Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
Cheryl was strangely quiet the entire morning. The only time she came to life would be when her phone rang; even then, the worry wouldn’t leave her eyes. She wouldn’t talk in front of me either; she would whisk herself away to a private corner and whisper urgently to her unknown caller. Every time she returned, she wouldn't share anything with me, and I didn’t ask, for fear it would be Jackson telling her to get me out of Vegas.
I guess I was acting the same way, quiet, distant, lost in my own turmoil. Nothing could soothe me, not the mud bath, not the facial, or the fancy air brushed makeup that Cheryl had the spa do for me. I didn’t even get excited when Cheryl pulled out this gorgeous sea blue dress that she said cost over a thousand dollars.
All I could think about was Jackson.
He probably hated me, wished he never met me. And I couldn’t blame him. I sort of hated myself, hated that I turned away from him, hated that guilt that wouldn’t let me go.
“Come on Ara, we have one hour before the concert starts and I need to tell you a few things before we get there.” Cheryl’s voice sounded really troubled, and it snapped me out of my trance, she just barely met my eyes before looking away, “Let’s head on over to the concert arena.”
I could sense this wasn’t going to be good. I was dreading it.
This day was going to hell in a handbasket. I single handedly fucked things up and now there was no way to fix 'em, at least not with Layla here.
Even though it was rare for Layla to show up at one of my venues unannounced, she sometimes did it when her agent would suggest she needed a little bit of publicity. Most times she called Cheryl or Rick beforehand, but for some unknown reason she didn’t last night.
It didn’t really matter that she hadn’t called. Rick kept careful tabs on her at all times. He was savvy, he always knew where she was. He also watched a few other key people whose whereabouts needed to be known twenty-four seven. So he knew exactly when she boarded the plane to Vegas before that plane even took off, he also knew we had to be smart, that meant getting me out of the penthouse and back into my bus, despite my protests.
Cheryl kept me up to date throughout the day on Layla’s whereabouts. I really could care less that Layla was out having lunch with Emeril Lagasse at his restaurant, or buying a boatload of designer clothes over at Gucci. All I really wanted to know was if Ara was doing okay.
“There isn’t any indication that she’s out here for a publicity stunt, we know her agent didn’t send her. She spent most of the morning out shopping, she hasn’t called us at all so we still aren’t supposed to know she’s here. My best guess is she’s planning to just show up at the concert unannounced.” I was only half listening to Cheryl, standing on the edge of the wooden stage, staring out into the empty concert arena. Cheryl kept going on and on, “I’m keeping Ara with me, maybe put her in a VIP skybox, not sure yet, I’m still working on that.”
The mention of Ara’s name jerked me to attention and I cut Cheryl off in mid-sentence, “Ara, how is she? Where is she?”
I didn’t have the time or the patience to skirt around the issue with Cheryl, to bother to try to hide my feelings. “She’s okay, a little quiet. We’re at the spa. I’m trying to get her to relax but I’m pretty sure that’s hopeless. I got the dress you sent her, you picked out a great color, it’s going to look so good on her.”
“I don’t want her in the skyboxes,” I cut Cheryl off again in haste, absentmindedly fingering the small black velvet box in my pocket. “I want her backstage. I don’t care if Layla’s back there.” I began pacing back and forth, waving silently at Dustin and Brett, urging them to take a break from rehearsal.
“You don’t think that’s too much of a gamble?” Cheryl’s voice rose slightly.
“No I don’t. She’s the star of the video, she deserves to be backstage. I want her there, Cheryl.” I wasn’t going to back down and Cheryl knew it.
“Okay…okay…I’ll have her backstage. But you can’t be all over her, promise me Jackson.”
“I won’t. I promise.” I lied, frowning into the phone with frustration, “I have to go, call me when Layla finally announces she’s here.”
Meeting Layla Orr was nothing like I expected, and no amount of preparation from Cheryl could have ever gotten me ready for when I actually came face to face with her.
Even though the mirror was telling me I looked beautiful, I wasn’t feeling beautiful at all.
The dressing rooms of the Mandalay Bay arena were absolutely gorgeous, with crushed velvet sofas and a granite bar stocked with different bottles of water and alcohol. None of it impressed me; I was too far gone into the depths of my own misery. The make up artist stood slightly behind me, her powder brush in hand waiting for me to let her do the final touch ups, I wanted to just wave her away, I knew Jackson was out there somewhere and it was eating me alive.
Cheryl wouldn’t let me sit down in the dress I was wearing, so I just stood there surrendering to the make up and the powder brushes, as she drilled me with instructions.
“Ara, the first thing that you’ll probably notice, what everyone first notices, is that Layla won’t talk to you. She doesn’t talk to anyone except Rick and Jackson.” Cheryl’s voice was carefully guarded with just a touch of sarcasm, her eyes wouldn’t rest on mine, “She’ll talk to me if she has too, and sometimes I force her too, cause I can. But for you, I think we should just avoid her okay?”
I just blinked at Cheryl, more confused than anything, this certainly didn’t sound like the Cheryl I knew.
“And she usually has a few people with her all the time, her bodyguards.” Cheryl rolled her eyes, making air quotation marks with her fingers and shaking her head. “Don’t talk to them either.”
I finally snapped out of my immobile trance, waving my hand around, trying not disturb my perfectly made up hair, taking a step back from make up artist. “I’m not planning to talk to her Cheryl, what about Jackson?”
That’s what I really wanted to know, would I be able to talk to him? Should I even bother after last night?
“Jackson?” Cheryl frowned slightly, finally looking at me, “Well sure, of course you can, I mean I doubt he’s going to ignore you.”
I think my questions threw Cheryl off track because she almost jumped when her phone began ringing then. I turned around, glancing back into the wall mirror, trying to take a few deep breaths. The woman looking back at me was polished and radiant, I wished I could feel that way on the inside too,because all I was feeling inside, was broken and torn.
“Okay, it’s all ready, let’s go.” Cheryl urged me over and began heading for the door.
It was time to go.
“Her car is here Jackson, her driver has it out parked. She’s in the casino somewhere, keep your eye out. Are you ready to go on yet? Ara and I are coming now. I’ll keep her over behind the crew, we’ll see you after the concert.” There was tension in Cheryl's voice; I could hear it, even with the all the noise the sound system was making around me. I was already highly irritated, my teeth clenched, and I had a raging headache.
“You know what Cheryl,” I know she could hear the ire in my tone, “I could care less where Layla is, or even if she’s going to show. Bring Ara out here, not behind the crew. I want to see her before I go onstage. Now Cheryl.”
“Alright Jackson, alright. We’re coming! We’ll meet you at the left side of the stage instead, there’s more space there. Geez, where was this guy I’m hearing, two years ago?”
I almost chuckled, my hand automatically searching for that black velvet box again. I grabbed it out of my pocket and opened it. This was going to be my peace offering, my apology.
The sapphire blue teardrop necklace glistened under the white room lights. It was elegant and simple, and I knew it would look stunning on Ara.
With a satisfied glance in the mirror, I spun on my heels and rounded the corner away from my dressing room, grabbing my hat on my way out. If there was any luck on my side tonight I would be able to see Ara for a few minutes, to apologize for everything that happened last night, and today too.
No one paid me any attention as I made my way over to the left stage area. We usually kept our extra lighting equipment, some microphone stands, and other stuff here on the this corner, you really couldn’t access the stage from here, unless you stepped over the amps, but you would be able to see everything, including much of the audience, which is why I suspected Cheryl chose this side.
I brushed past a few large crates and some extra wound up cords, pushing the amps over with my foot, making a small path that would lead to the stage.
The lights were a little dimmer here, but I kept scanning as far back as I could, looking for her.
My eyes fell on Ara first. She looked like an angel, just soft and beautiful. Her hair was all pinned up except for a few stray ringlets that framed her face. The dress she wore showed off her shoulders and hit right above her knees, showing just enough skin to make you look twice.
I think she was looking for me too; her eyes flew over the entire area rapidly until they finally locked onto mine.
I hoped she could feel the same jolt shooting down her spine that I was feeling as we stared at each other, feel that same instant magnetic pull that made my body tremble, that ordered my feet to start heading her way.
I tried to give her a smile, as I stepped towards her, a real sincere smile, tilting my head down a little bit, acknowledging her presence, her beauty.
Her eyes brightened at that, growing a bit wide, her lips parting in the shyest of a smile.
It sent instant relief flowing through me, maybe she didn’t hate me, maybe I would be forgiven.
I smiled bigger at her, thinking it was her that called out my name, but when both Ara and Cheryl stopped in their tracks at the same time, the startled looks on their faces identical as they stared past me, I knew, and it killed me to know.
She called his name but she was looking right at me.
Her voice was all high and bright, dripping with sweetness, but it didn’t match the look in her eyes, or the way she stood.
She wasn’t smiling, at least not until he turned around to face her.
I could feel the smile that I had just given Jackson slowly slide off my face, my body stiffening in shock and pain. I don’t know where she came from, it was like she was hiding in the shadows just waiting for me to come through that hallway, looking for that perfect moment to make her entrance.
And she sure did, breaking into the biggest, sparkling smile I’d ever seen when Jackson turned around, throwing her arms wide around those broad shoulders and hugging him close to her. Pressing those perfect red lips to his cheek.
I wish I could tell you that Jackson didn’t hug her back, that he pulled away from her and turned back to me.
But he didn’t.
His arms slid around her too, and I could tell he tilted his head down into her neck at the same time.
The sight before me just sent my mind spinning and heart falling.
I know it shouldn’t have, but it just hurt.
I don’t know what kind of game Layla was trying to play but I saw that camera guy still slightly hidden behind the light boxes before he stepped out into our view.
I can’t even remember the last time Layla even touched me, and now here she was, wrapping her hands around my neck and kissing my cheek.
I wanted to shove her away roughly, tell her to get the fuck off of me.
But there was no way I could do that.
Cause I could see him, the cameraman I was sure she was with, his face partially hidden behind his camera as he took a few shots.
It angered me to no end, and I’m pretty sure Layla could feel my fingers digging into her waist tightly, keeping her from pressing completely up to my body. I was no longer hers, and I wanted her to know that.
“I hope I didn’t give you a heart attack darling, but I was really missing you.” Her voice dripped with affection as she looked up at me with eager, loving eyes. She really was a damned good actress.
She finally let her arms fall away from me, taking a half step back. “People magazine are here with me. They are interviewing me, our family. It just got announced that I’m up for an Emmy, and I thought, what better place than Vegas. I think I had to ask a million of your helpers before one of them told me where you were.”
Her voice stayed steady, bright. She turned around quickly and waved over the camera guy who finally stepped into the light, bringing his camera down and heading up to us with a polite smile.
He extended his hand to me when he reached Layla. “This is Shawn, my photographer. He’s really good. He’ll be following me around for a bit, maybe he can take some photos of your concert. It’ll be fun!”
I shook Shawn’s hand roughly, ignoring his hello. I was already suspicious enough of the display in front of me, so I just eyed him steadily until he diverted his eyes, shifting his feet, looking down at Layla.
“So,” she kept right on talking, still all smiles, briefly pressing her palm onto my chest, “Do you have a few minutes darling? Or do you have to go onstage right now?”
“I don’t have a few minutes.” I stepped back slightly, trying to get away from her hand; I wanted to lower the aggravation in my voice but didn’t do a very good job at it. “I don’t have a few seconds…I need to talk to…to Cheryl…and my crew…” I waved my hand behind me, “You can wait in a dressing room.”
“Oh no…” Layla smiled brightly at me once again, not giving up, stretching her arm out and resting her hand on mine. “I don’t want to wait in your dressing room, I want to see my husband sing!”
I just stood there, my heart somewhere by my knees.
All the makeup and fancy dresses in the world couldn’t help me. I was no match for this absolute stunning woman smiling next to Jackson.
I mean she was gorgeous. A tall, regal woman with the perfect hourglass figure.
She had on this stark white, crisp pantsuit that made her look professional but glamorous at the same time. Her hair looked naturally wavy, it was long and blonde with chestnut highlights that flowed down her back, it simply shone and made her blue eyes just pop.
She looked like the perfect match for Jackson, with this megawatt white, radiant smile. She stood effortlessly in these six inch sequined heels that added all more the glamour to her.
I felt so dumpy and stringy standing there next to Cheryl.
It didn’t matter how much they tried to fix me up. I would never look as good as her.
Cheryl stood completely rigid in her spot, her lips pressed together tightly. She didn’t say a word, and I couldn’t read her expression, but I sure could feel the hostility radiating off of her. I wondered briefly why Cheryl didn’t like Layla, but then Layla opened her mouth again, and I quickly figured it out.
It was all about her.
Every word she said. Everything she talked about, her tv show, her accomplishments, her life, nothing about Jackson, or his concert. She didn’t even acknowledge Cheryl’s presence.
The air around me grew thicker as the seconds ticked by.
One of Jackson’s crew across the stage was already waving rapidly, pointing to a make believe watch on his wrist, indicating that Jackson had to go now. I still couldn’t see Jackson’s face, but his body seemed completely tuned to his wife. My stomach turned every time she touched him, and her voice just seemed to grow louder and louder. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand there and watch much longer.
Finally, I turned to Cheryl, hoping she wouldn’t see the pain in my eyes. “Cheryl, can we go?” My voice cracked with every word and I knew she heard it cause she took a really quick breath and nodded at me, grabbing at my hand and ushering me in the opposite direction.
“Cheryl, wait!” His voice sounded so rough, so foreign.
I didn’t turn around, but Cheryl did. She let go of my hand and took a slow, half step back towards them.
“Yes?” I’m sure every one of us could hear the anger in that simple yes.
“We still have to go over, a couple of things.” his tone was strained, and I was sure my ears were deceiving me when I thought I heard a touch of pain mixed in there.
"You’re busy. You don’t have time Jackson, you have to get onstage.” Again, Cheryl let the sarcasm flow, along with the anger.
“I’m done here.” Now this time it was clear, a strong, hard order. His words made me turn my head to the side, I wanted to see him, look in his eyes. Try and see what place I might hold in his heart.
I never got that chance.
Her voice filled the room again, loud and bright, and deadly serious. “Cheryl, what Jackson wants you to do is make sure I have the best spot backstage to watch him sing. He knows how much I love his music. Shawn needs access too, he needs to be able to take some good pictures.” I could hear her heels clicking as she walked across the wooden floor, making me half turn in anxiety.
She looped her arm through Cheryl’s, holding on tightly, not letting Cheryl pull away. Her eyes flashed with an ominous warning and Cheryl stopped her struggle, glancing first at Jackson’s frozen form, then at the cameraman who was right at Layla’s heels.
With a yielding sigh Cheryl stared with frustration at Layla, then suddenly she did a complete turn around and tried to yank Layla past me as fast as she could, she jerked on Layla’s arm, pulling Layla by surprise. Layla let out a small yelp, nearly tripping, throwing out her free hand for balance.
“I know just the spot to put you Layla. You’ll have the perfect view. An amazing view. You’ll get to see everything that happens, I mean everything.” Cheryl’s voice went extremely high, dripping with false sincerity, mimicking the tone Layla had used earlier.
I was a bit stunned. Not sure what to do.
Jackson suddenly came to life and he took a few steps towards us, even though he should have been onstage already.
My eyes met his once again, causing my breath to hitch. He looked so torn as he watched me, his eyes full of anguish and apology. I wanted to believe that apology was for me, that the look in his eyes was for me. I nearly reached out for him, picking up my trembling hand and tilting my head in despair.
But Layla was far to good at this, she knew exactly what she was doing. She paused right as Cheryl was trying to pull her past me, planting her feet firmly on the ground, making sure she filled my entire view with her presence. Her blue eyes stared me down with disdain and a hint of challenge. “Isn’t your little friend coming?” she asked Cheryl, still looking at me with one eyebrow raised.
“No.” Cheryl tried to pull on her again, “Arabella James stays right here, she’s part of the crew.”
Layla gave out this little huff, “Since when does the crew get all dressed up?” Her nose wrinkled slightly.
“Since they’re the star in the video they do.” Cheryl was matching Layla punch for punch.
“This is the star?” Layla didn’t even flinch, she just narrowed her eyes enough for me to see, “I guess it was a low budget video.” She muttered under her breath before Cheryl finally got her to move.
Nothing in my brain made sense. Once Layla was out of my way, Jackson was no longer standing backstage. He had been pulled away by the stage crew and was now out there in the midst of screaming fans.
My heart beat rapidly as I wondered what to do with myself. My eyes drifted around the room hopelessly, mostly looking for a place to hide, a way out.
I could hear the cheering crowd filling my ears, Jackson’s adorable accented voice echoing around the room, and without realizing it I was walking in that direction, my heart leading the way. I stopped right at the edge, standing next to one of the extra microphone stands, looking out into the crowd first before raising my head to look at Jackson.
My heart beat crazily. There he was, guitar in his hands, strumming away, his gaze completely concentrated on his fingers as they flew over the strings. He always looked so amazing this way, and tonight was no different.
Despite everything I was struggling with, I was always awestruck to see him perform, to see him shine up there.
And the longer I stood there watching him, the more my heart ached. It ached for him, for everything I couldn’t have, would never have.
I don’t know if he sensed me watching him, or maybe the tiny sparkles of my dress caught his eye, but he turned my way at that moment, his hat tilting up so that I could see those beautiful green eyes. They seemed to look right into my soul, deep, searching.
My heart was overflowing, his look was completely overwhelming me, making it hard for me to breathe.
It was at that moment that it hit me. I suddenly wanted him to how I felt about him, wishing I could tell him, show him. My head tilted to the side by instinct and my hand somehow made it up to my heart. I just smiled at him, a small heartfelt smile. It held everything my heart had been trying to hide for so long.
He seemed to blink in surprise at my expression, but that only lasted for a second before he smiled back at me. His eyes sparkled, and his body seemed to stand taller. His smile nearly knocked me over; it was that adorable mischievous little boy smile, the one that never failed to make me feel weak in the knees.
He seemed to come alive after that, as if my smile gave him some kind of relief, some kind of courage. His eyes started shining again and he sang with more emotion than I could remember.
The crowd loved it, of course, screaming and cheering, singing along with him. I didn’t even feel the minutes tick by, my eyes were constantly locked to him, watching him perform, still finding myself completely amazed and star struck with him.
Jackson kept right on smiling at me, somehow making me feel he was singing to me. He moved all around the stage, his eyes catching mine, making my heart swoon every time.
I was probably reading too much into those short, quick glances, the look in his eyes as he sang. My heart wanted to believe so badly that they were more than just friendly gestures, and I was totally ignoring the warnings my brain was shooting at me.
I wanted this. I wanted to get lost in his eyes, in his heart. I wanted it so bad that I thought I was dreaming when he suddenly extended his hand towards me, waving me over, urging me to get out onstage with him.
This was going to be her moment.
I wasn’t going to let Layla take this away from her.
I was going to finally fulfill this one fantasy that I had about Ara from the second I laid eyes on her.
“I have a special surprise for y’all tonight!” I shouted out into the crowd.
They roared back at me in approval, their hands all waving in the air.
“Help me welcome a very special lady on stage, y’all recognize her, my beautiful co-star from Broken…”
I don’t think she’d been listening to me because her eyes grew all wide and scared when she realized I was reaching for her, urging her to step out onto the stage with me. I took a few steps towards her, extending my hand.
The crowd went ecstatic. Screaming even louder in their excitement.
Ara didn’t move, at least not until I was nearly upon her. Her hand finally reached back for me and she took a small step forward. I just kept right on smiling at her, enclosing her trembling hand in mine, reassuring her it would be okay.
One of the crew had placed a stool in the center of the stage and I led her to it, helping her climb up and sit down.
The rest of the band was already softly playing the beginning melody to Broken, and behind us, on the big screen, the first flickering’s of our video came to life.
The audience loved it.
Their cheers grew even louder, and the clapping was unmistakable that it was for Ara.
I just grinned proudly at her, letting her hand go, and began strumming my guitar.
I think it was that second she realized what was happening around her because she broke out into the most beautiful smile, clasping her hands together in awe and disbelief, laughing to herself when she heard the whistles and cheers that were just for her.
I didn’t leave her side the entire song. I just stood right there next to her and sang my heart out.
I sang about beauty and love, trial and triumph, the past and the future. And I meant every word, every syllable.
My heart was hers. Whether she accepted it or not, whether this would ever work out or not. It was hers.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Broken sound so beautiful before.
Every word sounded so heartfelt, so clear. My mind spun and my heart ached, it just rose and fell over me the way no other song had, and with every phrase, every chord, my heart knew how it felt about this man standing next to me, I could no longer hide it.
He stood right next to me, facing the audience, his words capturing everyone’s attention.
As much as I wanted to look out there, watch their faces as they sang along, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Jackson. His fingers flew over the guitar as if they had a mind of their own, so fluid and beautiful. I was hypnotized, by his talent, his words, by him.
The screaming didn’t stop, not even when the song was over, or when he shouted out to the crowd how much he loved them. When he said my name out loud, waving his hand in front of me, “Miss Arabella James everyone!”
My heart skipped when I heard him say that, it just sounded so beautiful, so perfect.
He helped me off the stool, squeezing my hand as he did that, and led me back to the same spot I had been standing before.
I knew he had to get back onstage, there were still more songs to sing, so when I was safely deposited backstage again, I turned to him, feeling him let go of my hand, and smiled.
“Thank you baby.” That’s all he whispered, but it meant the world to me.
I didn’t know what to expect when the concert was over. Cheryl was nowhere to be seen and Jackson had been whisked away back to his dressing room by the crew.
I just stood quietly backstage, watching with solemn eyes as the rest of the team broke down the set.
My heart felt full at the moment and I kept trying to avoid thinking about Layla, and how she was probably back at Jackson’s dressing room, with him.
I pondered this for a few minutes, finally glancing down at myself. I might as well try to find my way back to my dressing room to change. No sense in staying dressed like this.
The hallways were dim as I passed through, I had to turn and backtrack twice because everything looked the same to me, I was grateful when I spotted one of the crew who pointed me in the right direction.
My dressing room wasn’t labeled, and it was nowhere near Jackson’s, so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him nearby.
I closed the door behind me tightly and walked on over the mirror, starring at my reflection for the longest time.
Coming face to face with Jackson’s wife had given me a whole new perspective on things, and that little voice in the back of my head started lecturing me, warning me that I better get myself in order, tell my heart to behave, figure out my priorities.
My brain was smart enough to know that I had a wonderful man at home, a man who loved me, a man I didn’t have to share.
But what neither my brain or that little voice didn’t understand was, that even though I knew better, even though I already realized that if I kept going down this path, it would only lead to a lot of broken hearts, it wasn’t enough to stop this tiny seed of love and hope from growing in my heart.
And I didn’t know if I could just walk away from it.
Maybe it was time for me to give it all up, to go home and forget that I ever met Jackson Stone. To pretend none of this had ever happened to me. I probably should, it was clear that Jackson’s wife loved him. They had a home. They had children.
The thoughts tore at me, making me squeeze my eyes shut to hold back the sob that threatened to erupt.
I didn’t hear the door open, or even know anyone was there in the room with me, until I heard my name.
And that beautiful accent, it just washed over me, feather light, yet strong enough to knock me over.
I spun around more in surprise than anything else.
Jackson stood there, a rugged handsome cowboy, wearing those perfectly tight jeans, that dark grey collared shirt, his hat still resting on his head.
“I don’t have a lot of time.” his eyes bore into mine, begging me to understand, “I have to go back, I just wanted to see you, to tell you,” He was struggling with his words, not making much sense at all, but it was the sound of his voice, so distraught and full of anguish. I could already feel the pull of my heart, urging me to go to him.
I fought against it, taking these big gulps of air, telling myself to stay strong.
“You were great out there.” Jackson’s voice grew clearer as he spoke, and his eyes wouldn’t leave their hold on me. ”I…the audience…loved you.”
I just kept standing there, wishing his words wouldn’t have such an affect on me, it was all I could do not to beg him to stay.
"Ara,” he took another step towards me, his voice cracking just a little bit, “There’s a lot of stuff that’s probably going to happen in the next few hours, the next few days, and I’m not going to be able to explain any of it. But before it happens, and just in case you get on that plane without saying goodbye, I wanted to give you this.”
I didn’t see it at first, the black box in his hand. I was too busy watching his eyes and listening to the tremor in his voice.
He opened the box and held it out to me, waiting for me to notice, to respond.
The gasp that escaped me took me by surprise, sent waves of emotion coursing through my veins.
My hands flew up wanting to cover my face, but my eyes stayed glued to that beautiful glistening blue stone nestled beneath the black velvet.
It sparkled as he moved towards me, and when he lifted the necklace out of the box I could see two tiny white diamonds attached to the sapphire stone.
I stood frozen in shock as his trembling fingers fumbled with the clasp, my breath escaping in jagged spurts when I felt his hands brush lightly across my neck.
“It’s for you to remember me by.” The gruffness to his voice threw me further into the turmoil I was already in. It sounded so raw, so final.
My heart was hanging by a thread, my body still immobile.
I didn’t even know where to begin, to thank him,to say goodbye?
He watched me carefully for a moment, reaching out and touching the necklace one last time; I could feel the warmth of his fingers near my collarbone.
“It looks beautiful, just like you.” he turned away quickly, as if those words hurt him, and walked back to the door.
He didn’t open it right away.
His body stayed silently still. I could see his shoulders rise and fall with his breathing.
Seeing his hand rest on the doorknob shook me, everything inside me was screaming that this was goodbye, that I wasn’t going to see him again.
I didn’t listen to my brain telling me stop, to let him go. I just blurted out “Wait!” and literally flew across the room and into his arms.
The force of my body made us both slam into the door, but neither of us seemed to feel the impact.
My arms wrapped around his neck and I pulled him down to me, tilting my head to the side, trying to memorize every second, every feeling that coursed through me.
He didn’t pull back at all. His arms moved around my waist, pulling me roughly to him while his lips found mine hungrily. His grip was tight, possessive, and I could hear the half grunt, half moan as he slid his tongue into my mouth.
I let my hands slide down the back of his shirt, feeling every tense muscle, every brief movement as he flexed and pulled me closer to his body. The way his tongue danced and played over mine just sent this deep, searing, hot flame flow through me, and I pushed my tongue back at his, urging him on, not holding anything back.
His hands moved from my waist up my spine and then back down again, teasing me, torturing me. They tangled up in my hair, pulling out some of the little pins that were holding up my curls, I could feel my hair fall free against my cheek and he moaned again when his hand brushed along the back of my head, my hair swaying through his fingertips.
My breathing quickened when I felt his hands free themselves from my hair and slide in a downward motion, past my shoulder blades, trailing down my spine, going lower still until they came to a questioning pause right above the curve of my bottom.
I wanted to feel him. Feel his hands roam in places that wanted him the most.
My back arched slightly and I thrust my tongue harder into his mouth giving him silent permission, much like the permission he had given me back at the pool the night before.
He almost took it.
His fingers flexed. I could feel them beneath the silky material of my dress. The heat of his hands was driving me crazy, and by out of pure uncontrollable want my own hands found themselves traveling down the front of his shirt, lingering near the small snaps.
He let out another grunt, kissing me harder, and the next few seconds flew in the blink of an eye.
His right hand pressed into my bottom and slid right down into my thigh, squeezing along the way. I managed to pull open the first snap on his shirt, gasping in surprise and pleasure at the feel of his hand. It took another ten seconds before either one of us could hear the alarm in Cheryl’s voice as she pounded at the door.
"Ara! Are you in there? Please open the door Ara!” her voice invaded my senses and I tried to block it out, block out any fraction of reality.
Jackson grunted again, and this time it sounded out of annoyance. His body began to stiffen in my arms and I could feel my own do the same.
We both slowly became more and more aware of what was around us, than what was inside us.
He was breathing just as hard as I was and he pressed his forehead to mine, closing his eyes, seemingly trying to get a hold of himself.
I was trying to do the same. Still clutching onto him, but slowly letting him go all the same, not giving into the panic that I knew would come when he’d step back, and out of my life.
“Ara! Is Jackson with you? Ara?” Cheryl’s voice rose higher in alarm.
It caused both Jackson and I to let go at the same time.
“I’m…I’m in here Cheryl.” My voice shook terribly, and I glanced up into Jackson’s eyes. They were already filled with pain again as he looked back at me, they almost seemed to be pleading with me.
“Please open the door Ara. Is Jackson in there?” Cheryl’s voice seemed more calm now, and she lowered it to almost a whisper.
“Ye…yes.” I was sure she could hear the defeat in my tone as I finally tore my eyes away from the one man who was beginning to mean everything to me, and pulled open the door for Cheryl.
Cheryl looked at both of us with alarm; her eyes were wider than I’d ever seen them before. She looked at me first, then Jackson, and I’m sure she was putting it all together in her head.
“Thank you Ara,” she began softly, giving me an apologetic glance.
Her voice changed though when she turned to Jackson, it wasn’t harsh, just full of sympathy and fear, “I’m sorry Jackson, you have to go back, you can’t be in here. There are all kinds of press waiting for you and Layla. She brought a corral of people over there and you know how that goes.”
I didn’t say anything and Jackson nodded his head slightly, the silence after Cheryl’s words was deafening.
Everything after that played out in slow motion…agonizing…painful…slow motion.
And I had a front row seat of it all.
Layla never left Vegas.
She stayed right by Jackson’s side the entire time.
So I got to see firsthand.
All the red carpet pictures they took together…smiling.
All the hand holding, the kisses on the cheek, the way she would cling to his arm.
And he never let her go, not through the entire thing.
The last three days in Vegas were pure torture for me.
I tried my best to keep a pleasant face, not to show any emotion. But every night it took all my strength not to cry my eyes out, knowing he was sharing a bed with her, something he would never share with me.
Cheryl took me to the airport on my last day in Vegas.
I was flying back on a commercial airline as Layla and Jackson were flying back in his plane to Nashville together.
Cheryl was quiet the entire way, her eyes looked so tired, as if she hadn’t any sleep.
The last thing she said, before I passed the security check, was a somber, “The video for Shine is going to be released in three weeks. We wanted to get it out there right away so that it would fall on the heels of Broken, and the nominations, for the ACM’s, those are going to be announced any day now. We’re almost positive Broken is going to sweep those. I’ll let you know.”
I didn’t answer her, just nodded numbly, trying to hold onto my last shred of dignity.
It didn’t matter anymore.
Nothing mattered anymore.
And I just wanted to go home…