It’s raining. It’s pouring, and the old man is, in fact, snoring in his recliner with his feet up; not a care in the world rests on those eyelids. Thank God he came around and got off his alpha kick to allow Mike and I to still see each other. He knows that I’m eighteen and technically an adult, so there isn’t much he can do, except try to make sure that I make sound choices. He still has his rules, but he’s okay with me spending time alone with Mike next door. Mike is welcome to come over here -in fact it’s preferred and strongly encouraged– but he must stay out of my room.
My head swivels so I can stare out the window and wonder if Mike is home. I’m done only seeing him in passing; lately, that’s all it’s been. With determination and a goal to check off, I kick my legs from under the blanket then go after my shoes and raincoat.
I’m going to go see him. As quiet as a mouse, I leave a note for my dad, so he knows where I’ll be and slip out the front door. The grass squishes beneath my shoes, and the rain is loud as it pours big drops on me from above. I hop over a puddle then jog to his door. Once under the covered front porch, I lower my hood and try to wrangle in the courage that I had when I left the couch. Somewhere between there and here I’ve lost it.
Why is my heart racing? It’s like a kicking bass drum in there. I swallow a gulp of anxiety, lift my hand, and knock on the door with my knuckles.
The sound of the rain drains out any other possible sound I could hear from the inside; it keeps me guessing on if he’s even home. His truck isn’t outside, but it could be in the garage with his bike... I could have looked through the front window to see if I can see him, but the blinds are always closed.
Just when I’m about to retreat to the comfort of my couch with nothing to do for the rest of the day except ponder and stare at Mike’s siding - I hear a muffled “Who is it?” from the other side of the door.
I push out the breath I was holding in. “Elena,” I wheeze. Clearing my throat, I try again. “It’s Elena,” I yell over the door with a bit more force.
The white door swings open, and there before me is the man who has professed his love for me. Clearly, he isn’t expecting company as he sports his grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt. His hair is tossed without care, but he still looks incredible. He so easily knocks the breath out of me even with a shock expression hanging from his lax jaw and wide eyes.
“Elena. What are you doing here?” He asks as though it’s a complete surprise. It most likely is, but I won’t let that stop me. He has some explaining to do.
I push my chin forward. “May I come in?”
A second goes by before it all registers to him. “Y-yeah, yeah -please.” He steps aside to let me through. “Here, let me take your coat,” he offers.
Shrugging my coat off, he takes it to a chair at the table to let it hang dry.
“Can I get you anything? Hot cocoa, hot tea?” he asks, going through the cabinets of his kitchen.
I clear my throat and find my spine. “Michael.” He stops and turns to face me. “We really need to talk.”
Looking uncomfortable, he pats the outside of his thighs with the palms of his hands. “So, you’re using my full first name again?” He teases the observation, but there’s a hint of bitterness there.
“It appears so,” I say, folding my arms over my chest.
His lips purse with thought as he bobs his head and gravitates to the kitchen table to pull out a chair for me. “Sit,” he says. I take a seat then he scrapes his chair along the wood before he sits across from me with a thud.
Michael holds his hands on the table and rubs his thumbs together; with a heated gaze, he says, “Talk.”
I mimic his position but try not to give him a scorching glare. I’m mad at him, but I don’t want him to feel attacked. If he feels like he needs to be defensive, then this will go nowhere.
“Why have you been avoiding me?” I ask it as though my heart bleeds; I didn’t mean for it to come out pleading.
“I haven’t,” Michael scoffs.
Why is he acting like this? “Michael, you’ve been avoiding me for three days after you said that you are in love with me -in front of my father – why?” There’s the backbone. Although it did come out more on the shouting side, I’m still proud of myself.
He sighs, closes his eyes, and lets his head fall back.
“You didn’t mean it.” It’s a statement that comes out like a question. The backbone crumples. My voice is small, deflated, and hurt... my confidence is about to shatter. I downcast my gaze to focus on ripping apart my fingernails; maybe when a tear drops I can blame it on splitting my nail too far.
From above my lashes, I notice that his head snaps up, and a hand reaches to cover both of mine to stop the insistent nail picking. “I meant it, Kitten.” His voice is deep, sure, and velvety.
I look up and notice the changes in his expression from being guarded and defensive a few moments ago to exposing and vulnerable. I focus on him and his open, bright green eyes as he speaks. “I’ve been ashamed, Elena. I’m not good with feelings. Hell, I’m not good at anything that has to do with emotion. That isn’t how I wanted you to find out. I had a whole idea planned out on how I was going to tell you. It was careless the way I blurted it out like that...I’m sorry, Elena.”
So, he did mean it; my chest burns with the most wonderful spark. I want so badly to climb over the table and hold him in my arms, to tell him that I’m in love with him too. However, I force myself to stay put because I need more answers before trusting him with my whole heart.
He beats me to asking the question. “I’ve been keeping things from you, Elena, and it’s not fair for you,” he pauses and looks down at our intertwined hands. “I am so fucked up, honey. You deserve so much more than what I can offer.” He takes a deep breath.
I want to argue with him; to tell him that he is all that I want, but I don’t. I glue myself to this wooden grey chair with all that is in me and wait patiently for him to finish.
His gaze is still on our hands; he rubs the top of mine with his calloused thumbs. “You know that my dad left my mom and me when I was eight...” His brow lifts, and I swallow. “But what you don’t know is that my grandpa Chuck came to live with us, to help my mom raise me.” He shifts in his chair but doesn’t let go of my hands; it’s like I’m his anchor through the raging storm of what’s to come.
“Everything was fine at first; he was sober, but when my mom had to work more hours to keep the roof over our heads, he jumped off the wagon and started drinking again. He held me personally responsible for my dad’s disappearance.
“Suddenly, I was no longer just blamed for my dad’s disappearance but for other things as well. Things I never even done. For years I took the belt whippings, the kicks, the punches, the cigarette burns, and his personal favorite – baring my knees on the length of a broom handle on the wooden floors. That one happened so often - I actually got used to it, so he got more inventive and added weights around my neck.” He lifts his bright vulnerable eyes to meet mine. I’m trying so hard not to let the dam break and have my tears spill out for this man.
“My mom had to work two jobs to put food on the table for us. She would see bruises, scrapes, and burns on my arms and legs, but I had to let her know that I got it all from playing outside. My grandpa was careful not to beat up my face - it would have raised more questions. He told me that if I ever told my mom what he was doing to me, then he’d go after her. I couldn’t let that happen.” His face twists with agony.
“I had to protect her; if I kept my mouth shut, then that meant she wouldn’t be harmed. I let him do whatever the fuck he wanted to do to me if it meant he’d leave her alone. He did everything he could to break me, and he succeeded.” The man before me sighs and looks down at our hands. My heart splinters for the little boy who had to grow up so fast, and all the burdens he bared.
“He would tell me that I was born a mistake, my dad never loved me, that I’m white trash and didn’t deserve to have any type of love in my life -not even from my own mother. He even told me that she felt sorry for me, and that was the only reason why she ever said she loved me.” He drops my hands and stands up. He paces in the kitchen with his hands on his hips. With his back to me, he says, “I believed him, especially since my mom quit asking how I would get banged up. He’s threatened her a few times, but he never did lay a hand on her. The threats were more for me. To keep my emotions in check. I couldn’t show them; otherwise, I’d be beaten.” His head drops as my heart rattles. I want to so badly remove myself from this chair and cling myself to him, to show him that he is worthy of love. But I stay still.
Michael turns his body to face me. His eyes are filled with pain, and his face is solemn. “When I was sixteen, I fled. Grandpa Chuck was diagnosed with liver cancer – he was weak and unable to hurt me as often, so I figured my mom would be safe in that house without me. While I was home, she wanted me to take care of the son of a bitch. I couldn’t do it so, I left,” he pauses, and his features change. His face contorts to pure rage. “I left. She had to take care of that bastard by herself. While I was perusing the streets, getting involved with gangs, reeking-havoc, stealing for food in the dumpsters and restaurants - she was busting her ass with two different jobs and hand-feeding the one man who deserved to die a rotten death alone, starving, and covered in his own shit.” I sit completely still as he shoves a hand through his hair while he fully opens up to me.
“I hated her. For a long time, I hated my mother because she insisted on taking care of him. Like she chose him over her own son. She was mad at me for running away. I couldn’t stand another minute in that house; I could never tell her why... it would break her heart. To this day, I will protect and defend her, but I’m not sure I can ever say that I love her. I had so many emotions literally kicked out of me that I’ve forgotten what it was like to feel anything. I only know how to fight, deal, and kill Elena. My heart was ripped from me when my father left, and I ended up burying my emotions so deep inside that I never wanted to find them again.” His arms lift at his sides then fall back down. “Until you. But I don’t know how to love.” The longest moment lingers between us. “Ever since I met you, I’ve wanted you to myself. I just don’t know if I can love you the way that you deserve to be loved. When I said that I’m in love with you – my meaning of love is different than what you think it means.” My heart is pounding. Where is this going with this?
“It’s like with my brothers. I will fight for them until I am six feet under.” The vision of him in a casket causes a shudder down my spine. Mike’s voice softens as he pins me with his eyes. “I am loyal to them; we are a family. Scott, he was the president of the Devil’s Henchmen when he found me. He taught me the meaning of what it means to have a family. To serve and protect each other. He was a Navy SEAL, so I guess a lot of the brotherhood comradery came from that. Elena, I can promise you that I will serve you, protect you, and fight for you. I’d die for you like I would any of my brothers if I have to... but I don’t know if my version of love would ever be the same as yours. I may not be able to give you what you need.” His voice croaks at the end. I wonder how long he’s kept all this inside of him.
This is him. This is the darkness that’s captivated him for all this time. I can’t look away, tears are falling from my eyes, but I can’t look away from his gaze. He just opened his heart to me, and I realize at this moment how true my love is for him. I see him literally shaking as he stands in the kitchen; I don’t think he has ever told anyone his story.
I do the one thing that I know I can do. That is to stand up and wrap my arms around the little boy who has gone through so much torment and torture to become the man in front of me today.
He stiffens as I reach around his waist to clasp my hands together behind his back. My face buries into his warm chest as tears seep into the cotton of his shirt. I just hold him. A moment later, he relaxes, then wraps his large arms around my back to pull me even closer to him while his face nuzzles against my neck.
It took a lot for him to tell me his story, a dark, sad story that I still have some questions about – but that has to be for another time.
I understand now. I understand him and realize what kind of patience I’ll need to have with him. He doesn’t understand love, not the type of love that I know, the type of love I’m learning about at this moment. This moment where I feel completely different, yet the same, but there’s a deep warmth within my soul that is triggered whenever I’m around this man. We will learn and grow together. There is no one else that deserves love and happiness more than the man I am holding.
“Why are you crying?” he asks patiently against my neck, his hot breath forming a shiver through my body.
It’s time to tell him. “I’m in love with you, Mike. You are more than anyone deserves,” I whisper softly against his chest.