Saturday, January 7, 2012

fifteen

Fiona drained her beer and signalled for the check.  She’d found a sports bar near her hotel advertising all the games, and true to their word the Blackhawks game was on above the bar.  With no one to talk to and nothing to distract her, Fiona watched the game more closely than she had in a long time, maybe ever.  Viktor had a few good hits, two shots and a penalty.  The camera loved to look at him.  But it seemed half the broadcast was Jon’s face, or at least his name.  He’d played well - focused, determined, smart, generous.  He always did.

If only he could really be like that.

She slipped off the stool and walked outside, no change in temperature because the floor-to-ceiling windows were open to the balmy Miami night.  She’d chosen the lowest price “Last Minute Deal” on the travel site, complete with hotel included.  It was mid-week, post-Christmas and she was leaving before New Years.  Not the smartest financial decision ever, but neither did she want to pay the doctor bills for a nervous breakdown.

There was no thinking straight.  Fiona knew only that she had done the right thing, the kind thing.  It was not the easy thing.  She couldn’t force herself to stop liking Jon.  But she couldn’t risk doing harm to someone that had been only good to her.  And she’d already hurt Viktor with her indecision.

Jon, however... he’d put them both through the wringer.  She could let him try, make him earn every inch and if it didn’t work out, Fiona would not feel bad.  Disappointed, yes.  Lonely too.  But Jon could choose to be the person he promised or he could fail.  It was up to him.

Across the street, she could see the beach between the buildings.  The Atlantic was a few hundred yards of white sand away.  Music and light and laughter spilled from every open restaurant.  She felt better, calmer.

And she had 34 missed calls.

Back in her room - not really fancy, but not bad for one day’s notice - Fiona ran a bath and slipped in.  The last time she’d been in a bathtub, it had been with Jonathan, the night she’d first worn Viktor’s jersey to the game

So stupid, she told herself.  A little piece of her had known he was jealous that night.  But instead of figuring out the real reason, she’d played with it - enjoyed it even.  Jonathan Toews, jealous over her.  It was their game.  But then it changed.

She fell asleep with the windows of her eighth story room wide open to the cool ocean breeze.
____

“Round trip?” the desk agent asked.

“Just one,” he said.

Jon didn’t hear or care about the price.  His credit card swiped, his passport vetted, his small bag in the overhead compartment and the wheels of the first flight from Chicago to Miami were off the ground by 7 AM.  He took a cab straight to her hotel.  It was only a block off South Beach, a little white art deco boutique affair where he knew his feet would stick off the end of the bed.

“Fiona Larkin’s room, please,” he asked the receptionist a little after 10 AM.  She put the call through, waited and then shook her head.  

“Sorry sir, she’s not answering.”

Jon grabbed a newspaper from the display and sat down to wait.
____

Fiona reveled in the temperature, already warm at mid-morning.  While Chicago was in the deep freeze, Miami acted as if nothing could be easier than the week between Christmas and New Year.  The bar was already open and an older couple sipped fruity drinks from fancy glasses.  She caught the husband pretending not to watch her swim; her stomach growled at the chunk of pineapple wedged onto the rim of his daiquiri.  She smiled at him as she climbed the steps out of the pool in her black bikini.

Fiona wrung the water from her hair, wrapped a towel around herself and pushed her feet into flip-flops.  She left her book and extra towel to hold her deck chair and headed inside to get the rest of the fruit plate from her room service breakfast.

Her wet shoe squeaked loudly on the fake marble floor.  She slipped the sandals off, embarrassed, and picked them up in one hand.  As Fiona stood back up, she looked right at Jon.  Who was looking right at her.

She froze.  He got to his feet.

For fuck’s sake.

Did he have to look so good?  He was nearly as pale as she, in a dark blue polo and white shorts, but he glowed with good health.  Strong and tall and fit and...

“Hi,” he said.

“What are you doing here?”

He shrugged.  “Waiting.”

Her blood pressure began to stabilize.  “Couldn’t get a key to my room?”

Jon’s heart was pounding.  All at once she’d arrived and everything he’d practiced saying to her evaporated from his tongue.  Her dark hair was twisted over one shoulder, leaking drops of water down her bare arm.  A fluffy white pool towel stopped just past what he imagined to be a very small bathing suit.  With her sandals in hand she was dripping a small puddle on the lobby floor.

“Thought about the balcony, but my contract has an no-climbing clause.”  He tried a smile.  

Fiona’s face stayed stony for a second, then she cracked a grin and looked away, shaking her head.  “Nice game last night.”

“You watched?”  He didn’t dare move any closer.

“I always watch.”

Fiona felt other eyes on her, passersby and employees, wondering what was happening between the drowned rat of a girl and the extremely handsome young man who was not staying in this hotel.  She briefly considered her options.

“I’m hungry,” she said.  
____

Jon walked two big steps behind as he followed Fiona out to the hotel restaurant patio.  No one seemed to care if she was shirtless, but she put her flip-flops back on.  They were seated at the back corner, under a large shade tree, at a table for four.  He sat across.  Without looking at the menu, Fiona ordered a spinach and tomato omelet and a bowl of fruit.

“The same,” he told the waiter.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected.  Maybe he’d hoped for a screaming, jumping into his  arms reception when he surprised her.  But neither had Fiona ignored him, or called the cops.  A seat across from her at brunch was the best he could really get.

“Why are you here, Jon?” she finally asked.

“I missed you.”

Fiona pulled the tassels of the table runner absently between her fingers.

Okay, not going to get any help, he knew.

“And I talked to Viktor.  He told me that you turned him down.  I came because I have a lot to make up to you, if you’ll let me, and I didn’t want to wait to get started.”

“I like him, Jon.  I wanted to want to be with him,” she said quietly.  “It felt awful, doing that.”

“I feel awful too, for what I did to you.  I should have gotten my head together and just told you a long time ago.  But I didn’t think you’d...,” he took a deep breath.  “I didn’t think you would want me, after.”

She brought her gaze around to him.  His broad shoulders were rounded and his posture terrible - it looked painful, and she thought it should.  

“It’s one thing for you to say all this, Jon, but it’s been only two weeks since I kicked another girl out of your bed.  And I don’t know what you’ve done since....”

He cut in, “Nothing.”

Fiona shrugged.  “I meant what I said yesterday, about too little, too late.  I said no to Viktor because I can’t drag him through all that.  I’m not sure I want to do it to myself.”

“Fi,” he reached over the table for her hand.  She didn’t pull away, just let him hold it.  “I don’t need any time.  I can wait if that’s what you need but there is nothing else that I want.”  He forced himself to look right at her and admit the worst part.  “I know Viktor is a great guy, and he really likes you.  If you gave him up because you had to then I respect that.  But if you gave him up for me, for this, I promise to be worth it.  I want to get this right.”

She sighed softly, like she might start to cry.  “I don’t know.”

“Please believe me.  I love you.  Even that was me being afraid the other night - I know I love you.  I’m sorry I had to come so close to losing you to see it.”

Fiona squeezed his hand.  Jon’s heart jumped, so happy for the slightest positive reinforcement he felt like a puppy scratching at the door.  He lifted her hand and rubbed his thumbs into her palm.

“How did you know where I was?” she asked playfully, breaking a bit of the tension.

He blushed.  “Uh... I saw your computer?  It was an accident, I swear!”

“You accidentally broke into my apartment, followed me across half the country and staked out my hotel?”

“Uh...,” he blushed.  “I also called you a hundred times.”

“Stalker.”  She shook her head, caught between disbelief and laughter.  “You don’t know how to give up, do you?”

Jon tilted his head slightly, letting those melted chocolate-colored eyes go soft.  As if she should know better than to ask such a question.

“Told Coach I had a family emergency.”

Fiona pulled her hand free and gave herself a facepalm.  “Family emergency?!  Sounds like I’m pregnant.”

Jon’s eyes went wide.  “Shit. I hope he didn’t tell my mom, she’ll be redecorating my place right now.”

“You left your parents in Chicago?!”

He blushed, grinning like a kid who’d snuck an extra cookie.  Fiona just shook her head.  But the food came and they ate in silence; every quiet second Jon felt the tension and hesitation flowing back between them.  He chewed each bite thirty times, counting carefully, so he wouldn’t run out of things to do before she was ready to talk again.

Fiona kept her eyes on her plate.  Jon had made the big gesture and here he was, halfway through eggs and toast, like she’d agreed to everything just because she didn’t pull the fire alarm.  Slowly sipping her juice, she tried not to feel him watching her.

When their dishes were scraped so clean all that was left to eat was ceramic, they finally pushed them away.  Jon gave his credit card to the waiter without asking for the bill, as if he had someplace to be.  It made her nervous, so she waited till he’d signed the slip and they stood up.  Only then did Jon realize he had nowhere to go.  

Fiona’s heart squeezed.  She didn’t want to be mean, not when he was trying so hard to be nice.  But she wasn’t sure how much to give and what to hold back.  They stood there silently, taking turns looking at each other and the floor.  Her arms and legs felt too long, like Jon was everywhere and she was always too close.  Sliding her sunglasses on, she headed back toward her pool chair.

The simple act of Fiona draping a towel over the chaise lounge made Jon’s hands flex.  He’d seen her in far less clothing and far more intimate settings but it seemed like forever since they’d been alone together, even in public.  He tried not to watch her bathing suit cheat up her backside as she leaned over to secure the edge before dropping into the seat.

Fiona looked up at Jon.  “You’re blocking my sun.”

If that wasn’t an invitation... Jon whipped his shirt off took the place next to her.  The chairs were very close together.  Immediately the warm sun began soaking into his overdeveloped, overworked muscles.  He reclined and tilted his face toward the sky.  

“Do you hate me?” he asked quietly, after a minute.  It seemed the most all encompassing-question, as if he might only get to ask one.

“No, Jon,” Fiona sighed.  “But I hate that it took you so long to do this.  And I don’t entirely trust your motives.  If all you are is jealous then I’ve just made a huge mistake.”

He rolled onto his side.  There was no way to keep from rolling his eyes slowly up the sight of her laid out in the dazzling sun.  Her bikini bottom stretched taut across her hips, leaving a little space between the elastic and the fair skin of her stomach.  That little gap, like the one Jon thought she might have in her heart, was all he wanted right now.

“Were you ever jealous?  Those girls?”

“You never gave any of them a chance.  And stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

She shielded her face and opened her eyes.  “You really have no idea, do you?  You’re like a lion at the zoo, sometimes I can’t tell if you want to lick me or kill me.”

“Well,” he laughed.

“I don’t think you know how your intensity effects other people.  They don’t just call you Captain Serious because you’re boring.”  She let that hang for a second, Jon didn’t defend himself.  “The way you look at people... it makes them think you mean what you’re saying, what you’re doing.  That’s why I never envied those girls.  They believed you.”

Jon wished Fiona would stop looking at him now, because there was judgement in her eyes.  And he knew he deserved it.

“But I didn’t have to help you, Jon; I didn’t have to come running every time you called.  I did that part to myself.”

A waitress came by and Fiona ordered a cocktail.  Jon ordered a beer.  It wasn’t even lunchtime.  When the frosty beverages arrived in dripping glasses, Jon tapped his against Fiona’s.

“To not having me arrested.”

“To interrupting my vacation.”

Fiona closed her eyes and lay still, focusing on her breathing and the weight the air carried when Jon was around.  It was like his gaze, heavy and immovable, only now it seemed charged with whatever he was going to say next.  But he stayed quiet for a long time, rolling onto his stomach.  She heard him cross those huge arms and rest his head on his hands - she didn’t look, didn’t need to feel any weaker.

Across the pool deck, new people were arriving.  By the giggles and loud voices they were obviously young women, probably scantily clad and ready to start their day of partying.  Fiona cracked one eye toward Jon.

“I’m not watching,” he said.  Sure enough his face was down, eyes covered with a heavy bicep.

Fiona just laughed.  But now that she was looking, she figured it was okay to enjoy the view.  Huge shoulders and a wide back whittled down to a tight waist.  His ass was huge but all muscle and made Fiona bite her lip at the thought of all the things he was capable of doing.  His shorts were more equipped to hide his thighs, but his legs were fantastic until they reached his feet.  Hockey player feet were a wreck.

“Stop looking at me like that.”  

Her eyes snapped back up to where he was watching her, watching him.  She’d gotten distracted.  He’d caught her.

“Oh shut up,” she swatted him with her book.

Another hour passed in mostly companionable silence.  Before the last two weeks, they might have spent a vacation together doing exactly this.  But somewhere in the back of each of their minds a clock was ticking.

For all his flailing around and making mistakes lately, plus the rigors of the reason, Jon was not surprised to find he was exhausted.  After an hour in the pool chair he thought he might never get up.  Sometime shortly after, he fell asleep.

Fiona was reading and half-listening to his breathing change.  When it was shallow and even for some time, she knew he was out.  She draped a towel over his bare back and another over his calves.  It wouldn’t do for the family emergency to come back to Chicago with a sunburn.

She’d thought through every angle of their scenario so many times it felt as if it had already happened.  She would wait him out, make him go slowly and grovel just a bit, but not too much.  After all, he’d already done a few things that surprised her - missed hockey time, followed her, risked his pride.  Mostly it was the part where he told her everything: how he felt, how sorry he was, all that.  She would not have thought him capable of being so candid.  

Fiona had laid next to his sleeping body so many times, tangled together alone in bed, but this somehow felt more intimate than any of those.

He woke about an hour later.  Blinking, the first thing he saw was her face.  “Hey.”

“Morning.”

“My flight’s at four.”

She checked his phone.  “It’s ten after two.”

Jon rolled, freeing himself from the towel blanket, and sat up with his feet on the small patch of floor beneath their chairs. He rested elbows on knees and leaned over her.

“Come with me,” he said.  “Come home.”

“No,” she shook her head.  

“Well, I... I have to go back today.  I can’t stay.”  

Fiona shaded her face with one hand.  “I haven’t asked you to.”

“Right,”  His voice dropped as he felt clumsy, not choosing his words carefully enough.  There were a million things he wanted to say.  “Sorry.”

“But I’ll be back soon.  For New Year’s.”

He wanted to command her to come home almost as much as he wanted to say right there with her, in a place where no one knew them and no one was watching.  Fiona waved a hand around the pool deck.  

“You know right where I’ll be.”

But when he got up, so did she.  Jon pulled on his shirt and shoes, Fiona left her things in the chair.  It was an unsubtle reminder of how soon she’d be back there, without him.  In the hotel lobby, he gave her a shy look as he approached the concierge.

“Picking up a bag,” and he passed his ticket along.  Fiona looked at him as if it ask, are you serious?  The bellhop came back with a small overnight gym bag.  

Jon quickly lowered it to his side.  “Just in case.”

She laughed out loud.

A short line of cabs waited at the curb.  Before the doorman could wave one around, Jon shook him off and pulled Fiona to the side.  She was so small.  He knew she was tough but he’d been careless with her and she’d gotten hurt.  She’d hurt someone else on his behalf - that wasn’t right.  That wasn’t the Fiona he knew.

“I’m sorry,” he said for what seemed like the millionth time.

Fiona was beginning to feel that her options were not only stand or fall, fight or flight.  There might be some room in there for a little bend after all.  “I’m sorry too, Jon.  I should have made you have this fight with me before Viktor got involved.  It should have been between us.”

He chanced moving a step closer, she didn’t back away.

“I do love you, Fi.”

“I know.”  Fiona put a hand on Jon’s arm and lifted onto her toes.  Her lips brushed his cheek softly as he tried to turn into her kiss.  But she was already back on her feet.

“Bye, Jon.”  And then she was gone.
_

5 comments:

  1. This was amazing. The emotions you evoke in your writing....wow. Can't wait for Chapter 16!

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  2. I'm glad that Viktor is finally out of the picture and that Jon and Fiona can finally try to work on their relationship! I just hope she really gives him a chance since that is what her heart wants. It seems like he realized how much he went away from who he is or should be. Can't wait for more!

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  3. Glad she didn't just run into his arms. If she's going to give him a chance, I hope she makes him work for it.

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  4. Can't wait to see how this ends!!

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  5. Dying to know what happens next!!

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