Soundtrack Song - Something Corporate, I Want to Save You
I wake up around four thirty in the morning. I don't know why. I'm not a morning person, and I never get up earlier than I have to. As I regain consciousness, it takes me a while to place where I am. First, I hear the loud sounds of breathing. Then I open my eyes to see the form of Max stretched out beside me. His mouth is slightly agape and he's snoring softly. I smile at him, even though he's off in dreamland and can't see me grin.
I run my hand along the lines of the tattoo on his arm, his version of the Talbot family tattoo. I move on to the cross inked on his side, dragging my fingers along the design. I expect him to stir in response to my touch, but he's out of it. My first reaction is to curl up next to him and settle in for another hour or so's worth of sleep, but as I move my body to snuggle against his, I feel the pain between my legs, the sharp reminder of last night's activities. A bittersweet reminder.
Last night was amazing. Ah. May. Zing. Sex with John was like vanilla froyo. With Max? It was Ben & Jerry's Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz with rainbow jimmies, crumbled pieces of Oreos—Double Stuf Oreos no less, Hershey's chocolate syrup, and whipped topping. Don't forget the maraschino cherry. It was like eating all that and knowing it wouldn't go straight to my ass and make me swell into a bigger size. In other words, incredible. I'd never felt like that, wild with reckless abandon. It was overwhelming, and that kind of scared me.
Or positively terrified me, if I was being completely honest with myself.
When his hands were on me, I liked that he knew where to put them and for how long and with how much pressure. It's like he was inside my head or reading my mind, knowing what I wanted before I even did. It was unbelievable. But that's what's bugging me now. He's so well-versed in the female body because he's had so much practice.
A man that can make a woman feel like that should not be tethered to anyone in particular. A man like that should be shared with the world. Guys like Max are not built for monogamy.
Besides, it was just sex. It's not like we exchanged vows of undying affection. I pretty much just pounced on him. Attacked him, practically. Like a fucking animal. Or a fucking animal, which ever way you want to look at it. I like Max, because he's hot and fun and gorgeous and unbelievably sweet, and I hadn't been laid in months. What a lethal combination. And what guy in his right mind would turn down sex, regardless of whom was offering it? I don't blame Max for letting last night get out of hand. I'm blaming myself.
It did get out of hand. Last night, we didn't use a condom. I'm a responsible person; I don't do things like this. Ever. Under any circumstances. I can't believe I was this stupid. He could have infected me with an STD. After all, I don't know where he's been or if he has safe sex when he's screwing around. Who am I kidding? He obviously doesn't practice safe sex because we didn't last night. Or I could get pregnant. After all, I'm not on the pill. I could be pregnant. He pulled out, but we all know that doesn't work. Hell, that's how my sister was conceived. I of all people should know the consequences.
Max should be more careful. If he keeps fucking around like this, he's going to find himself with a lot of illegitimate children. I don't know how much child support he can afford on his hockey salary, but that doesn't mean he can afford to be so irresponsible. With that kind of lifestyle, he should be smarter.
I'm absolutely ashamed of myself. Sure, it felt great last night, but I'm feeling the polar opposite now. I'm cursing myself for my sheer stupidity. So, I leave. I scoot out of bed, tiptoe across the room, and navigate my way down to the living room, where our clothes are thrown around like there was a freaking tornado in the middle of his house. I find my various articles of clothing strewn about and pull them on, not bothering with the light. And then I'm out the door, not even cleaning up the mess I had made last night. No, I leave the food and bottles on the floor right where I left them yesterday.
I pull the front door shut behind me very gently, so not to wake Max up. The last thing I need to do is see him now. I don't want to be around when he wakes up and remembers what he did. What I did. What we did. Together. Oh, fuck. That whole awkward confrontation can be avoided completely if I sneak out while he sleeps.
My troubles would end if I never had to come into contact with another male, ever. I've fucked up every relationship I've ever been a part of, and now I can't even be friends with a guy without doing something to muck it up.
Worst of all, I know that this is it. Done. Finished. Max had been such a good friend to me. He was everything I had needed. I left Chicago for a chance to start over, clear my head, and figure out what I was going to do with my life. After all, I had things all sorted out. I had a plan, and all I needed to do was execute it. That plan, however, fell apart and so did I.
So I escaped to Pittsburgh to get my shit together. Learn how to move on. Because I certainly couldn't do that in the same city as John, where everything was a constant reminder of him and the life we were going to share. My new surroundings helped to ease the transition, but it wasn't until I met Max that I stopped existing and started living again.
I'm not quite sure what it was about him. He was fun to be around of course, and he was guaranteed to make me laugh and smile. There was more to it than that, though. Max knew how to make me feel good: mentally, emotionally, and physically. Let's face it, he's perfect.
No! He's not perfect. He's far from it. If he were, I wouldn't be having any reservations about this. The sheer amount of reservations that I'm having is enough to clue me into just how much of a bad idea this truly is. He's not my type, and he's certainly not the type of guy you take home to your mother. Especially not my mother. If he were perfect, I wouldn't have to worry about how I'm going to sneak back into my apartment so I can keep last night's tryst from Gina. Instead, I'd be planning on waking her up at this outrageous hour in the morning to spill my guts about it.
So, I guess this is over. No way I could just say to him, "So, last night was fun. But I'd like to go back to being just friends." Because there was no way I could possibly look at him with friendly eyes and not remember the way he looked naked, his attentive touch, the feel of his body against mine, the way he made me moan and scream....
No, not possible. Just the memory makes my blood boil for him. Tears roll down my cheeks and freeze in place as I walk from Max's to my apartment in the cold, dark morning. It's a twenty-minute walk, and it's the longest twenty minutes of my life. I really fucked this up. I should have contained myself. He tried to stop me twice, and I just wouldn't take no for an answer. I ruined everything. And the worst part of it is that I was so sure of what I wanted last night. And now I have no idea.
As I make my way home, I feel the soreness and ache from our activities last night, and I hate myself more with every step I take. I should have popped some aspirins back at Max's before I left, but maybe it's better this way. I force myself to feel the pain, hoping that it'll work as punishment, so I can learn my lesson and never do that again.
Because I can't do that again. I'm not just talking about the sex. I mean I can't go through the whole ordeal of liking a guy and having all of my emotions get fucked up. I like Max. A lot. More than I should. My mind goes fuzzy around him until I can't think straight. Not being able to think straight and Max Talbot do not mix well together for me. I can't have a repeat of last night. I know what it's like to be hurt, and I can't go through all that again.
Max. Sure, he's different from John. He's sweeter and much more open about his feelings. It's not just in the way he makes me feel; it's in the way he can express how he feels. The way I see how he lets go and is himself around me. So genuine. I know what's going on in his head. For the most part, at least.
Shit. I need to stop comparing John and Max. When I juxtapose them against each other, Max seems so wonderful. But I know that they're so alike. Both tenacious and focused. One-track minds. Once they decide they want something, they go after it and will fight tooth-and-nail to get it. That's how it was with John. Once he had me hooked, once he knew I was his, he changed. Max will no doubt be the same. He'll hurt me, too. At least this time, I'm smarter. I know it will happen. I can end this now and save myself the months of mental recovery.
I ease my key into the lock and turn it gingerly and slowly. The clack as the deadbolt retracts is deafeningly loud; I'm sure Gina will hear it. I creep into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind me. It's barely after five in the morning. All I want to do is crawl into bed and fall asleep, hoping that I'll wake up and find this all to be a dream. But I know I need to shower first. I can still feel Max on me. I can smell him on me, too.
In the bathroom, I turn on the hot water in the shower and strip out of my clothes as it heats to a scalding temperature. I glance at myself before I step into the tub to see some discolored patches of skin around my neck and a bruise on my ass from getting pounded into the floor. I look like a battered mess.
The water burns; it's too hot. I gasp from the shock of it as I step into the shower and let the spray flow over my face and body. After a few moments, I become accustomed to it. The hot water burns away the memories of his touch, and I lather up a loofah and scrub my skin to remove any traces of him. I'm not satisfied until I can't distinguish what feels raw because of Max's scruffy beard from what feels raw because of my own relentless exfoliating.
I stay in the shower long after the hot water tank is empty and only freezing cold water is discharged from the nozzle. My fingers are prunes and my teeth are starting to chatter by the time I turn off the spray and wrap myself in a towel. Tiptoeing into my room, I slip into pajamas and crawl into bed. On a typical Monday morning, I'd be getting up for work in about an hour. Instead, I'm curled up under the covers, my wet hair (as well as my hot tears) drenching my pillow.
At seven, Gina pokes her head into my room. "Yo, Char, are you getting up and getting a shower or what? Because I'm going to be late to class if you keep lollygagging." She pauses. "Are you okay?"
"I don't feel well," I explain. It's not a lie; I truly feel ill. My nerves have wrecked my stomach, and I feel nauseous with anxiety. I'm upset because I'm still mad at myself for not being able to control myself, worried about any adverse consequences, and sad that I won't be seeing Max again. Even though I'm telling myself that this is the best thing I could possibly be doing for myself, I'm still not convinced.
"Are you getting sick?" she holds her hand up to my forehead. "You feel fine. No temperature. How late were you out last night?"
That's the magic question. I don't want her to know what happened last night, specifically that I spent the night at Max's. That would just start an avalanche, a tidal wave of questions that I don't want to deal with just yet. "Oh, I don't know. Not too late," I try to dismiss.
"Well, what time did Max bring you home?"
"He didn't. I walked."
"You walked? That late on a Sunday night? Why in the world didn't he drive you?"
"I wanted to walk." I shrug awkwardly from my position lying down on the bed. In the context of this conversation, I'm intentionally misleading Gina even though the sentences themselves aren't lies. Is that the same thing as lying?
"You should have called for a ride. You shouldn't have been out in the cold. No wonder you don't feel well. Are you going to try to go to work?"
My position isn't typical since it's grant-funded. If I call off, I won't get paid. I don't have sick or personal time. I really should force myself to get dressed and go, but I want nothing more than to wallow in my misery for a while. "No. I don't want to get any of the kids sick. I'm sure this is just a twenty-four hour stomach bug or flu or something, and I'll be better tomorrow."
"Okay. Get some rest. I'm done with class by two, so I'll check in on you in the afternoon. You'd better call in to let them know you won't be coming in."
I don't have my phone. I don't know where it is. Shit. I take that back. I know exactly where it is: currently in between the cushions of Max's couch. I was in such a hurry to vacate that I didn't make sure I had everything. "Gina, can I borrow your phone?"
"Where's yours?" she asks, not to be rude, but as a gut reaction. We're a part of the cell phone generation; everyone has one, and it's permanently attached to either our hands or ears.
"Forgot it at Max's," I confess.
She shrugs and lends me her cell. "Well, that explains why you never called me back." I make the call quickly and listen to the secretary complain about the irresponsibility of kids my age and how she never called off for work, regardless of the injury or illness. I sigh, hang up, and roll over to the face the wall. Sleep takes over eventually.
I'm woken up by voices. The walls in our apartment are thin; I can't hear words or tones, but I know instinctively that Max has stopped by and he's talking to Gina. Their voices get louder as they move from the door to the hallway, pausing outside my closed door. A moment later, there's a knock.
"Hey, Char, are you up?" At first, I don't answer. Maybe if I can feign sleep, I can avoid this altogether. I'm facing the wall; she can't see me. "I know you're up."
"Sorry, G. Just a little out of it," I mumble into my pillow.
"Max brought your phone. Why don't you get out of bed, try and eat something or get some fluids into you, and visit with the living for a while?"
"No," I tell her bluntly. I don't want to see him. Didn't he get that impression when I left him in bed this morning?
"Come on," she coaxes. "You're just going to feel worse if you stay in bed all day."
I had to think on my toes. "I don't want to get him sick. He's leaving for California. He needs to be healthy so he can play."
"Suit yourself. He's looking particularly fine today," she says with a sing-song voice, still trying to convince me that it's worth my while to get up. If she only knew. When I don't reply, she closes the door behind her.
I groan and pull the covers over my head. I hate myself so much right now. I hate that I put myself into this situation by sleeping with him, I hate that I had to leave like that this morning, and I hate that he's here, making this so difficult. I can't hear exactly what they're saying because the blankets are insulating my ears and muffling their words, but I can still hear his voice. My skin tingles and my tummy flip-flops. It's like his voice is at just the right frequency, and my body is a tuning fork picking up on it.
Next thing I know, I hear the door open again. This time, it's Max's voice echoing through the room. "Charlotte."
Oh no. My hands instinctively clamp down on the blanket as my body freezes in its fetal position. Can't he ever take no for an answer? God, he's so frustrating. He's just like John. "Go away. I'm sick, Max." It's not a lie anymore. The stress of the situation is making me shake and cringe. I wish the bed would open up and swallow me. I may vomit.
I feel the bed dip behind me. He's so close. "Baby," he whispers. Now I'm shivering, goosebumps up and down my arms. I'm not supposed to melt when he says that. But I'm melting. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
Max pulls the covers around me, threatening to expose me; I hold onto them. If I see him, that's it: I'm done for. I really will melt and give in to him. I have to stay strong. I have to do this. I'm not trying to be mean to him, because this is for my benefit. My own good. "No."
"Why? What's going on? Are you naked under there?"
I roll my eyes. Of course he would be here looking for a fuck again. Never again. "No, Max. Just go away."
"It's a joke." Yeah right. "I don't care about getting sick. I just wanted to see you before the road trip because I'll be gone for a week. Over a week." He pauses, as if letting that sink in. As if that piece of knowledge is going to make a difference in my decision. It won't. In fact, I'm glad he's going to be gone, because that'll make this easier on me if he's not around to tempt me into seeing him.
Now he's rubbing my back. Oh lordy. I'm going to need another shower to erase this feeling. My skin is aflame from his touch, even though the thick comforter and the sweatshirt I'm wearing. I want to roll over and move into his touch. "I wish you wouldn't have left this morning without saying anything, especially if you're sick. You shouldn't have walked home. You know I would have driven you."
"It's fine. Now go." Can't he take a hint? I need him to go now. The longer he's here, the more I want to give in to him.
He speaks slowly. "Okay, okay. I get it. I'll call you when I land. I hope you feel better. I'm going to miss you."
The tears begin to roll down my face. I'm glad he can't see me. This would be easier if he wouldn't say the perfect things. "Okay."
"I'll see you next week?" Is that a question? Because the answer is no. He won't be seeing me ever again.
The questioning tone of his voice pushes a dagger through my heart. Max isn't supposed to be like this now. Whatever happened to wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am? If he feels bad for taking advantage of me, he shouldn't. This is all my fault. I'm giving him the easy out: no need for apologies, no need for sore feelings. I choke out an indeterminate sound that I mean as a "no" but hope he interprets as a "yes," just so he'll leave.
I didn't want this to happen; this is what I was trying to prevent. But my heart's breaking all over again. He leaves, and the weight that's gone from my shoulders has shifted to my chest, in the place where my heavy heart once was.
Even though that felt so difficult, I know that was easy compared to what comes next. Here comes the hard part. I hear my door fly open and bang off my desk with a large wooden crack. "Charlotte Marie Bickley! You have some serious explaining to do!"