Who knew Nat had a mean right hook?
As soon as I’d done that I decided I had to tell the guys. There is something about admitting you’re wrong about something that makes you feel worthless. Admitting you’re wrong about something important, even more so.
I called a meeting in the conference room with my newly broken nose. Once the guys were seated, I explained what had happened. Max was the first to react. He got up out of his seat and left the conference room without a word. And it hurt more than any words could.
Ghost asked what happened to my nose with a twitch of his lips.
The jerk already knows.
They have CCTV at Safira. I responded with, “Your girlfriend should become a boxer.”
Last was Trick. The look on his face was pure disappointment. Disappointment in me. I didn’t like that. Trick has always been my buddy, even at the worst of times. This is the first thing that’s happened that’s ever gotten in the way of our friendship. He doesn’t have my back here.
No one has my back here. I fucked up. I’m backed up against a wall with three men and three women threatening to pounce on me at any second. That’s never a good feeling. What makes it a worse feeling is when those people are your friends and family.
Which brings us to today.
It’s been two days and not a word of new information from my guy. He called to say her phone is still off but he’s keeping a constant eye on it. It doesn’t make me feel any better. With every day Tina is missing, worry and apprehension tear away at what’s left of mind.
The days go slowly and the nights aren’t any better. I can’t sleep not knowing where Tina is sleeping. Nat said she hasn’t been able to contact her but Tina has sent her a text twice to assure she’s okay.
I don’t buy it.
If she were okay, she’d have come back by now.
Frustration at my own stupidity is a good way to describe my feelings right now. This is all my fault.
Just as I’m about to start banging my head on the table, my cell rings.
I jump and almost drop it. I juggle it for a few seconds before I put it to my ear and say a little too loudly, “Yes?”
“We got her.” That’s my guy…and he knows where Tina is! I’m giving this man a bonus. I want to kiss his feet right now. I’m beyond relieved.
He gives me the details and I chuckle. Of course Tina would stay at a hotel three minutes from her apartment. I thank him with a promise of a swift money transfer and we’re done.
I decide to shower and change my clothes before I see her, I need to shave too.
No, don’t shave! She likes the scruff.
Yeah, my baby likes the scruff.
I shouldn’t call her that right now. That’s, of course, if she is willing to be my baby again. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. What I did was almost unforgivable.
Why are you still sitting at your desk?
God, I’m such a schmuk. I wait for days for this information and now I’m hesitant about using it.
I move before my body tries to resist. I walk past the ‘chill out’ room, down the hall and I hear Max shout out, “Where you going?”
I yell back to him, “To pick up precious cargo.”
It was surprisingly easy to get a spare key to Tina’s room. And it only cost me a hundred dollars.
Okay, so I spouted some story about sneaking in to surprise my girlfriend who thought I was coming the next night. The girl at the main desk was an obvious romantic and fell for it.
Mental note; never use this hotel.
The girl at the desk had no way of knowing I wasn’t dangerous. I could’ve been Omarr, for Christ sakes.
So, here I stand in front of Tina’s room with my bag full of candy. I check my watch. It’s 11:49pm. I’m sure she’ll be asleep. Or at least I hope she will be.
That was my plan. Sneak in when Tina’s asleep; there will be less of a chance of her punching me in the face when she’s sleepy.
Didn’t she go all Bruce Lee on me and put me in a choke hold when she was sleepy?
Great. Just great. I forgot about that.
I shake my head and slide the key card in. The light turns green and I gently open the door being careful not to make a sound. I carefully walk in and see Tina asleep in the bed. She’s sleeping on her stomach which she never does. She always curls up on her side. It looks as though she’s naked under the sheet that’s pulled just above her behind. I step closer and what I see makes me want to roar and punch something.
Tina’s back and shoulder are purple with bruises.
This is why she’s sleeping on her stomach. She hurts. I hurt her. I don’t deserve Tina.
But I want her.
I sit on the edge of the bed, careful not to wake her and lean forward with my elbows on my knees. I run my hands through my hair.
Maybe Tina’s better off without me.
As soon as I smell him, I wake.
I know it’s Nik and regardless of what happened the other day, I’m not afraid of him.
Nik didn’t mean for me to trip. And that’s exactly what happened. I tripped.
I’m still hurting, physically and mentally, though. This is why I take cowards way out and pretend to sleep. I remind myself to breathe in and out deeply and to not react at all.
I feel his hand lightly brush my bruised shoulder and I shiver.
Thanks traitorous body!
I feel the sheet lift from my bottom to cover my back and shoulder. I don’t understand it but even the small amount of pressure from the sheet hurts. I’m careful not to flinch.
Nik whispers hoarsely, “I’m so sorry, baby.”
I almost forget to breathe. A small part of me is chastising myself for pretending to sleep but another part so desperately wants to hear what he says to my supposed sleeping form.
He continues in a whisper, “Never meant to hurt you. Come back to me, baby. I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you.”
My heart skips a beat.
Nik wants me back. He must know what really happened.
This is great!
Don’t do it. Don’t give away your heart again. It hurts too much.
I do hurt. I don’t know if I could handle that again. After Jace was hard but after Nik I actually thought I’d die from heart-break.
I have to think about this.
I feel his breath close to my ear. He kisses the side of my neck so softly I could’ve imagined it and whispers, “Love you, Tina.”
He shuffles around and makes some strange noises for a few minutes, the door opens then closes and he’s gone.
I sit up in bed and see something on the desk in the corner that wasn’t there before. Needing a little light, I switch on the bedside lamp and move my sore body over to the desk.
What I see makes me smile. The first real smile I’ve had in days. Nik has obviously spoken to Nat about my candy preferences.
Written in raspberry bullets is ‘I’m sorry’.
Written in green apple jellybeans is ‘I miss you’.
Written in cherry jellybeans is ‘I love you’.
My heart skips a beat at the last line.
Written in gummy bears is ‘Marry me’.
Did Nik just propose using candy?
Why, yes, brain. Yes, he did.
The father of her child
A week has passed since Tina disappeared and I hear nothing from her. I’ve been checking in with Ghost but he says she hasn’t been at the store. I’d say she’s probably still too sore.
I still can’t believe I proposed to her using gummy bears.
You’re such a dork.
But here’s the kicker; if she wanted to marry me she would’ve already accepted.
I lean back in my chair, put my feet up on my desk, and use my forearm to cover my eyes.
I think I’m depressed. I remember feeling similar feelings like this when my dad died. Nothing makes me happy. Not even Ceecee, who is very confused with my sudden change in attitude. At least Max is talking to me again.
The voice makes me jolt in my chair and I feel it fall further and further back. Next thing I know I’m on the floor with Ghost leaning over me chuckling. He says, “Sorry, bro.”
You don’t sound sorry, asshole.
He goes on, “Tina just got in. So I suggest you get your sorry ass up and get talking to her.” He offers his hand, I take it and he helps me up.
Then he slaps my shoulder in a brotherly gesture and leaves.
Before I can change my mind, I’m up and out the door.
Hiding out in the storeroom was not what I had planned when I decided today was the day I came back to work. But here I am; sitting on the floor, my desk at my back, my head resting back on it, and my hands covering my eyes.
I hear the door open then close. I murmur, “I shouldn’t have come today, Nat. I think I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Hands come under my arms and lift me so I’m sitting on the desk. I open my eyes and see Nik’s beautiful but slightly bruised face. His nose is crooked, too.
This looks like Nat’s handy work.
My heart squeezes and my eyes mist.
God, I missed him.
His amber eyes search my face. His hand moves to the back of my neck and squeezes. He sounds pained as he says, “I can’t take this anymore. It’s been a week, Tina. A long, torturous week. Do something! Yell at me or hit me, for fuck sake. Just don’t shut me out, baby. I know I screwed up really fuckin’ bad. Tell me what I can do to fix this.” He leans his forehead on mine and whispers hoarsely, “Please, let me fix this.”
I want to kiss him so badly but restrain myself. Instead I hold his cheeks with my shaking hands and whisper, “I don’t know if this can be fixed, Nik. You can’t glue together a broken heart.”
I lean back and watch devastation transform his handsome face. I touch his scarred eyebrow and continue, “My heart was broken before I even met you, Nik. This isn’t all about what happened. And no, I won’t marry you out of some twisted obligation you feel about what happened.”
He looks as broken as I feel when he tells me, “You’re my forever girl. If you leave me, you’ll always be the one that got away. I will never find what I have with you ever again. I love you. Please tell me you still feel something for me.” He looks in my eyes and pleads, “Please, baby, please. I’m begging you. Tell me it’s not over.”
That is the most beautiful and heart-wrenching thing anyone has ever told me. It’s heart-wrenching because I don’t know if this is something I can do anymore.
I respond quietly, “You don’t fall out of love with someone in a day, Nik. Of course I love you. You mean the world to me. But sometimes love isn’t enough. You’re compromising too much for me. You want kids and I won’t have them.” I breathe in a shaky breath and go on. “You have no idea how damaged I am. I’m a lot of work, Nik. Don’t settle for damaged goods. You deserve the best of things. And that’s not me. Not even close, honey.” I end on a whisper and all of a sudden feel like crying.
God, pull yourself together woman!
Nik shakes his head and replies firmly, “That’s not true. You’re worth a hundred of any woman out there. You would give the shirt off your back to someone who needed it. I’ve never met a woman as honest and selfless as you. I don’t care about children anymore, honestly. As long as I have you, I won’t need a thing.” He holds my face in his hands and says, “You’re it. The one. The start. The finish. You are how my story ends.”
Swoon. Damn it, Nik, you fight dirty.
Nik is giving me a toothache. But I won’t give in.
I respond with a shaky, “I need time.”
He nods and whispers, “Okay, baby.” Then he pulls my face towards his and kisses me softly.
As soon as his lips touch mine, I sigh. He moves to stand between my knees and I grip the lapels of his silk shirt. I try to pull him closer to me, impossibly close.
Right now, it’s just Nik and Tina. No problems. Just love.
I’m so in love with Nik.
He nips my bottom lip and I gasp. His tongue touches mine and I moan lightly into his mouth.
I’m losing composure. Nik’s kisses are divine.
Suddenly he pulls back and whispers, “I’ll give you time, baby. But do me a favor, will ya?”
I nod and he says, “Remember how you feel when you kiss me. Because if it’s even a small piece of what I feel when I kiss you, there is no question about what you should do.”
He turns his back, walks out of the store room and closes the door behind him. I touch my fingertips to my still wet lips.
Nik is imprinted on them.
I thought long and hard over the last few days. I tried hard to let Nik go but it’s proving difficult.
Tragedy has a way of making you appreciate every small happiness you experience. The happiest I’ve been in the past five years is with Nik.
I lose myself in thought before I slide off the desk. I want to go home.
So I pack my things, leave my keys with Nat, and catch a cab back to the apartment.
As soon as I arrive home, I go back to bed.
Emotions are so exhausting.
When I open my eyes again, it’s dark.
Geez Louise! How long did I sleep?
I look over at the bedside clock and it reads 7:12pm.
Holy moly! I slept for eight hours! That’s just great. Now I won’t get a wink tonight.
Nat has a date tonight. She hasn’t been on a date in an age and I’m so happy for her. She’s been too busy making sure I’m okay. It’s time Nat had something good in her life.
I’m just about to get out of bed and shower when someone starts banging on the front door like a maniac. I pull the covers up to my chin and my eyes widen.
What if it’s a robber?
Yes, sweetie. Because robbers knock before they enter.
I pull back the covers and sneak into the hall. Then I hear it.
“TIIIINNNNA! Otvoriti vrata! Sada!”