SECOND CHANCES

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The next few days were uneventful, probably because Aaliyah hadn’t managed to see Jason even once. Samantha had informed her that he was doing much better and was back on his feet. However, Aaliyah found herself missing him terribly, and

five days of his absence in her life seemed like an eternity.

She threw herself into her work like never before, exhausting herself so that by the time she got into bed, she had no energy left to lie awake and worry over how incredibly lonely she felt.

The sixth day passed like all the rest. No Jason. Her days were empty, merely a progression of tasks. Time was not wibbly wobbly, but passed excruciatingly slowly. However, to pass the time, Aaliyah decided to help Samantha plan her parents upcoming thirtieth anniversary.They settled on her sofa, and Samantha brought Aaliyah up to speed. They had been at it for nearly an hour when they heard a knock at the front door.

Aaliyah stood up and walked toward the front door and opened it.

A delivery man stood on the porch, holding a large, very colourful flower arrangement. He smiled at her.

“Aaliyah Barnett?” “Yes, that’s right.” Aaliyah stared at him with surprise as she took the flowers.

“Someone likes you,” said the man, still smiling. He held out an electronic pad with a style-pen and Aaliyah signed awkwardly. “Thank you.”

“Have a lovely day.”

Aaliyah closed the door and then carried the flowers through to the kitchen, where she put them on the island. She slipped out the attached card and read it quickly.

Your thoughtfulness is a gift I will always treasure.-Jason

Aaliyah stared at the flowers in amazement. It was a beautiful arrangement, bursting with lilies, iris, white stock, and pink snapdragons. She ran her finger over a soft, silky pink rose petal and smiled. No one, not even Nathan, had ever sent her flowers.

“Oh?” Samantha said breaking her from her thoughts.

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Aaliyah said. “We’re just...friends.”

Samantha raised a brow. “Is that what you call it? First he buys you the Vespa and now flowers? I don’t know...sounds to me like it’s getting serious.”

“The Vespa is on loan and the flowers are because I helped him when he was sick. That’s all. Nothing more.”

“If you say so,” she sang out.

Aaliyah rolled her eyes.

“You are going to tell him, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know yet.” Aaliyah responded moodily, shifting her attention back to the flowers instead of meeting her friend’s gaze.

“You have to tell him, Aaliyah.” Samantha said, her voice calm, but stern.

Aaliyah sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. “Why? Why does he have to know?”

“Because you’re friends.” Samantha said. “He cares about you, Lia. You know he does.”

“You think I don’t know that!” Aaliyah finally exploded, looking her friend in the eye at last. “You think I haven’t thought about telling him or what he’ll think of me after he learns the truth?”

“Lia, he’ll understand…”

“Will he?” Aaliyah scoffed and sat back down on the sofa. “Or will he think of me as someone else he can’t trust?”

‘What do you mean?’ she asked, sounding confused.

Samantha watched as her friend’s rage dissipated as quickly as it had come as she wilted back into her chair, eyes dropping back into her lap.

“What if he thinks I’m no better than his ex-wife?” Aaliyah said softly, bringing her feet up to rest on the edge of her sofa as she wrapped her arms around her knees and curled into a little ball.

The sadness in her voice was unmistakable, and Samantha’s frustration instantly dissipated, replaced instead with a pang of sorrow.

“Lia,” she said, lowering her voice to a gentler tone. “I know my brother. He isn’t like that. I promise you.”

She still seemed glum, resting her chin forlornly on her knee.

“Still, I didn’t want to get attached to you, to him, or to anyone else for that matter. I didn’t want to involve you in this.”

“It’s a little too late for that now don’t you think?” Samantha said. “Jason would want to know. He can protect you.”

Aaliyah looked up from her knee “I don’t need his protection, Samantha.”

“Really? Then how come you get scared when you are home alone at night? Why can’t you sleep some nights when you think you heard your husband outside the house?”

Samantha noticed her friend wincy slightly at her words and knew she had hit the nail on the head.

Suddenly, there was a sharp knock at the door. Samantha stood and hurried to answer it.

“That must be Jason,” she said, then waved her hand dismissively. “I’m done berating you for now. But just so you know, we’re in this together whether you like it or not.”

When Samantha opened the door, a puzzled Jason inquired, “You look a little flustered. Everything okay?”

“I’m fine,” she huffed and pulled him inside.

Aaliyah couldn’t help but stare as he crossed the room towards her, blue eyes trained on her.

He smiled at her as he took the seat across from her and Aaliyah swore the whole room lit up with his radiance.

“Hi,” he said simply, either unaware or not caring that she was staring at him stupidly.

“Hi,” Aaliyah replied, finally getting a hold of herself. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“Well here I am,” His smile turned into an outright grin, a grin that had her responding with a smile of her own.

“Now where were we?” Samantha said, apparently eager to wrap up and took the empty spot next to Jason. “Right,” Aaliyah pursed her lips, “Um, you mentioned caters. You had someone in mind for preparing the dinner but no one to cater the desserts.” “Ugh, yeah,” Samantha sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Where the hell am I going to find someone that fast to help.”“How about Lia,” Jason suggested.

Aaliyah’s eyes widen anxiously. “What?”

“Yeah, Lia would be a perfect fit for the job. She loves to bake.” Jason said to Samantha.

Samantha paused before saying, “That’s right, huh?”

Aaliyah’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know…”

“Please?” Samantha pleaded. “I can pay you.”

“I don’t want your money, Samantha. I’m happy to help, but—”

“Thank you. Thank you.” She squealed, giving her a tight hug.

“Sure,” She said hesitantly.

“Okay, so about the party.” Samantha turned in her seat to face Jason. “It’s black tie. I’m assuming you can retire the witty T-shirts and clean up nice?”

“What do you think?” He smiled and gave her a little poke.

Aaliyah’s heart sped up at the mere vision of Jason in a tuxedo.

“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t planning to wear your usual getup. Lots of rich people there. Important people.”

“I figured.”

Samantha jumped up from off the couch and clapped her hands with excitement. “All right!” She said and gave them both a hug before moving to the door. “Leave everything else to me. I’ll take care of all the arrangements for next week.”

With that, she left the room leaving the two alone.

Aaliyah rose from her seat. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure, water would be great.” He followed her into the kitchen where she’d already started to grab a bottle of water from the fridge and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” He grinned, then pointed over to the flowers on the counter. “I see you got my flowers.”

“I did,” she said. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”

“No thanks necessary. It’s you who I should be thanking. You didn’t have to agree to helping with the catering.”

Aaliyah laughed softly. “I think if I didn’t she would have pulled out what’s left of her hair.”

Jason laughed. “True, but you didn’t have to. Thank you. It means a lot.”

“It’s no problem. Really. She’s helped me a lot since I got here. You both have. It was the least I could do.”

“Then the least I can do is give you this,” he said, then reached into his back pocket and fished a piece of paper out of his wallet and handed it to Aaliyah.

“What’s this?”

“The title to your Vespa. It’s yours.”

“Absolutely not,” she said and slid it back across the counter. “I still owe you half of what you loaned me. We agreed. It was on loan.”

He slid the title back toward her. “Just consider it your payment for helping with the catering.”

“I told Samantha earlier I didn’t want to be paid for that. I did it out of the goodness of my heart.”

“And I’m doing the same. So please, take it.” She didn’t make a move for the title. He sighed heavily. “Why are you being so stubborn?”

“Because it makes me feel like I’m taking advantage of your kindness.” She said, a little more loudly than she meant to.

“Is that what you think?” he said, and laid a bottle of water on the counter before taking Aaliyah’s hand in his own and giving it a squeeze. “Because I promise you that’s not what you’re doing.”

His hand was big and strong and warm, and hers seemed to fit into it as if it were made to be there. Plus his eyes were holding hers so tenderly that they were making it impossible not to trust him.

She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes as she mulled the offer over. “Fine,” she relented, “but I’m not happy about this, not one bit.”

Jason chuckled at her pout and lifted a hand to cradle her cheek, gently rubbing the pad of his thumb over her lower lip. “Don’t be angry with me.”

Aaliyah’s heart leapt into her throat, beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She could feel Jason’s piercing blue eyes on her, and slowly she lifted her eyes to his again. “Never,” she whispered softly.

Slowly, he bent down towards her, giving her a chance to back out if she wanted to, but she just continued staring up at him in breathless anticipation, letting her lashes flutter closed only when she could feel his lips ghosting over hers. Jason let his own eyes drift closed as he finally pressed their lips more firmly together, taking in their softness as she tilted her head in response, slanting her mouth more fully over his.

He let his tongue slide out to trace the fullness of her bottom lip before pushing against it in a silent request for access. She parted her lips obligingly and Jason immediately deepened the kiss, letting his tongue stroke softly against hers. Aaliyah hummed her approval against his lips as their tongues tangled, sliding and rolling against each other lazily as the heat rose in both of their bodies. Jason’s hands found their way into her hair, anchoring her in place as the kiss turned from gentle to hungry.

He was able to coax her tongue into his own mouth where he could suck on it playfully between the intermittent nips bites he placed on her lips. Aaliyah moaned softly against his mouth and let her fingers trail from his cheeks to loop around the back of his neck. When he finally pulled away, she found herself breathless and a little mystified.

She let her eyes open and found him smirking down at her, pleased he had been able to disorient her with one kiss.

Was this what it felt like to love someone? She thought. To have someone love me? Tears started to cloud her vision. She blinked, trying to will them back, but all at once, they were impossible to stop. She loved this man and wanted him, but more than that, she wanted him to love the real her, with all her flaws and secrets.

Jason noticed the dampness on her cheeks, then realized she was crying. He reached up and brushed her tears away with his thumbs. “Lia, what’s wrong?”

“Jason,” she breathed as she reluctantly released herself from his arms. “I want to be with you, but I can’t.”

“Why not?” he asked, his cool voice steady and even despite her refusal.

“My life...it’s complicated.” She explained. “There are so many things I want to tell you, things about me...but I’m afraid.”

“Afraid? Afraid of what?”

“I’m afraid…” She paused, swallowing hard. “that you will hate me.”

“Lia,” he began. “there’s nothing you could say that would make me hate you. I want you to understand that. And when you’re ready, you can tell me. I don’t need to know anything until you’re ready.”

Her eyes closed. Hot tears stung her eyelids once more.

He reached over, skimmed her cheeks with his fingers. “Don’t cry,” he murmured. “Please don’t cry.”

She shook her head, then turned her cheek into his palm, biting her lip to keep the tears from falling. “I don’t want to lose you, Jason.”

“You’re not losing me. I’m not going anywhere.”

“But—”

“Shh,” Jason hushed her protests before they began, pressing a finger to her lips. “Let’s not worry about this right now. All I want you thinking about is being here with me, right now.”

He leaned over, kissing her once more. Aaliyah practically melted as he arms wrapped around her while he pressed her up against the counter, his lips working against hers at a deliciously languid pace.

In that moment Aaliyah felt like they had been together and known each other far longer than they had. She had shown him a part of her, and he was still here with her despite all of it.

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