Soundtrack Song - Lifehouse, First Time
When I wake up in the morning, something's different. The room is the same, and the man beside me hasn't changed. But there is a distinct shift in the atmosphere.
I throw off the covers and try to move over Max, but I wake him up as I try to unpin myself between him and the wall. "And where do you think you're going?" he asks, snaking an arm around my waist and pulling me on top of him. His voice is gruff from sleep and his accent's a little thicker, and I love the way he sounds first thing in the morning.
I put my palms against the flat top of the bed and push myself up so my weight's not crushing him. "I'm getting up."
"And why would you want to do that?" He nuzzles against my neck, and I wonder why I wanted to get up at all. I've suddenly forgotten.
"Mmm, I don't know," I tell him, letting him roll me onto my back and hover over me. I love when he takes control. But he doesn't kiss me or make a move; he just looks down at me, making me squirm a little. "What are you doing?"
"That's my point," I laugh, trying to duck under his arm and escape from underneath him. Max's weight prevents me from being able to. "Either do something or let me get up."
Still he doesn't make a move. "You look beautiful this morning," he whispers, saying it so low that I have to hold my breath to hear it.
I think that's the first time anyone's ever said those words to me. I've heard "pretty" and "cute," but never beautiful. Part of me wants to melt and the other part wants to roll my eyes; not when I feel like I've been whacked in the face with a baseball bat. After crying for half the night, I physically feel like shit.
Before I have to a chance to decide how to react, he brings his mouth down to mine. It's soft and gentle, the complete opposite of urgent. It's nice just to kiss him and not feel like it's heading somewhere else or like it's a means to an end. Moments like these often get passed up and overlooked, but I love this basic simplicity. I love the way his facial hair scratches my chin. How our noses rub together when we tilt our heads in different positions. The way he plants kisses over my closed eyelids so I can catch my breath before our lips touch again. Even how I'm tempted to let go of his shoulders and move my hands lower, but I'm hesitant to do so, because I want to make this moment last forever.
I figure out what feels so different. It's me. I feel calm and relaxed, like after a tough week of finals when I've studied and prepared, did my best, and now I sit back and wait for the results. The ton of rocks has been removed from my chest, and my lungs can work again. I haven't felt this way in years; it's been so long, in fact, that I've forgotten what this feels like. I'm free, untethered, unfettered—evidenced by the fact that I'm willing to look forward, beyond today, and look toward tomorrow, because now I'm released from my past.
Max was so great to me last night. Being able to reach this point in my life was only made possible by him. How am I supposed to put my thanks, my undying gratitude, and my bottomless debt to him into words? And Max was unbelievable throughout it all. Maybe I thought he'd run away or realize that it wasn't worth it to try to stick with me while I crazily worked all this out. When I opened myself up and revealed my old scars, I expected fresh pain. Instead, he reassured me that his feelings hadn't changed and he wasn't going anywhere, reinforcing my conviction that is the most amazing person on this planet. I didn't think God made men like this, and not just because I feel jaded; because even saints pale in comparison to Maxime Talbot. I'll have to thank his mother.
Wow, I can't believe I just thought about that. Meeting his mother. I must be crazy: crazy about this man.
"So, if we're not going to stay in bed all day, what do you propose we do?" Max asks, resting his forehead against mine and looking into my eyes. I love those mesmerizing and captivating blue pools.
My brain is mush. His kisses do that to me, and after the past... forty-eight hours, it will take a miracle to get the synapses in my brain to start firing properly again. I have to wait a few moments to come back to Earth to answer him properly, because my mind is somewhere else completely. "Watch the parade. Eat turkey and pie. Scan the advertisements for really good Black Friday shopping deals."
When Max laughs, the whole bed shakes a little. "That is what you want to do today, instead of stay in bed?"
"Yeah," I chuckle, rubbing his bicep. I love his arms. "We Americans are heavily steeped in tradition, especially when it involves food and overindulgence and gluttony and materialism."
"Maybe we need to start a new tradition," he mumbles, his lips centimeters from mine.
I giggle at his idea of a new tradition as he nibbles on my bottom lip. I love his kisses. Can I hire a doctor to surgically attach my lips to his? I don't want to do anything other than this for the rest of my life—screw eating and breathing. My brain liquefies again, which is probably why I let slip without thinking, "I love you."
Oh, no. Please tell me I didn't just say that. By the way Max's eyes widen and how he repositions himself to straddle me and rest his weight on his knees, I know I said what I think I said. And I can't believe I just did that.
Max just continues to look at me. His eyes quickly move back and forth, like they would during REM sleep, almost as if he was trying to read me like a hockey play on the ice and he's trying to determine his next move. His mouth is ajar, and I keep waiting to hear him say something, anything, because he always has something to say, but he's speechless. I do the only thing I can think of to offset my utter humiliation: I grab the pillow behind my head and cover my face. I'm not an infant, and I know that I don't disappear just because I can't see him, but I really really hope this bed will just swallow me whole and save me from this.
Why did I just say that?! It was like a knee-jerk reaction. Why did I have to take the perfect moment and ruin it? I always do this! My mouth always says things it shouldn't, and it seems like I'm powerless to prevent this from happening.
"Baby," Max says softly. "Don't do that." I can feel as he tries to remove the pillow, but I hold on for dear life, even if it means I'll suffocate. When he next talks, he sounds annoyed. "Come on, Charlotte. Let go."
"No," I tell him, my voice sounding muffled by the cotton.
He stops trying to pull. "Did you mean it? Or are you freaking out because you said it by accident?"
Was it an accident? Absolutely. Those three special words, or special three words, came out of nowhere. Wasn't there supposed to be a defining moment when I realized it prior to saying it? Wasn't I supposed to have this overwhelming epiphany? I didn't know that I loved him when those words popped out of my mouth. On the contrary, I didn't want to love him at all. I didn't think I was ready, and I didn't think I ever wanted to give my heart away to someone who could destroy it again.
But did I mean it? Absolutely. I don't know the how or the why I said it before I was aware that I did, but I absolutely love Max. I'm not sure when it happened or how or why, but maybe this is my defining moment. Once the words left my mouth, it felt so natural and right. "Yes," I admit through the additional layers of fabric. "I meant it."
"Then why are you hiding?" He tries to pull the pillow away again, but I don't relent my grip. "Let go, Charlotte."
"No. I'm embarrassed."
"Merde. Why are you embarrassed? Don't be," he coaxes.
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I didn't even want to fall in love with you, let alone tell you this way."
"What? You didn't want to?" Max sounds hurt, and that's what makes me release my hold and surrender.
I cast aside the pillow and cup his face in my hands. His jaw's clenched, signifying he's mad and upset. "Max, listen to me. I came to Pittsburgh to get over my past. You know that. I didn't expect to meet someone like you. Hell, I didn't want to meet someone like you. I was actively trying to be alone. I thought I needed to get myself right, and I thought I needed to do it on my own. I didn't think meeting someone else was going to help, and I didn't think it could have helped. Maybe if I had met anyone else, that would have been the case, but it wasn't. This is all on you. You came into my life like a force, and you helped me. Max, you made me feel this way. I never had a choice or a say in the matter."
"Say it again," he orders. His voice is demanding, but he's smiling and his eyes are sparkling.
"Maxime, I love you," I say, and this time I feel the way I think I should feel when I say it: warm and fuzzy, like I've just consumed a mug of hot chocolate with a splash of Bailey's while wrapped in a polar fleece blanket. He tries to use his mouth for kissing instead of for talking. I don't necessarily expect those words back, but I want to hear what he's thinking or how he's feeling. "Max." I place my hand over my lips to deter him. "Well?"
"Maybe we need to start a new tradition," I suggest, closing in for another kiss. That's all we've done this morning, just kiss and kiss, but I don't mind. I'm showing her that I'm here for her. The best way to show her would be to tell her, but she said she doesn't want promises, and if she doesn't want words or guarantees, then actions will have to do.
I pull back a little so we can get a move on and start our day. I've got to go home, change clothes, and take out my contacts. I guess we have a parade to watch and some food to eat. I'm about to ask her if she wants to go out for a nice dinner, since I doubt she has an entire turkey stored in her freezer, when she interrupts my thoughts. "I love you."
For a second, I'm not sure if I heard her correctly. I place a knee on either side of her body and shift my weight off her so I can peer at her and get a better look. My brain is searching for words and comes up with nothing. She loves me. That was quite possibly the last thing I expected her to say at that moment, and it's caught me a little off-guard, but she really said it. Charlotte loves me.
Before my elation can find a voice, her face falls and she reaches behind her for her pillow, smashing it over her head. "Baby, don't do that." She should be kissing me and touching me, loving me and not burying herself. I grab at the pillow to uncover her, but she's holding on tightly. My mind thinks back to the day I thought she was sick. I'm seeing a pattern. I get a little irritated with her. "Come on, Charlotte. Let go."
"No," she replies, and I can barely hear her.
"Did you mean it?" I ask, now worried that she said those words without truly feeling that way. It sucks if that's the case, but if it was a mistake, I'll understand. I'll be a little heartbroken, but I'll understand. "Or are you freaking out because you said it by accident?"
She pauses. I'm holding my breath as I wait for her answer. Oui. Please let her say yes. "Yes. I meant it."
I'm ridiculously relieved. She meant it. She loves me. "Then why are you hiding?" I ask, laughing at her. She's crazy and irrational and completely frustrating. I like her in spite of that, or despite of that, or maybe I find it interesting and endearing. She still won't release her death-grip on the pillow, even as I'm trying to rip it away. I want her to look me in the eyes and tell me again. "Let go, Charlotte."
"No. I'm embarrassed."
"Merde. Why are you embarrassed? Don't be," I continue to laugh. She's so self-conscious. She should be as happy as I am.
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I didn't even want to fall in love with you, let alone tell you this way."
My heart falls through my chest. "What?" How could she say that? What did she think we were doing spending all this time together? What was the point of getting to know each other if she wasn't interested in falling in love with me, if she didn't want to fall in love with me at all? "You didn't want to?" A thousand thoughts continue to buzz around my head, and none of them are pleasant.
Charlotte grabs my face with her hands and makes me look at her. Something in her eyes makes me take heed. "Max, listen to me. I came to Pittsburgh to get over my past. You know that. I didn't expect to meet someone like you. Hell, I didn't want to meet someone like you. I was actively trying to be alone. I thought I needed to get myself right, and I thought I needed to do it on my own. I didn't think meeting someone else was going to help, and I didn't think it could have helped. Maybe if I had met anyone else, that would have been the case, but it wasn't. This is all on you. You came into my life like a force, and you helped me. Max, you made me feel this way. I never had a choice or a say in the matter."
I know what it's like to not go around looking for love. But my mother always said that love finds you, not the other way around. That being said, I did everything I could to make her want me. That was the reason I promised to be friends. It's nice to know my hard work paid off. I want to reap the benefits. "Say it again."
"Maxime, I love you," she whispers. I feel waves of warmth wash over me. So many emotions. I just want to kiss her. "Max." Charlotte has other ideas, and covers her mouth. "Well?"
I know what she's getting at, but I decide to tease her and make her say it. "Well, what?" I ask, trying to look innocent.
"Well, aren't you going to say something after that? I just bared my soul. It would be nice if you said something."
"Thank you for telling me," I quietly whisper, leaning back down.
"Okay. You're welcome. But... Come on, Max." She fidgets, not wanting to say it. Stuff like this makes her uncomfortable. Still, I'm quiet, making her continue. "If you don't feel that way, I mean, it's fine. But just... tell me what you're thinking. Tell me what you're feeling. Anything, please."
"You know how I feel," I explain. "I told you last night. I show you everyday." Charlotte nods, knowing that I'm right but still looking for that reassurance. It makes me laugh. "I'll tell you. Don't worry. But I'd rather wait for the right moment. You may like to blurt things out with your big mouth, but I want to make it special."
"So, you do? You... love me?" she asks, inspecting my face for a trace of the emotion she's looking for. I grin and nod. I can't believe she doesn't know. "But you're not going to tell me?" This time, I shake my head. Charlotte leans back and grunts. "Do you know how frustrating you are?"
That makes me laugh a little too hard. "Now you know how I feel!"