Maybe I wouldn’t leave.
What was I saying?
I couldn’t just abandon Kevin, who truly cared about me, supported me and protected me for over five years. He hadn’t done anything to deserve that. He was supposed to be my future.
“Sky? Have I lost you? You look like you’re about to pass out.”
Since I wasn’t able to admit the real reason I didn’t want to move, I was at a loss for words as he stared at me from across the table.
He continued, “You’ll get used to the idea, okay? Let’s try to celebrate this. I love you. I want to make a good life for us.”
It would be a perfect life. So, why did I feel like running from it?
I took another sip of my water. The waiter arrived with my Chicken Marsala, and I pretended to enjoy it, all the while thinking about what my next move would be. Sunday was the deadline to let Mitch know about the job, and I had no idea whether that trip was the only decision I’d have to make in the coming days.
It was a lazy, sunny Saturday in the late afternoon. Kevin and I drove with the windows down as we headed to my mother’s house for dinner. It was her birthday, and a few of her closest friends would be joining us to celebrate.
“We need to stop and get wine,” he said. “What kind does your mother like again?”
When we arrived at my old neighborhood, Kevin pulled up to a small gourmet market that apparently also sold liquor. I had never noticed it before, so it must have been built sometime after I left for Maryland.
When we walked in, I sampled some Brie and peppercorn crackers that were being given out, while Kevin went in search of the wine. This was an eclectic little place and reminded me of Trader Joe’s, although it seemed to be independently owned. At another station, someone was pouring samples of flavored coffee, so I took one and proceeded to wander, browsing the shelves. I passed the aisle where Kevin was still deciding on a wine.
Three aisles down, I had been looking at organic cacao chocolate bars when I heard a familiar voice.
“What, buddy? What do you see?”
One of the bars slipped out of my hands. I turned around to find Mitch standing there with Henry who was seated in the front of a shopping cart.
His face lit up when he saw me. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said softly.
“You dropped something.” He bent down and handed me the chocolate.
The wrapper crinkled as I took it from him. “Thanks.”
Mitch was wearing a Yankees cap backwards. I hadn’t seen him in one since we were teenagers. He looked more like the Mitch I used to know in that moment with his hair sticking out from under the cap. It made my heart flutter and ache at the same time.
His eyes seared into mine. “Are you alone?”
He smelled so good. Like the push of a button, my body immediately awakened with desire as it always did around him.
His eyes darkened. “He’s here with you?”
He let out a deep breath, and his nostrils flared. “We’ll go. I don’t want to get you in trouble,” he said abruptly.
I looked behind my shoulders.
When he started to walk away, I put my hand on the cart to stop it. “Wait.” I turned to the boy. “Hi, Henry.”
Henry wasn’t looking at me, but I saw he had pulled up a photo of me on his iPad. He must have taken it when he was snapping all those pictures at McDonald’s. My head was cut off, but you could see my chin and the ice cream dripping down my dress.
Mitch leaned into the photo, and I could feel the vibration of his voice. “He noticed you before I did. He kept pointing to the picture, and there you were.”
His proximity had caused the hairs on the nape of my neck to stiffen. I cleared my throat. “Do you shop here a lot?”
“Sometimes. They have these flaxseeds I put in Henry’s smoothies. What are you doing in this part of town, anyway?”
“It’s Mom’s birthday. We’re having dinner at her house.”
I smiled at Henry who was still staring at the picture of my decapitated body.
A few seconds later, I heard Kevin’s voice behind me. “Sky. There you are.”
Before I could answer him, Mitch had already disappeared with Henry down the aisle. Unsure of whether Kevin had seen me talking to them, I waited for to him to say something.
“I lost you. Ready to go?”
I let out a sigh of relief. He had no idea what Mitch looked like, so chances were good even if he had seen us making small talk, he would have thought nothing of it.
My throat felt thick, and my heart was palpitating. “Yeah. I was just looking at these chocolate bars.”
“You want one? Get one.”
“No, I need to watch my diet.”
“No, you don’t. You’re perfect. Here, take two.” He threw the bars into his shopping basket and kissed me on the cheek before wrapping his arm around me.
I immediately felt guilty. We may have had our spats, but Kevin didn’t deserve a lying fiancée obsessed with her ex-boyfriend.
We walked to the register where there was a long line. Kevin scratched my back, and my body tensed as I wondered whether Mitch could see us.
The line hadn’t moved when I heard loud screaming coming from one of the aisles. It was Henry. He was having a tantrum.
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead as I listened to the wailing. I felt helpless.
I heard one of the employees. “Sir, do you need some assistance?”
“No. Thanks. He has autism. This happens out of the blue from time to time. We’re fine. I’m gonna need to abandon my stuff in the cart and leave, though.”
“No problem, sir.”
Everyone in the market stared as Mitch carried a kicking and screaming Henry past the line of people. The boy’s arms and legs were flailing as he struggled to wiggle from his father’s grasp while his screams grew louder and louder. Mitch’s eyes briefly darted toward mine. His face was red. Then, he disappeared out the door.
Kevin whispered in my ear. “That—right there—is precisely why I don’t want kids.”
I wished I could explain to him that Henry couldn’t help it, that his autism trapped him inside his body and that he had tantrums because he couldn’t express his feelings. Instead, I said nothing. A gnawing feeling continued to eat away at me as we waited in line.
My mother was president of the Kevin Blanchard fan club. Why wouldn’t she be? She knew how messed up I was when I left town, and she’d always been grateful to him for saving her little girl from the depths of despair. She also admired his success, and the fact that—unlike Oliver—he was loyal.
She put her arm around me at the dinner table. We had just finished up her birthday cake. “As much as I hate to see you move away from me again, this job Kevin has accepted is one hell of an opportunity for both of you.”
Kevin held up his wine glass in a salute. “Thank you for your support, Tish. I know Skylar doesn’t want to leave you, but I appreciate your understanding.”
I downed my wine as my mother and he discussed the future being laid out for me. They had no clue that my mind was somewhere else completely.
I hadn’t been able to get the encounter with Mitch today out of my head. It felt like my two lives collided in that grocery store. It was a physical manifestation of my mental tug of war: on one side, Kevin who was my brain and my perfect, safe haven…on the other, Mitch who was my heart and my flawed, deepest desire.
“Tish, would you consider relocating out West in a few years?”
“I might, if that’s definitely where you’ll settle.” She put her hand on my knee. “And if my daughter wants me around, of course.”
It felt like my clothes were getting tighter by the second. Needing a breather from this conversation, I got up.
“Excuse me. I need to use the bathroom.”
I ran upstairs to my old bedroom, which was now my mother’s sewing room. Feeling like I might hyperventilate, I closed the door and clutched my stomach. When my breathing calmed, I noticed that Mitch’s bedroom light was on across the street. It was a comfortable summer night, and his window was open. I stared out into his room, which looked empty. A thin curtain blew in the breeze and slightly obstructed my view. My body flinched when his shirtless, statuesque frame suddenly appeared at the window. He stood facing me. Then, he waved.
He saw me.
I waved back. I couldn’t help but giggle.
Mitch put something in his mouth, and I saw the light of a small flame at the tip. He was smoking something, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
My phone was in my pocket and buzzed. I answered.
Mitch’s voice sounded raspy and sexy as hell. “Are you stalking me, now?”
“No, not really. What is that you keep putting in your mouth? You’re smoking something?”
“Why are you so interested in what I’m doing with my mouth?”
I closed my eyes. “Ugh…”
“Sorry. Joke. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“So, what is it?”
“I’m smoking a cigar, actually.”
“I didn’t know you smoked cigars.”
“I only do it once in a while. It calms me down when I’ve had a long day.”
My mouth tingled at the thought of tasting cigar on his tongue. I shook my head to stop that train of thought.
I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry about what happened earlier with Henry.”
“Don’t be. He was fine by the time we got home. He’s fast asleep now.”
“Good. I was worried about him.”
“Where’s your guy?”
“Why are you upstairs talking to me, then?”
“I don’t know.”
“You sound like me when I got caught stalking you.” He made fun of his own excuse. “Gee, I don’t know what I’m doing here, Skylar.”
“Except I’m not wearing a creepy hood and carrying explosives.”
The sound of his deep laughter in my ear soothed me. “True. Very true. Seriously, why are you alone upstairs looking out the window?”
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about things, about what happened today, about your job proposal. I needed a breather, so I could think straight.”
He was silent for a while, and then I saw him take a puff of the cigar again. His voice was low…sexy. “I wish you could come over right now.”
“I know. I’m overstepping my boundaries again.”
“That’s not what I was going to say.” I couldn’t believe what I was about to admit. “I wish I could come over, too.”
He didn’t say anything, but I could hear his breathing quicken, and he seemed frustrated as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you, Mitch, and I’m really confused.” I exhaled. It was the first time I admitted my feelings to him.
“Take the job. Come to Virginia Beach with me.”
I was silent.
“Please,” he urged.
He had just made what I already suspected abundantly clear: this wasn’t just a business trip. I knew it was so wrong, but my entire body was buzzing…because I had made my decision.
It felt too good to be true. As I threw my clothes into the suitcase, I still couldn’t believe that Skylar agreed to go away with me. It would only be five days, but I would make the most of every last second.
The logistical planning went into effect from the moment she said yes. That night, I literally put my cigar out and immediately went searching for beach rentals on the Internet. I had a hard-on the entire time just thinking about being alone with her away from here. I was going to need to control myself, or I’d blow it.
With such late notice, properties were either unavailable or expensive. I eventually contacted a realtor the following week, and she found me the perfect place on Sandbridge Beach that cost an arm and a leg. The second I saw the photos of the inside, though, I knew it was the one. It didn’t matter how much it cost at that point.
I got to Virginia Beach a day before she did. I had booked her a plane ticket but decided to drive down myself.
Skylar was set to arrive at the work site any minute. A text came in from her when the plane landed. She had rented a car at the airport and went straight to a home improvement store to pick out paint. I’d already given her a copy of the floor plan, so we weren’t wasting time.
The keys to the beach house were burning a hole in my pocket. I’d take her there tonight after our work ended for the day. I couldn’t wait to see her reaction.
The weather was perfect, so we kept the front door to the property open while we worked to let the balmy, dry breeze in. The house smelled like sawdust and primer, so it was good to air it out. My guys had made great progress before I arrived, and everything was on target to be completed by the end of the week.
A Steely Dan song played on an old boom box that was splattered with white paint. There were empty beer bottles everywhere. Technically, we weren’t supposed to be drinking on the job, but I let it slide this time. This job couldn’t have been more different from all previous ones. Case in point: every head in the place turned toward the doorway when Skylar walked in. She waved awkwardly when she realized the guys were all checking her out.
She wore a short, gray skirt and a sleeveless blouse that had a bow in the front that begged to be untied. She looked very business-like, which was a huge turn-on. That get-up was like a grown-up version of the Catholic school uniform.