It hadn’t been my goal to end up in Chris’s arms. There really wasn’t an explanation for it, either. Oh, I had plenty of excuses for what happened, and I had been playing them over and over in my head, trying to get one to stick: We were caught up in the moment, we were both feeling lonely, old emotions bubbled to the surface, I had a number of weak reasons.
The truth was, I had thrown myself at him and he, in true Chris fashion, had simply rolled with it.
Once I had released my death-grip on him, I climbed out of the fountain and ran. It wasn’t really clear to me what had upset me the most: the fact that I had kissed another man while I was, effectively, engaged to Jamie? Or was it that the way he said my name indicated that he regretted it immediately – and long before I did?
He caught up with me quickly, his shoes and socks clutched in one hand, the 6-pack in the other. “Stop! Why are you running? Talk to me, Lexi!”
It was hard to meet his eyes. I was so ashamed and I couldn’t imagine what he must be thinking. I finally pushed my shoulders back and faced him. “Chris, I’m so sorry. That should have never happened – I shouldn’t have done that – it was totally uncalled for and inappropriate. Let’s just get you back to your car, we’ll both go home, and let’s forget this ever happened.”
His shoulders slumped and he stared at his shuffling feet. “I don’t want to forget it, Lex,” he mumbled.
When he met my gaze, his eyes were blazing with hope. “I don’t want to forget it! I want – I don’t regret that it happened. Not at all. And I don’t want to make your life any more complicated, honest to God! But…”
His voice trailed off as he set down what he was holding and put his hands on my shoulders.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since we had dinner that night, Lexi. You’re different in some ways, but still the same girl deep down. The girl with the infectious laugh, the smart sense of humor, the Texas-sized heart.” He trailed his fingers along my cheek. “The girl I fell for so many years ago.”
I wasn’t sure if it was, but I felt like my jaw was laying on the ground. There was no way I was hearing what I thought I was hearing.
“Chris…What are you saying?”
He stepped closer, his hands resting on my waist while I gaped at him. “I’m saying…Shit. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, a lot weighing on you. I know you’re confused and the last thing I want is to add to all the noise. But I don’t think our story is over yet.”
Frowning, I pushed against his chest. “This is a joke, right? You’re messing with me.”
I sat on the bench to put my shoes back on and Chris sat next to me to do the same. Neither of us said anything until we were done and stood facing each other again.
“You’re not joking, are you?”
With one corner of his lips lifted into a grin, he shrugged. “I’m not. I can’t tell you what you should do, I would never presume to try to make your choice for you. But I would love to see you a little. Or a lot, actually, if you’d let me. You can’t deny there’s something strong between us, even all these years later! Maybe that’s why you can’t go through with the wedding.”
“You think I postponed the wedding because I still have feelings for you? That’s a little conceited, isn’t it?”
We pulled into the parking lot of Rudy’s and I killed the engine. I turned to face Chris and even in the shadows, I could see his dimples. He was smirking at me! As though my whole life wasn’t just flipped over! Like he thought it was all a colossal joke. I must have been scowling because he cleared his throat and switched to a neutral expression.
“It’s not conceited. When you called off the wedding, I-“
“Postponed,” I snapped. He looked confused so I explained it further. “The wedding wasn’t called off. It was postponed.”
His lips twitched. “Right. Of course. Sorry.” He cleared his throat and continued. “I was the first one you called, the first one you wanted to see after. We had such a great time together at dinner, it was like no time had passed at all! And, judging by what just happened in the fountain, the attraction between us is still very strong. I mean, I’ve been having dreams about you, for god’s sake!”
Could that really be the underlying reason? Was I afraid that things wouldn’t last forever with Jamie because I didn’t want them to last forever? I closed my eyes to stop my mind from chasing itself with this impossible question. But I had to admit that what passed between Chris and me couldn’t be ignored.
Staring out the windshield and gripping the steering wheel, I didn’t know what to say. So many thoughts and feelings were fighting each other inside me I couldn’t pull one in focus long enough to express it.We sat in silence for several minutes until Chris sighed.
“I’m not going to try to force your hand here, Lexi. The last thing I want to do is add to your stress.” He tucked my hair behind my ear and whispered, “I just want you to know that I care. That I’m here for you if – when you need me. When you’re ready.”
I swallowed hard as he got out of the car, refusing to look at him. My hands were white-knuckled on the steering wheel and my gaze was locked on a spot far off in the distance. Through the blurry veil of my tears I watched his truck pull away.
“I kissed Chris.”
Kelly choked on her coffee, her eyes wide as she tried to catch her breath.
I kept my head down, examining my coffee cup and drowning in my own guilt. I deserved every ounce of judgment Kelly was about to lay on me. There wasn’t anything she could say that I hadn’t already been beating myself up with since that night.
I buried my face in my hands. “I know…I’m the worst.”
She didn’t say anything, so I risked a glance at her face. I fully expected fire to be shooting from her nostrils or something similar, but instead she looked worried. Her eyebrows were drawn together, and her mouth was twisted sideways. Her pensive face.
“Come on,” I urged her. “Let me have it! I’m a horrible human being and Jamie deserves so much better and I should just hide in a hole for eternity. You can say it – we both know it’s the truth.”
Her head wagged from side to side, the same expression on her face.
“I don’t think you’re horrible. I think you’re confused.” She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “Does Jamie know?”
“Nooo,” I groaned. I stared at the ceiling and tried to imagine how that conversation might go.
It wouldn’t be pretty.
Explaining the whole night to my best friend was therapeutic, to an extent. When I got to the part where I actually put my lips on Chris’s I was surprised at my racing heart and the butterflies in my stomach. Damn.
I told her about his parting offer and when I was finished my throat was starting to close up, trying to hold back the tears that threatened once again.
“Kell, I don’t know what to do! I’m such a mess. Why did I do that? Why would I do that to Jamie?”
She smirked over the top of her cup. “Well, you didn’t do it to Jamie. You did it to Chris.”
I scowled. “I don’t need you to be a smart ass right now, thanks.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Kelly leaned back in her chair and regarded me silently for a moment. Then her eyes lit up and her face split in a huge smile. “But I know what you do need, my dear friend.”
The look on her face made me wary and exhausted before she said anything more. That look was usually the precursor to something wild and, sometimes, dangerous.
“I’m afraid to ask…”
Kelly pulled out her cell phone and began typing away, winking at me with a grin.
“No fear, Lex. We’re going on a road trip!”