Authors: Hayden Hill
by Hayden Hill
Dare to love
"If I am more alive because love burns and chars me, as a fire, given wood or wind, feels new elation, it's that he who lays me low is my salvation, and invigorates the more, the more he scars me."
We all have a love story.
I'm not a romantic. Never have been. Shit, I'm the anti-romantic, if anything. Me and love, well, let's just say we're not on the best of terms.
Which is not to say I've never been
. Like most people, I've experienced it all at one point or another, from the unrequited type to mutual attraction to drive-you-crazy love, and it always hurts, always burns, and it's definitely overrated.
But I'm not going to lie to you. I've never felt anything like this.
We all have a love story.
This is ours.
The sun shone brightly through the thin curtains of my bedroom window and stung my eyes. I already had a raging headache. I usually felt this way on Sunday mornings. It wasn't a good feeling.
I glanced at the alarm clock beside my bed. 11:05 a.m. I groaned. I had a zumba class at the gym at 10:30 a.m. Too late now. Not that I cared about zumba. I took part for the same reason any guy went to dance lessons, yoga classes, or cooking courses
I closed my eyes. I'd get up soon. Just another five minutes.
A soft murmur came from the other side of the bed. My eyes shot open.
I felt the mattress move and a warm body snuggled against mine.
I had no memory of last night
. I broke away from the girl and immediately pushed myself up, ignoring her attempts to draw me back. I flung off the comforter and accidentally knocked over the alarm clock.
I opened my nightstand drawer and fumbled through the condom box. I counted seven unopened condoms in total. I checked the number penned in blue ink on the box: eight. I exhaled in relief. I'd used a condom. She wouldn't get pregnant.
I scratched out the number with my pen and wrote the updated count beside it.
I've been religious about condom use ever since I was seventeen, when my girlfriend ditched me after I got her pregnant. She ran off with my kid and married a suit
—you know, one of those provider types.
She was twenty-two. Five years older than me, but God, so beautiful. No one should look that good. I should've known better than to leave her alone for a whole summer.
I'm not really bitter. Not anymore. It was partly my fault—I pushed her away first. Anyway, leaving me was probably the best move she ever made. I couldn't support her, let alone a
. Even so five years later it still hurt, knowing I'd never be there for my son, knowing I wasn't good enough.
Pregnancy. It ruined everything.
I was all jittery and needed to calm my nerves so I grabbed my cigs from the nightstand and lit one. Technically, smoking in the suite was against the rules but I didn't care right about then.
The harsh fumes filled my lungs and I immediately relaxed. So I'd brought a girl
home from the bar. It wasn't the end of the world. She'd be gone soon enough and I could return to my own routine.
Again I sensed movement behind me, then the touch of well-manicured nails running lightly down my back. I knew I couldn't encourage this behavior so I got up. I put the knocked-over alarm clock back on the nightstand and grabbed the pair of sweatpants on the floor beside me.
"What's up, big man?" the girl murmured, her voice throaty with sleep and pent-up lust.
I dragged the pants on and glanced over my shoulder, feeling my stomach twist at the sight of her tousled, bleach-blonde hair and smeared makeup. I truly hated this part, having to smile and pretend like nothing was wrong while I escorted her out. It was only a short walk to the front door, yet it always felt like the longest walk in the world.
All I wanted to do was take a shower after looking at that mess. Not that she wasn't pretty—she was. I had good taste but once the layers of make-up started to come off it all just seemed so fake. Not just her looks but my own actions. We were all frauds. I had a bad taste in my mouth and a hollow feeling inside me.
"Here." I snatched her dress from the floor and tossed it to her. "Listen, leave your number. I'll call you." I wouldn't. "Maybe we can go out for drinks or something." Not by a long shot. "I had a great time last night." Couldn't remember a thing. "But I really have something important I have to do." Like scratch my nails down a blackboard.
Thankfully, she took the hint more gracefully than others and started tracking down her scattered clothes.
I opened my bedroom window and flicked the ashes from my smoke outside
while I waited for her. I checked my phone and saw a message from my brother Jed. He was going to be late to the gym today. Just as well.
When the girl finished dressing, I ushered her to the door. I tried to grab her elbow but she pulled away.
I gave her a sour look. "Look, I'm really sorry but I need my space and there's just no room in my life for anyone else right now."
"Whatever." I got her into the hall outside my apartment but before I could shut the door she spun and shoved one of her pumps in the doorjamb. "Can I have a smoke?"
I gave her a cig and lit it up for her. Least I could do.
"Thanks for the fuck," she said.
I couldn't meet her eyes. "Yeah." Finally, she let me shut the door and I threw the lock.
I leaned my forehead on the jamb. What a relief. I promised right there that I wouldn't do this to myself ever again, yet I knew that by the time next Saturday rolled around the promise would be forgotten.
Except I wouldn't be in the city anymore. Not next Saturday or the entire summer of Saturdays after it.
I heard Blaine moving around on his side of the apartment. With a sigh, I plodded to the kitchen and doused my smoke in the sink. I tossed three spoonfuls of instant coffee in a couple of mugs of water and microwaved the batch. My morning ritual was surprisingly relaxing.
By the time Blaine dragged himself into the kitchen, I'd managed to banish my
self-loathing. I wasn't going to let some girl ruin my Sunday.
"You know I hate it when you smoke in here," Blaine said. "I can smell that crap from my room."
"Yeah?" I sipped my coffee. "Secondhand smoke's good for you."
Blaine scowled. "Since when?"
I smirked. "Since you decided to quit without asking me."
"Right. Well, I'm not going to start again anytime soon. Smoking's good for you? Next you're going to tell me that sleeping with bar hos makes you live longer."
"Yeah, I figured as much," Blaine said. "Well, speaking of hos, how was she, anyway?"
I met his eyes defiantly. "She did what she came here to do."
"You don't remember a thing, do you?" Blaine smiled knowingly. He picked up one of the mugs, took a sip, and grimaced at the taste. "Is this coffee? Or juice squeezed from your jock strap?"
"Funny." I drank my own tasteless swill, grateful for the flush of caffeine it sent through my system. "Coming to the gym with me and Jed today?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Blaine said. "But won't Jed be long gone by now?"
"Nope. He sent a text. He's running late. Probably got laid, unlike some dude I know named Blaine."
He lowered his eyes and stared into his coffee. "Yeah, yeah."
"Been a few months now, hasn't it?"
His jaw tightened. "No comment."
Blaine was still getting over the last chick he dated and I knew better than to tease him too much about it so I just shrugged and rinsed out my cup.
I headed back to my room, looked around until I found a hoodie, and fetched my gym bag.
"Dibs on the wheel!" Blaine beat me to the front door by a few seconds and snatched up the keys to the Jeep we co-owned.
I shrugged. "She's all yours."
I sat in the Jeep and watched the city go by. I almost wished we were leaving the glass condos and asphalt roads behind today. I liked Vancouver well enough but I'd been in the city all winter. Too long. It was starting to feel claustrophobic.
Just one more week, I reminded myself.
Blaine pulled into the packed parking lot of the gym and hunted around for a good five minutes before finding a spot. Then we waltzed into the gym like we owned the place.
After changing, I stopped by the fountain for a sip of water.
"Are you a football player?" someone said behind me.
I chuckled softly and turned around to look at the girl. She was about my age, and pretty, though she looked a bit geeky in those oversized glasses. "No. Appreciate the compliment though."
"I like your tattoos," she said.
I couldn't hide a smirk. Some girls made it so easy.
I turned on the charm. "Thanks." So much for my promise.
"Any tips for working my arms?"
"Well yeah, sure. What you want to focus on is—" My phone buzzed. I pulled it out and saw it was Rebecca at the Peregrine Center. My boss from my summer job. "Sorry, have to take this."
I walked away from the fountain, heading onto the running track that circled the workout area. I answered the phone. "Rebecca."
"Kade. Two new interns signed up today. Couple girls from Tennessee. Real smart. I got their applications up on our Google Docs folder but the net's on the fritz here and our ISP says it'll be down all week. So I need you to send the introduction package over to the girls ASAP. Also, they're going to need work permits from the CIC and plane tickets. Set those up and then forward the e-tickets to the girls. Be sure to copy me. I'll reimburse you at the center when you get here this Friday. Got it?"
"Yeah, I'll finish up at the gym and get right on it."
"Thanks, Kade. I owe you one. Look forward to seeing you this Friday. It's been a long winter and we've got some stories to tell."
"I have a couple of my own."
"I bet you do. Bye for now."
I hung up and, out of curiosity, I pulled up the browser on my phone and headed over to Google Docs. I grabbed the password-protected document Rebecca had mentioned and scrolled through it. Gina Murphy. Nice. She looked like a few models I'd dated. If I was allowed to hook up with interns, I'd definitely have a go.
I scrolled to the next intern.
"So, about the arms..." The girl from the water fountain had returned but her words hardly registered.
My gaze was frozen on the photo of the second intern. Ash Jensen. She wasn't so different looking from some of the other girls I'd been with but there was something about her that held me, I wasn't sure what it was.
Then it hit me. Her eyes. They seemed to burn through the phone right into me. Those sad, haunted blue eyes didn't belong on a face so beautiful.
A simple picture shouldn't have affected me like that, but it did and I felt the strangest things in that moment. I'd do anything for her. I'd protect and shelter her from the world. I didn't believe in love at first sight or love at all anymore, really, so I'm not sure where those feelings came from, but there they were. I wanted to make her mine and hold her and show her pleasure like she'd never known before. I wanted to shut away the rest of civilization and live with her in a cabin far away from anyone else. Just her, me, a bed and all the time in the world.
I lowered the phone for a second, feeling shaken. It was just a picture. She probably didn't look like that in real life. The camera had just caught her at a good angle. Or a bad angle, depending on how you looked at it. Still, I couldn't get rid of the sudden, intense longing that was eating away at me inside.
I shrugged it off, knowing how silly it all was. She was just one girl out of millions. This was stupid. Who fell in love with a photograph, anyway? That was just plain weird.
Actually, come to think of it, I remember this one guy...
I wasn't going to justify it.
I skimmed her bio and my eyes lingered on her mailing address. Holston River Drive.
Red flag number one. I knew enough about real estate to know riverfront property didn't come cheap.
I scrolled down a bit more. Premed student.