A note: This is a first draft and unedited except to look for typos. The inspiration came from four Story Cubes, which are pictured here. What took shape surprised me both in length and the level of back-story that came with it. I like it, but be prepared! It’s a little long…
Okay. It’s more than a little long. Hopefully, you like it anyway. 🙂
Switching applications on my phone, I check the timer again. Sixteen hours, thirty-seven minutes, and fifteen seconds. As frustrating as the snow delays were at the beginning, now I’m nearly delirious from lack of sleep and it’s almost funny. Maybe I should make it into a game. How long can the weather keep a couple thousand northeastern passengers grounded and locked inside airport terminals? Turning my head to make sure my luggage is still undisturbed, I thank my mother for her fear of lost luggage. Except for food, I have everything I need to survive here for a few days. Hopefully, it won’t be necessary.
I sit up, adjusting my position against the pillar that had one of the few open outlets and wishing I had a pillow to sit on. The carpet isn’t much of a cushion over what feels like a concrete floor. Stretching my legs out in front of me to ease the cramps out of my back, I fold forward and rest my head on my knees. The position is surprisingly comfortable and I feel myself start to drift into a semi-conscious doze when something hard slams against my ankle.
“Damnit!” I hear someone shout.
Jerking upright, I open my eyes in time to see two books go tumbling just past my feet and a laptop still in midair. Lunging forward, I stretch my arms out and barely make contact with the corner of the computer. It’s not enough to stop it from hitting the floor, but it does slow it enough to minimize the damage. A guy with curly brown hair and a black leather jacket hits his knees just after his laptop hits the floor and grumbles something I can’t understand. He looks vaguely familiar, but I’m not thinking clearly right now and I can’t seem to place him.
Shaking his head, he straightens up and I catch sight of his face.
“I’m so sorry,” he says. “But that was a nice catch.”
I don’t hear him if he says anything else because I’m laughing too hard. If I wasn’t sleep deprived, this situation would be anything but funny, but what are the odds that sixteen hours into a massive airport delay the boy who broke up with me for no reason six months ago would literally fall at my feet.
“Lyla?” he asks. Even though I can’t see him through my watery eyes, I can almost hear the color draining from his face. “I–umm, I mean I just…”
He trails off, but it takes a minute for me to get myself under control. Nathan Bradley broke my heart and the last thing I want is for him to know that. I wipe my eyes and blink to clear my vision, locking my smile on my face.
“Still can’t help falling for me, can you, Nate?”
He goes from pale to flushed in the blink of an eye.
“I–umm… How long have you been here?”
I smirk, but let him change the subject. Switching to the timer app on my phone, I tell him. “Sixteen hours, forty-three minutes, and thirty-six seconds. Thirty-seven seconds. Thirty-eight seconds.”
Nate smiles. “Literal as always.”
Shrugging, I drop my phone to my lap and look up into his warm amber eyes. It hits me again, how much I miss him. I try not to let that show on my face as I ask, “What are you doing here?”
He flushes again and looks away to finish gathering the books he dropped. I expect him to make some excuse and walk away, but he doesn’t. Instead he drops his backpack and his books into a pile next to my luggage and sits next to me on the hard floor. He still won’t meet my eyes, but he hasn’t run away.
Nathan and I met at school in North Carolina where he was a graduate student and I was working on my undergrad degree, but we’re in New York now and he’s not from New York. His family lives in Texas and California. There is no reason for him to be prowling LaGuardia.
Unless he’s here looking for you, one pathetic voice in my head suggests. I push that hope away because ideas like that will only lead to heartbreak. Again.
“I met some friends in the City for New Years,” he says after a minute.
Even though I expected a reason that had nothing to do with me, the pain of being right still sucks.
I nod and wish he hadn’t sat down next to me. Leave, I tell him silently. You’re good at it, so just go already.
Another minute passes and he’s still sitting there next to me. I can feel the heat of his presence radiating off of him. One of the things I loved about Nate was even when he’s sitting there doing nothing, I couldn’t ignore him. Something about his presence drew me like a magnet and I was hooked before I even knew who he was. It took three months for me to get up the courage to talk to him, four more months to work up the nerve to ask him out, and then I lived in a strange state of bliss for the next nine months until one day he told me he couldn’t see me anymore and walked out of my life. He never explained why and I never got the chance to ask him. The coward transferred schools.
“You mind if I stay here?” he finally says. “My phone is about to die and I haven’t seen any other open plugs.”
A petty desire to shake my head and banish him from my presence grows, but I squash it down. I will be the grown-up here even if it kills me.
Nate opens one of the pouches on his backpack and pulls out a long, tangled cord. It takes him a minute to unravel the knots, but eventually he gets his phone plugged in and leans back against the pillar. Much too close for comfort. I scoot away and try to ignore him, concentrating on my book, but it’s no use. I never have been able to ignore Nathan Bradley and I never will.
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes before he starts digging through his backpack again. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a familiar package.
“Want some? he asks, holding out a bag of my favorite trail mix. I’d meant to get some before I got to the airport, but ran out of time. Glancing up at Nate, I raise an eyebrow. He blushes again–I always loved how easily he blushed–but doesn’t look away this time.
“You kind of got me hooked,” he explains.
“You couldn’t stand the stuff when…” I trail off, but I can see he knows the rest of the sentence. When we were together.
He shrugs and looks away. “It grew on me.”
I take the bag from his still outstretched hand and try not to turn his words over in my head. Even the week he broke up with me, he protested my choice in snacks. If this trail mix grew on him, it could only have done it after he’d run out of my life. Pouring out a handful, I give him the bag back, trying not to spaz when his fingers brush mine and sparks I’d almost forgotten existed shoot through my arm.
God, I missed that feeling. It was one thing I didn’t expect from Nathan, the way a single stroke of his hand could drive me crazy. Closing my eyes, I let my head drop back against the pillar and try not to remember the first night we spent together. My first night with anyone, though I’m still not sure if he knows that. He was so gentle, almost as though he was afraid I’d break or vanish before his eyes. I adored how he treated me like something precious and fragile without making me feel incompetent or ridiculously girly. If anything, when I was with Nathan, I felt like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to because he had complete faith in me. Or, at least, I thought he did. Now I’m not so sure.
“You’re heading back to school?” he asks, breaking into my memories.
I nod, but don’t open my eyes.
He asks a couple more questions about people we both know, but each word out of his mouth peels away a layer of the skin I’d finally managed to grow over the wound he created and after a while I can’t take it anymore.
“Look, I don’t know what it’s like with your other ex-girlfriends, but I can’t do this.” I push to my feet and start collecting my things. Another plug will open up at some point. It doesn’t matter as long as I get away from him before I start to cry. My chest burns and my eyes are filling quickly. I don’t have much time left. “It was nice to see you and all. Bye.”
I don’t even get two steps before he pulls my suitcase out of my hand, grabs my wrist, and pulls me back to our spot.
“Lyla, please,” he whispers, his lips so close to my ear I can feel his breath dance across my skin. “I need–I need to say something. Please don’t leave. Let me say what I need to say and if you still want me to leave, I’ll go.”
Taking a deep breath, I risk looking up into his eyes. His skin is pale, his eyes are wide, and he’s biting the inside of his cheek the way he always does when he’s nervous. All that is enough to sway me, but when completely does me in is the way he sucks in a shuddering breath and whispers, “Please?”
Without meaning to, I nod. My willpower has completely deserted me and I don’t fight when he takes my purse and pulls me back to the floor. I don’t care that’s we’re in the middle of a crowded terminal or that giving him a chance to talk will probably only cause me to fall back into the black hole of depression I barely clawed my way out of, but I can’t help it. This guy has been my weak spot since the first time I saw him sleeping in the library after pulling an all-nighter.
Even after we’re sitting down, he doesn’t let go of my left hand. My skin tingles where his thumb rubs along the back of my hand and I can’t seem to keep tears from slowly escaping the corners of my eyes. He sees this and lifts his other hand, gently wiping my cheeks dry and leaving a trail of fire behind. I can feel my skin flushing, but I can’t look away from his eyes.
“I lied.” I blink and he clears his throat before clarifying. “About why I came up here. I didn’t come here with friends. I came because even if I couldn’t spend the holidays with you I wanted to be nearby.”
My heart stops. I am jelly in his hands already and all I can do is silently beg, Don’t say nice things and break my heart again. I can’t survive losing you twice.
“I finally worked up the nerve to go see you yesterday, but I was too late. You’d already left for the airport.”
He squeezes my hand tighter and cups my cheek in his other hand. The contact sends me reeling and I have to close my eyes to keep from lunging forward and locking my arms around his neck. Once I do that I know I’m never letting go again. I can’t let him overpower me this fast. I don’t even know where he’s going with this yet.
“You don’t know why I left.”
That’s just unfair. I open my eyes and glare into his. “You never gave me the chance to ask.”
His hand drops away from my face and I feel the loss like a blow to my chest. “Because I couldn’t explain it then. I didn’t even understand it.”
“Is this supposed to be making me feel better?”
I try to pull my hand out of his grasp, but Nate won’t let go. “Let me get through this, Lyla, all right?”
“I don’t owe you anything,” I hiss, trying to pull my hand away and failing again.
“No, you don’t. But I owe you.”
I can’t argue with that, so I don’t try. Instead, I bite my tongue and try not to break down.
Nathan stares into my eyes, his gaze steady and strong even though his skin still looks too pale and his hand is shaking in mine. “No one I’ve ever dated has dug into my life as deep or as fast as you did. You were outspoken and strong and fearless and gorgeous and you scared the shit out of me. I love you so much it terrifies me, Lyla.”
My mouth drops open, but I no words escape. I seem to have forgotten how to speak. He loves me? He’s never told me he loves me. Did he really just tell me he loves me?
He swallows and clears his throat, his gorgeous eyes dropping from mine to rest on my lips and then down at my hand. His caresses start again, this time running along my knuckles.
“I felt like all of a sudden my entire life had been decided for me, like I didn’t have a choice anymore. Should’ve just gone with it, but I did what I always do when I can’t face reality–I ran away from it.”
Nate looks up and his stare is so intense I can feel it burning through me. It always felt like he should be able to read my thoughts if he wanted to, but he never seemed to be able to.
“I am so sorry I hurt you, Lyla,” he whispers, leaning closer. His free hand dips into his jacket pocket and he pulls something out, but it’s hidden in the palm of his hand. “I’ve always been an idiot when it comes to you, but cutting you out of my life was like trying to live without my lungs. I can’t do it anymore. And I’m really hoping I won’t have to.”
My breath catches as he opens his hand and flips open a ring box with his thumb. Inside, instead of a diamond solitaire is a flower made of gemstones with a brilliant blue center stone surrounded by diamond and emerald studded leaves and an etched white gold band.
“Lyla Lillian Saunders, will you please let me spend the rest of my life trying to make up for not seeing you were the best thing that ever happened to me?”
Shock locks me in place and before I can say a thing he pulls the ring out of the box and slides it into place on my hand. It’s a perfect fit and it looks like it’s always been there. My hand curls into a fist just in case he suddenly changes his mind and tries to take it off again.
I tear my eyes away from the ring and look up at Nathan. He’s watching me closely, holding his breath, and waiting for my answer.
“Are you sure, Nate? Really sure? Because I can’t live through watching you walk away twice. I don’t have it in me.”
His eyes brighten and his cheeks flush. “I am absolutely certain. I love you and I’m not letting go this time.”
I stare into his eyes and see none of the doubts and dark corners that plagued him before. He’s sure. He loves me.
In the next second I throw myself into his lap, press my lips against his, and lock my arms around his neck. His hands come around my waist and he groans softly, that rumbly noise that always makes me smile. His touch sends lightning through my veins and fills my head with a rainbow of lights. I never want it to end. I’m only vaguely aware that people around us are laughing and cheering, that our supposedly private conversation wasn’t quite quiet enough to escape the attention of the surrounding crowd, but I couldn’t care less. I’m back in the arms of the only man I’ve ever loved and this time, I’m never letting go.