with a hint of a challenge. “What’s with all the muffin cases you took to the office a couple of days ago?”
“This is not about me,” Lesly shot back.
“I have nothing more to add. You asked me if I was fine, and I confirmed it for you. Now let’s talk about you.”
“Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s the same as always.”
“Uh huh,” Michaela responded sarcastically as she put another cigarette in her mouth to light it up. The sound of the lighter was not missed by Lesly.
“Are you lighting another cigarette?” she asked in disbelief.
“I’ll keep on smoking until you tell me what’s bothering you.”
“How did you even find out about the muffins?”
“I have my ways.”
The redhead smiled deviously, “Stacey’s Instagram account.”
She could hear Lesly mutter one sweat word after another. This made her laugh.
“So what?” Lesly asked in frustration.
“You were stress-baking again. What happened?”
Michaela blew another prolonged puff of smoke. “You do realize I have an entire pack of cigarettes here.”
“Go ahead. Smoke them all. I have nothing to say.”
Lesly tried to feign lack of interest, but the moment she heard Michaela play with the lighter, she could not pretend any longer, “Fine. I’ll tell you. Please put the cigarette out.”
Michaela laughed triumphantly as she extinguished the roll, “You’ve always been lousy at lying. Daddy’s proud.”
“Oh, shut up.”
The redhead giggled, “So? What happened?”
Lesly hesitated for a few seconds before speaking, “Remember when you told me to ask Alec on a date?”
“Yeah, I do,” Michaela furrowed her brows. “It didn’t go well?”
“No, it went too well actually.” Lesly heaved an audible sigh as she struggled to continue. After a moment of silence, she spoke again, “We had sex.”
Michaela was genuinely surprised, but she kept her tone neutral. “You did?”
“Is that why you were anxious?”
“I guess I was worried about how things would change afterwards. That’s why I was desperately trying to distract myself. It’s also the reason why I didn’t wanna talk about it.”
“Does he know how anxious you’ve been?” Michaela asked.
“He does. I spoke to him about it.”
“What did he say?”
“He was supportive and understanding. I mean…I expected that from him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have even brought the matter up, but…”
Lesly was hesitant. Michaela could tell, so she gave her the time she needed to gather her thoughts. Lesly eventually began talking, “I didn’t think I’d react the way I did. We’ve been…together a couple of more times afterwards and it’s been…amazing every single time.”
“That’s great, isn’t it?”
Prompted by the hint of uncertainty in her voice, Michaela encouraged her friend to talk. “Honey, you have to tell me what’s bothering you.”
Lesly sighed, “It scares me how attached I’ve grown to him. I’ve never felt this way about someone before.”
It took Michaela a moment to see the real cause behind Lesly’s turmoil. Her friend might have been cryptic in her responses, but the more she talked, the more it became blatantly obvious what she was afraid of.
“You’ll be fine, hon. I promise. There’s no reason for you to feel so anxious.”
“I know that. Still, …”
“Just take things one step at a time,” Michaela interrupted. “The only reason it seems too good to be true now is because deep down you don’t think you deserve to be happy.”
“You think?” Lesly’s voice broke.
“Honey, what happened to Chris is not your fault. You have to forgive yourself.”
No response came from Lesly. Michaela knew she had to try harder to get through to her friend.
“I assure you, he knows…he knows you did not mean what you said that day. He knows you love him… Lesly, if he could see how you’ve been tormenting yourself since the car accident, he’d give you an earful. He’d never want you to live your life this way. You have to let go.”
Lesly’s voice shook, “I’d be the absolute worst person on earth if I did that.”
“You won’t. Trust me. Chris would want you to move on. I’m sure of it.”
Michaela could sense Lesly’s effort to bring her emotions under control, so she patiently gave her the time she needed to do so. A couple of minutes, however, were appearently not going to do the trick. Lesly needed more time. Her next response proved it.
“Can I call you back?” Lesly asked in a low voice.
“Sure, hon. Just promise you won’t torture yourself like that for the rest of the night…please?”
“I’ll talk to you later.”
Michaela hung up and leaned back against the couch. Her feelings of guilt intensified to an unbearable point. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do. As much as she wanted to let Lesly know that Chris was alive and well, there were so many factors that held her back. For one thing, she swore to Chris that she would not breath a word to a single soul, especially his sister. She was, after all, his closest blood relative which would make her the first person to be sought if suspicions arose that he was still alive. He held dangerous intel and if the tiniest bit of doubt emerged that his sister knew what he knew, she would be killed on the spot. Lesly’s encounter with the assailant was proof enough that Chris’s fears were justified. On top of that, Chris made it difficult to be tracked. Most of the time, Michaela had no idea whether he was alive or dead. He showed up and disappeared without as much as a notice. If she told Lesly he was alive without being absolutely certain that he indeed was, she would only be getting the poor woman’s hopes up for nothing.
Michaela eyed the pack of cigarette on the coffee table with interest. The turmoil she was experiencing made smoking another roll seem like an appealing idea. She was about to reach for it when her phone lit up again. It was another call. However, there was something strange about it. Michaela grabbed the phone and examined it with curiosity. The screen was almost completely blank. There was no name or number accompanied with the call. Her screen simply allowed her to either pick or reject the call. Reluctant, Michaela swiped the screen and held the phone to her ear.
Her heart started pounding the moment she heard the familiar masculine voice of a certain someone.
“Hi,” she answered him, smiling.
“I’m glad you finally picked up.”
“You called before?” Michaela asked in confusion.
“I didn’t see any missed calls.”
“It’s a security measure,” Chris explained. “No record will be kept anywhere. I designed the software myself and installed it on your phone.”
“When you were asleep. You seriously need to reconsider your device’s security, Mike. Face recognition isn’t the safest option.”
“You unlocked my phone while I was asleep?”
“You looked so exhausted I didn’t wish to wake you. I didn’t search your phone if that’s what you’re worried about. I simply installed the software before I left. You told me you wanted to be able to reach me directly. Well, there it is.”
Michaela could not believe what she was hearing, so she tried to confirm, “I can call you?”
“Yes, you can.”
“I left the instructions on a piece of paper on your nightstand. Please destroy it once you’re done with it. Also, only call me when you absolutely must. It’s still dangerous for you to contact me.”
“Okay,” she smiled warmly at the gesture. After the many times she had begged him to figure out a more efficient way for her to stay in touch with him, he finally gave in.
“That is all,” Chris announced, “unless there’s something else you wanna talk about?”
“It seems like you’re the one who has something in mind.”
“I actually do…,” he mumbled reluctantly.
“Well…Out with it,” Michaela instructed.
“What happened earlier today…,” Chris began hesitantly. “I might’ve left without as much as a goodbye, but I want you to know that you mean more to me than that.”
“I know, Chris.”
“I care about you.”
“I know. I care about you, too.”
“When I told you I wanted more…I meant it. I know it’s not fair, and I know you deserve better, so I understand if you want to put this whole thing behind us and pretend it never happened.”
“Are you sure?”
“Even if I want to, I can’t. What happened today…it meant a lot to me, too.”
She could hear his sigh of relief. “Thank God. I thought I ruined our relationship forever.”
Michaela giggled, “After what happened earlier today, it’s safe to say that friendship was ruined beyond repair.”
“Oh I’ve had you ruined in my head many times before today.”
She laughed, “I can tell.”
“What are you wearing right now?”
His deep voice as he asked his question made a shiver of pleasure run down her spine. Still, she maintained a casual tone as she answered him. “I thought we were only supposed to get in contact with one another when it’s necessary.”
“Alright, Mike. Talk to you later?”
“Of course,” she whispered with a smile. “Oh and Chris?”
“To answer you earlier question…I’m not wearing any underwear.”
Her voice was low and seductive as she delivered the line. The smile she had on earlier deepened when she heard him swear.
“Are you frickin’ kidding me?”
She could not help but laugh at his response. “I just wanted to give you something to think about.”
“Oh I will.”
She giggled. “Take care, Chris.”