Reluctantly Felix followed Ryan from the bar. His feet heavy as he walked along the cement sidewalk. A stark contrast to the thoughts sizzling along inside his head. The last thing he wanted to do was have a heart to heart talk with the one girl he cared about most. What could he say? Sorry didn’t seem enough. Yet that was all his brain was coming up with.
Slowly his surroundings were penetrating his thoughts. Stopping he frowned staring up at his apartment building. “Why are we here” he asked confused.
“Charity brought Crystal home,” Ryan explained prodding Felix forward “they’re waiting for us.”
If it weren’t for the dread filling his heart Felix might have been excited. He had tried so hard to be invited into her apartment and had been denied every single time. The closing of the elevator doors felt like a steel trap. A part of him half expected for the floor to drop out from beneath his feet. A fitting punishment for someone like him. It’s what he deserved.
Stepping out he wondered if he could make a hasty retreat to his apartment a few doors down. He couldn’t face her. Face himself. He squeaked when a hand grabbed his arm propelling him forward as he half turned in the direction of his apartment.
The hand Ryan had wrapped around his upper arm squeezed painfully gaining his full attention. “I meant what I said” Ryan whispered harshly in his ear “you’re going to tell her everything. You’ll either prove to her why you’re such a colossal mistake or she’ll stick to why she thinks you’re redeemable.”
Felix swallowed as he waited for the door to open. His inside quivered. He wanted to run. To scream. To jump from the nearest window. Anything but face the sweetest girl he had ever known.
The door opened a crack. A girl he hadn’t met yet stuck her face out frowning severely at Ryan. H could only assume this was Charity, Ryan’s wife. “What is he doing here?” she demanded her eyes sliding towards Felix “she doesn’t want to see him.”
“I know” Ryan put a hand on Felix’s shoulder as if he were worried he’d run away. “She really needs to hear what he has to say.”
Charity opened the door allowing them both to pass by her. Her eyes never leaving Felix as if she too were afraid he’d disappear or maybe she hoped he would. He couldn’t quite tell.
Felix stared straight ahead ignoring the hostile glare the others were directing in his direction. Why couldn’t Crystal’s family be like everyone else? he had met more than his fair share of angry dads and brothers. None of them ever made him confront their daughters or sisters. Mostly it was a lot of bluster and threats of breaking every bone in his body. He had received more than one bloody nose during these encounters yet he’d prefer that to this.
This was different. He was going to look into the eyes of sweet innocent girl and see the devastation he had caused. He was going to have to deal with the pain and the hurt. He glanced over his shoulder wondering if it were too late to take his beating and leave.
Ryan leaned casually against the door, crossing his arms in front of him. “You are going to do this” he asserted his green eyes serious.
Charity glanced between the two men. The air thick with tension. “I’ll go get her” she offered leaving them alone.
“Sweetie” Charity sat on the edge of the bed beside the quietly weeping young girl. “You have company.”
“Tell him to go away” she sniffed wiping the backs of her hands across her face.
“You need to hear what he has to say for himself” Charity gently squeezed her shoulder “come on you can’t mope in here forever.”
“It hasn’t been forever” Crystal mumbled glaring at her sister-in-law with red swollen eyes. “If it’s who I think it is I don’t want to hear anything he has to say.”
“Normally I’d agree with you” Charity sat beside her “you deserve so much better.”
She gulped looking away “he’s not all bad.” She had been flattered when he sought her out instead of some anonymous bimbo he’d usually find at some bar. Not that she had let him inside her apartment. They had nothing more than hold hands and kiss. It had been sweet, undemanding. Felix had never pressured her to have sex with him. It was almost like he had put her on a pedestal. Something pretty to look at but couldn’t touch. “I don’t want to be a porcelain doll” she mumbled to herself.
“What was that” Charity asked.
“Nothing important” Crystal assured her getting to her feet. She peered at her reflection in the mirror “I look a mess” she stated finger combing her hair.
“You look fine” Charity watcher her as she attempted to hide signs of her tears.
“I don’t look fine. Thanks for trying though” she moved towards the door. Her hands smoothing the wrinkles from her clothes.
“Crystal” Charity called from the bed.
She paused with her hand on the door knob “yeah?”
“What did you see in Felix” she bit her lip waiting “he’s not exactly who I pictured you’d like.”
She stared at her hand resting on the door knob. There were so many things that had drawn her to Felix. “He’s like a lost puppy” the analogy made her smile. She glanced up a small smile upon her lips. Her mind went back to their first official outing together. The time she had challenged him to accompany her while she did things she enjoyed.
Felix had looked so uncomfortable standing in the middle of the quaint little book store she loved so much. He had rocked from foot to foot shifting his weight.
“Don’t you read” she asked walking up to him.
“Yeah” his voice held a not of uncertainty in it.
“You don’t sound too sure” she gave her a quizzical look “haven’t you been in a book store before?”
“No” he mumbled. He looked around eyes darting from stacks of books in the discount area to the rows of books separated by genre. “It’s too quiet in here.” He had a desperate haunted look in his eyes.
She tilted her head to the side “what’s wrong with the quiet?”
“I don’t like it” he shoved his hands inside his pocket “I like noise. People laughing. Talking. Being loud. This…” he shrugged “is weird.”
Taking his hand she steered him towards the classics section in the store. “Help me find a book I need to complete my collection. Then we can go.”
He stared at the titles of the books in front of him. He fingered a couple before pulling one out. The Three Musketeers. He opened it briefly skimmed through the pages. Stopping here and there as he did so.
She watched him. Observing the books he took out. The ones that held his attention longer then the others. The way he went back to the Three Musketeers as if he was trying to decide if he wanted to take a chance on buying it. “Ah here it is” she proclaimed taking a large volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems from the shelf.
Felix quickly moved from his spot to the outside aisle as if anxious to leave. “Great” he said loudly then looking around to make sure no one heard him.
“It’s ok” she smiled up at him “this isn’t a library. You’re allowed to talk in here.”
“Are you ready to go” he asked his eyes showing distress in his unfamiliar environment.
“Almost” she gave him a brilliant smile “I need to grab one more thing than we can go.” She saw the way his shoulders rose and fell. The desperate pleading look in his eyes as he turned to look at her. “Why don’t you wait for me up front. I won’t be long. I promise.”
Nodding he scurried away like a rabbit running for cover after being startled by a loud noise.
Turning to the bookshelf she grabbed a copy of The Three Musketeers that seemed to captivate his interest. She added it to her purchases. Once she had paid for her items she found Felix leaning against the wall near the exist almost like a prisoner looking our from behind bars at freedom.
As she finished telling Charity about that day she could see the worry deepen in her eyes. She knew what she was going to say before she opened her mouth “I’m not trying to change him” she assured the older woman.
“Then what are you trying to do” Charity asked following her to the door. “Felix isn’t the type to hang out in libraries reading classics.” She have her sister-in-law a penetrating look “what do you see that we don’t?”
Crystal chewed on the her bottom lip “I see someone who is lost. He doesn’t know who he is yet. He hides behind a mask. The ladies man. The cool fun-loving guy. Silence leads to too much thinking. Noise and action keeps him from feeling hollow inside.”
“You do realize you can’t fix him” Charity pointed out.
“I don’t want to fix him” Crystal asserted her voice rising. “He doesn’t need fixing. He needs” she paused to think “he needs someone to believe in him. So he can find himself.”
Shaking her head Charity sighed. “From where I stand he doesn’t deserve you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong” Crystal shook her head “he deserves the best. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
“You’re infatuated with him” Charity shook her head “I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt.”
“You must think I’m talking in circles and not making sense” Crystal acknowledged “one minute I don’t want to talk to him and the next I’m defending him.”
“Yeah something like that” Charity agreed tucking a strand of blue hair behind Crystal’s ear. “Are you ready to see him?”
Staring at the door breathing hard. Crystal nodded “I don’t know if I’m ready but I have to do this. Otherwise I’ll always wonder what if.”
The opening of the door made Felix look up. Panic swelled inside him as he looked into her pain filled eyes. He had done that. The red puffy eyes that hinted at the tears that he had caused. “I’m….” he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t say it. Not in front of everyone staring at him. Not while her eyes pleaded for him to be a better person. To be the person he wanted to be but knew he could never achieve.
Groaning he bolted for the door. “Let me out” he yelled at Ryan who was still blocking the door.
“No” the older man shook his head shifting his stance slightly. Ready to fight if necessary.
“I can’t do this” Felix growled pacing the floor in front of the door. His hands raking through his thick pink hair. “I can’t do this” he mumbled on each rotation.
Charity stepped up whispering in her husband’s ear “this is a bad idea.”
“It has to be done” he insisted eyes never leaving the agitated young man. “Just tell her why. You owe her that much.”
Felix looked up desperation, fear, panic and pain etched in the contours of his face. “She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Then why” her voice galvanized him. If he were a horse he’d be rearing on his hind legs kicking out blindly. “It’s alright to be scared” she assured him her soft voice soothing “everyone is. It’s scary to know you hold someone’s heart in your hands.”
“I” he gulped taking a step towards him “I hold your heart.” No one had ever said that he held their heart. He had girls scream obscenities at him when he callously slammed the door in their faces. Seen countless girls sobbing as they ran to their cars never to darken his door again. He had left many others asleep in their beds to wonder if he’d call them later. Not once had anyone ever said he held their heart.
“Yes you do” she stepped closer to him “I though you knew that.”
He blinked mesmerized by her words. “I didn’t realize” he looked down confused “I’m sorry.”
“Why? Why did you run” she asked demanding a reason covering his hands with hers.
He stared at her soft small hands. “I don’t deserve this. You.” He looked intently into her eyes. “All I do is cause pain. I push and push until everyone walks away. My parents. Friends. Girls. Everyone.” He dropped his hands to his side. Her touch felt like a reproach. “I push people away. That’s what I do. For some reason I don’t understand you and Britland won’t go.” He bowed his head wishing he were anywhere but here “why won’t you go?”
“I can’t go” she whispered clutching her hands to her chest. “You hold my heart remember? If I leave I’ll lose something I can never get back.” She ached to pull him close. To hold him close. Tell him she’d never let him go. She couldn’t. At least not until he let her. He had to let her inside otherwise nothing would change.
“What would you lose” he challenged.
“You. I lose you” she kept her words simple. Firm. She held her breath as her words sank into his head. She watched anxious for any signs her words had any effect.
“Me” he nearly choked on the word “that’s really not that much.” He half turned towards the door blocked now by both Charity and Ryan. “I don’t need your pity” he grumbled misreading the look in their eyes.
They exchanged a look before Ryan took Charity’s hand. “It’s not pity” kissing Charity softly on the cheek he opened the door. “You don’t need pity.” Charity slipped through the door while Ryan said “you need a swift kick in the ass.” He glanced over at his sister “Crystal we’ll be outside in the hall if you need us.” He gave Felix a stern glare “my offer to beat some sense into him still stands.”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary” Crystal assured him “but if I’m wrong I’ll do the ass kicking.”
After Ryan closed the door firmly behind them Crystal pointed towards the couch “sit.”
Felix ignored her invitation in favor of leaning against the door. “they’re standing in the hall. Making sure I don’t run.”
“If you want to go then go” she made a shooing motion with her hands. When his hand touched the door knob she called out “if you go, don’t bother coming back. This is a one time opportunity. I’m not a gullible idiot. I won’t tolerate being walked on like a door mat. I believe in second chances. Not infinite free passes.”
“Haven’t you been listening” Felix demanded turning from the door “I leave. That’s what I do.”
“No” she shook her head “you force everyone around you to leave. While you stay safe inside your little bubble. This time when you walk out that door it’s you leaving. Not me. You.” She sat on the couch casually crossing her legs.
Felix watched her a moment before turning his attention to the door. His hand on the door knob felt hot and clammy. His heart beat like he was about to commit an irreversible act. He opened the door a crack. He kept thinking all he had to do was walk out that door. Never look back. All this would be over. He could go back to what he was used to.
She was the only person other than Britland who could see beyond his outward charm to the scared lost little boy he was. Did he really want to lose that? She was the only person to randomly give him a present. His lips quirked up remembering that day. Their first outing together. He wouldn’t call it a date. A book store didn’t count. At least he never thought so. It was certainly an important day to him.
The book was on his nightstand. He hadn’t planned on reading it. He had scoffed at the idea. One night he had gotten up feeling sick. Not being able to sleep he began to read. Anything would have been ok as long as his mind was occupied. To his surprise he liked it. He liked the concept of one for all and all for one. He probably had that backwards but it still meant the same thing in the end. He wondered what it’d be like to have someone have his back like that no matter what.
His hands dropped to his sides. Turning he leaned against the door until it clicked shut behind him. “Alright you have my attention” he announced to the back of Crystal’s head “what do I do now?”
“Sit” she invited without turning to look at him. Groaning he let his feet propel him forward. He slumped into the couch beside her “now what” it came out harsh, maybe a little defensive.
“We talk” she turned to face him “why did you dump me at the restaurant?” He opened his mouth to respond when she held up her hand “spare me the lies. I want the truth. You hurt me Felix. You owe me that much.”
Slowly he nodded snapping his mouth shut. Silence lingered between them while he tried to form an acceptable response to the question. He heard the tick of the clock from the kitchen. The refrigerator as it clicked on. The gentle rustle of clothes as Crystal moved restlessly beside him. He even heard the low murmur of voices in the hallway.
He said the only words he knew to be true. “I was scared” he stared at his hands in lying in his lap. He observed the lines kriss crossing his skin. The scratch on his right pinky where he had caught it on the edge of his dresser.
“What were you afraid of? Me? My brother?” She tried to keep her voice neutral free of the tension she felt inside. “Help me understand. Why were you afraid?”
“It wasn’t you” he jumped to his feet. Pacing back and forth in front of her.
“Then what was it” she asked wishing she could ease his anxiety.
He could feel her eyes following him. He wanted to ask her to stop . He felt at any moment that he’d walk right out of his skin. He wasn’t afraid of her or anyone. It wasn’t that kind of tangible fear. “It was the situation” he mumbled turning to face her “I had all these thoughts screaming in my head. I couldn’t take it anymore so I ran.”
“You ran to the nearest bar” she inquired. Silently he nodded his head “did you think drinking would make the voices stop.”
“It usually helps” he mumbled “if that didn’t work. Sex did.” He looked away unable to meet her eyes.
Wordlessly she patted the cushion beside her. He slumped towards her the picture of abject misery. He confirmed what she had only suspected. He used alcohol and sex to cope with stress. His parents hadn’t helped him to develop any useful coping techniques by ignoring his cries for help. All his acting out as a child had been his way of letting anyone who cared that he needed help. Unfortunately no one was listening.
“Why didn’t you tell me” she demanded one he was seated beside her.
“I…” he looked confused “don’t know.”
“If you had, a lot of this could have been avoided,” she smiled over at him. “Communication is key in any relationship.”
He swallowed convulsively. Were they in a relationship? “Is that what this is” he asked his heart beating out of his chest. He couldn’t tell if that was a good or a bad thing. Did he want to be in a relationship? He had always thought of relationships as a bad thing.
“Do you want it to be” she asked him her gentle eyes watching him closely.
“I don’t…I never…” he stumbled over his words. The familiar jumble of thoughts boiling over in his head screaming at him to run before it was too late. “I…I…” he licked his lips his eyes focused on hers “think I….no I know I want to try.”
“Good answer” she leaned into him “I promise I’ll help you. I’ll do what it takes to make you feel comfortable.” She caressed his cheek “you have to do one thing for me. You have to tell me when you feel like you might freak out. Do you think you can do that?”
“I’ll try” he gulped. He hated to admit it. He felt weak and afraid. This was new to him. He hated feeling unsure of himself.
“That’s all I ask” she leaned up pressing her lips to his. She sensed how hesitant he was. She wouldn’t pressure him for more than he could give. She’d help him every way she could as long as he’d let her. She felt almost like weeping when she felt him respond to her kiss, pressing into her. Maybe somewhere along the way he’d find out who he is meant to be.
Carson pressed Britland against the door as soon as they arrived inside their apartment. He had restrained himself all the time they were in public knowing how reserved Britland was with public displays of affection. He felt he would burst from the growing tension inside him. He groaned remembering how he had practically had to drag Britland away from the couple standing in the hall outside the elevator. All the time Britland excitedly accepted their congratulations Carson hoped the blonde wouldn’t invite them inside. He wanted a moment alone with his newly engaged fiance.
Carson’s hands slipped beneath the familiar green sweater. Groaning when his fingers encountered the thin button down shirt beneath. Pulling away from Britland’s lips he pulled the sweater up and over the blonde’s head dropping it to the floor where they stood.
Opening his eyes Britland brought his hands up to push against Carson’s chest. “We can’t leave that there.”
“Why not” he demanded leaning in close to capture his fiance’s mouth. His hands moving towards the buttons.
Turning his face to the side breaking the kiss again Britland pushed Carson’s hands away. “What about Felix? He could come it and…”
“Who cares” Carson moved in close pressing Britland hard against the door. He moved his lips across his jaw line down his neck as he unbuttoned the last of the buttons. He slipped the shirt down Britland’s shoulders until it too joined the sweater on the floor.
“I care” Britland pushed Carson away ducking to scooped up his discarded clothing and scurried into his bedroom. Leaning against his closed bedroom door trying to catch his breath, his mind reeling with what was happening. Every nerve in his body was on fire. He never knew it could be this way. A single touch that made him weak at the knees and make his mind turn to mush. His pulsed raced sending blood to places he had yet to experience.
A soft knock on the other side of the thin wooden door made him jump. Slowly the door opened and Carson’s concerned voice preceding him into the room “are you alright?”
Nodding he clutched his clothes to his chest like some kind of shield. Involuntarily he took a step backwards as Carson entered the room. He gazed into Carson’s lavender eyes wondering if the emotion he saw in their depths was disappointment or concern perhaps a little of both.
Carson ran a hand through his long purple hair “I’m sorry” he murmured his voice deep and husky. “I should have taken things slower” he backed towards the door is eyes downcast.
Britland stood transfixed wanting to ask him to stay but the words were stuck in his brain and his mouth refused to work. Dropping his shirt and sweater to the floor he hastened towards his fiance intent on showing him he wanted him to stay. Words failed him but his body knew what he wanted as he launched himself into Carson’s arms. Wrapping his legs around his fiance’s trim waist he could feel Carson’s strong arms moving to hold him steady. Britland brought his hands up to either side of Carson’s face he brought his mouth down onto Carson’s soft lips in the most passionate kiss he was capable of. Breathlessly he pulled back whispering “don’t go”
Carson resumed the kiss as he stumbled towards the bed. He felt Britland’s hands shaking as they struggled to remove his vest and shirt. He chuckled a little Britland muttered something about too many buttons. As they reached the bed Carson felt his shirt slip over his broad shoulders as he laid Britland on the bed. He struggled from the arms of the shirt gazing into the blonde’s eye searching for any signs of doubt or fear. Straddling him “are you sure you want to do this” he asked “we can wait until you’re sure.”
“I’m sure” Britland ran his fingers down Carson’s back feeling the contours of his muscles. “I don’t want to wait.”
Surrendering to the moment Carson followed Britland down to the bed brushing his lips across Britland’s mouth their tongues swirling around each other. His hands slid down Britland’s body exploring every inch. He broke the kiss long enough to whisper “I love you so much.”