Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Breakaway - Unedited Chapter 2

Eric didn’t say anything the whole way back to his house.
Normally, I didn’t mind silence. I had a lot of it. It was comfortable to me lately. I lived alone and I didn’t get out much, other than going to work.
Even at work I did most of the talking, not my clients. I was a personal trainer at Love Handles, a gym for women. It was safe for me there—no men. No one to ask me out for drinks after work. No one to smile at me in a way I could misinterpret. No one to trigger a panic attack.
Silence was usually my friend.
This time? Not so much.
This silence allowed my mind to wander too much. Even just thinking about a man touching me could sometimes trigger a panic attack, and the trip from the Pearl District to Alameda Ridge where he lived was a good fifteen minutes. That was way too long to think about the fact that I’d just asked Eric to touch me, and so much more. Hell, I hadn’t even been able to really get the words out. Stuff? That’s what I’d said. I couldn’t even properly ask him for what I wanted—what I needed. I couldn’t say the word sex to him. Not that I was ready for that—not yet. But I hoped I would be before I had to go back home to Providence, back to my job and my isolation and my life as I knew it.
He was bound to think I wasn’t emotionally ready for this, that I wasn’t mature enough. He still called me kid more often than not. That was how he thought of me, how he’d always thought of me. As a kid. A little girl. Not nearly ready to handle the emotional implications of even the smallest forms of physical intimacy or, God forbid, sex.
But that was just it. Emotionally, I wanted that connection. I wanted to be able to have a relationship, to have a boyfriend and go on dates and maybe someday get married. I’d been through enough counseling that I knew I was ready for that. I just didn’t know if I could get to where my body could handle it.
Panic attacks are crazy beasts.
They don’t care what you think you’re ready for. They don’t care what you want. They just take control, and then you suffer.
I’d had enough. I was sick and tired of letting some wacko chemical response in my body determine where I worked or what friends I had or if I could ever allow myself to fall in love—or, maybe more precisely, to allow someone to love me.
This would only work if Eric would help me, though, and he didn’t seem all that happy about me asking him, if his silence the whole way to his house was any indication.
By the time he pulled into his garage, I’d been trying to focus on my breathing for a good ten minutes so I wouldn’t succumb to another panic attack. He turned off the ignition and got out. I’d barely undone my seatbelt before he had opened my door for me.
Instead of going inside, he opened the back of his SUV and reached in for my suitcases.
“You don’t need to bring my bags in. I’ve got a reservation at—”
“Cancel it. I’ll pay if they want to charge a cancellation fee.” He moved past me and inside, one bag in each hand.
I had to follow him if I wanted to argue further—which I did. I wanted his help, but I needed it to go at my pace. Staying in his house? Not ready for that. Nowhere close to ready for that. “I don’t want you to go—”
“I’m not going out of my way for you, so knock it off. You’re Soupy’s sister. You’re not staying in a hotel when you come to visit me, not when I have five guest bedrooms that almost never get used.”
I barely registered the rooms we were going through, the furniture, the things on the walls. It felt like it was all closing in around me, squeezing me through a too-narrow space. He started up a flight of stairs, and I followed because I didn’t know what else to do. He had my stuff, my bags.
At the end of a long hall, he opened a door, set my luggage against the wall, and flipped the light switch. I stayed just outside the room in the hall.
“You’ve got your own bathroom in here, and a closet. That door will take you out into the backyard if you need—if you need more air. There’s stairs on the outside that’ll take you down, and you’ve got a lock on that door and this one. I’m all the way down the hall, and Babs is set up in his own apartment, pretty much. He won’t have any reason to come down here. You’ll just see him in the living room and kitchen mainly.”
“Him?” That was the one word my mind latched onto in everything Eric had said.
“Yeah, Babs—Jamie Babcock. He’s a nineteen-year-old rookie. Made the team out of camp and didn’t have anywhere to live. I offered to let him stay here this season, get his feet under him some.”
I swallowed hard, but it didn’t help. The thought of someone else living here with Eric, another man, hadn’t crossed my mind when I’d decided to do this.
“He’s a good kid, Dana. You’d like him, if you’d let yourself. He’s got some sick mitts, too. A lot like yours, actually.” Eric moved out into the hallway. Without thinking, I squeezed into a corner to allow him as much room as possible, then mentally berated myself as soon as I realized what I’d done. He lifted a hand as though he intended to touch my cheek, but then let it drop back to his side. “Take some time to get yourself together. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready to talk.”
I watched him walk back the same way we’d come and then head down the stairs. Once I couldn’t see him anymore, I went into the bedroom and shut the door. Out of habit, I checked to be sure the lock worked properly. It did.
Then I moved across the room to the door leading outside. It was locked, so I opened it and went out onto the landing. The stairwell looked newer than the outside of the house, sturdy and well-constructed. As soon as I was inside again, I closed and locked the door, then examined the windows. All locked.
Everything seemed safe. Safe enough, at least.
My breathing still hadn’t leveled out, so I cracked open a window to let some cold air in, took off my coat, and lay down on the bed for a few minutes. By the time the air was making me chilly, I could feel that my pulse had returned to a more normal pace and I felt like more oxygen was making its way into my lungs.
I sat up on the edge of the bed and actually looked around the room for the first time, taking in everything that wasn’t strictly a safety concern. It was done in a peaches and cream color scheme, soft and easy on the eyes. Soothing.
It didn’t escape my notice that they were my colors. When I was six or seven years old, I told my parents I wanted a peaches and cream bedroom, and they’d indulged me. Even now, the bedroom in my apartment looked much the same as this bedroom.
The woods were all white-washed, smooth and with a homey, beachy feel. I drew my hand over the top of the nightstand beside me, then opened the drawer. It held two items: a flashlight and pepper spray—two things he knew I’d need to feel secure.
It didn’t make sense. Eric didn’t know I was coming, so how…?
The more important question might be: why?
Leaving the flashlight and pepper spray in the nightstand, I closed the drawer and then crossed over to close the window, looking down at the stairwell one more time as I locked it. It definitely wasn’t part of the initial design. This was an older house, part of a historical district. He’d clearly had a lot of restoration and remodeling done to it. Houses like this one didn’t have outside stairs. They had step leading up to porches and internal stairwells.
Eric had put the stairs in. He must have.
The scents of garlic and lemon met me when I opened the door to my room, and my stomach growled in response. I followed the hallway to the stairs and down. It opened up to a huge open area, living spaces coming together with the dining room and kitchen. This all looked so much more like what I would expect of his house than my room did, with sleek, modern lines, blacks and whites and grays with splashes of bright red tossed in here and there.
Eric was standing in front of the stove with pots and pans going over three different flames. He smiled when he saw me. “I thought you’d be hungry since we didn’t stay to eat at Amani’s.”
“I am.” I hadn’t realized it until the garlic hit me.
He drained a pot of pasta, then tossed it into a sauce. “Lemon, garlic, and olive oil. No red sauce. I know it gives you heartburn.”
“I didn’t know you could cook.” In all the time I’d known him, Eric had relied on his mother or mine to cook for him. Either that, or he’d gone out to eat. It was always someone else cooking, though, never him.
“Living alone for as long as I have, you learn to do a lot of things for yourself. And being a professional athlete this long—it’s hard to eat right if you can’t cook. Gotta fuel the body.” He flipped the two steaks he had on the grill pan. “Medium well?”
He nodded toward a bowl on the bar near him. “Can you toss the spinach?”
I nodded and took a seat on the barstool. Caramelized onions, dried cranberries, and a balsamic vinaigrette were in the bowl as well, and a bit of gorgonzola cheese. It was practically a gourmet meal he’d made for me. Nothing like what I’d expect from a bachelor.
I picked up the salad tongs and started to toss it.
“Babs texted.” Picking up the empty pot from the pasta, Eric moved to the sink to wash it. “He’s going to the Trailblazers game with a couple of the boys. Won’t be back until late. That’ll give us plenty of time to talk without being interrupted.”
I nodded so he’d know I heard him, but I was still pretending to focus on the salad. I’d probably over-tossed it, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t, any more than I could have stopped myself from picking at my nail earlier until it bled. “That bedroom?”
He set the pot down on the counter and turned off the faucet. “I thought if you ever came to visit—with Soupy or your parents—you’d need somewhere you could feel safe. I never thought you’d come by yourself, though.”
“I didn’t think I would either. The stairs? You had those put in?”
“You always need an escape route.” He said it in a very matter-of-fact manner, like anyone would have thought of it, would have done something like that.
I did always need an escape route. I knew that, and I knew Mom and Dad and Brenden all knew. But I didn’t think Eric knew, or maybe it was more that I didn’t think he would have cared enough to do something like that for me in his home. I might never have come to visit him. I hadn’t once made the journey to Portland in the seven years he had been playing for the Storm.
But he’d created a safe haven for me in his house anyway.
My stomach was full of flutters, unfamiliar and as uncomfortable as they were exciting. I carried the salad bowl to the table to hide my face from him.
He’d already put out two place settings. I felt him come up behind me and fought the urge to slip to the side. He didn’t touch me, though. He set the pasta bowl down beside the salad and then pulled out a chair for me.
“Sit. I’ll bring the steaks over and we can talk while we eat.”
He pushed the chair in behind me, only touching the chair and not me. Then he pointed to my left. “Straight path to the front door. Nothing between you and escape.”
I couldn’t speak around the thickness of my tongue. A nod would have to suffice.
He came back a minute later and put a steak on my plate and the other on his own before sitting down across from me. Tentatively, I reached for the salad and put some into my bowl.
“So,” Eric said, reaching for the pasta, “here’s what I’m thinking. You’ll stay here tonight, and tomorrow morning before practice I’ll take you back to the airport. Put you on a plane to either Seattle, so you can visit Soupy before you go home, or straight back to Providence. Your choice.”
That wasn’t really a choice, though. Not a viable one. I had no intention of going back to Providence for six weeks, and my brother may love me, but this was something he couldn’t help me with even if he wanted to.
I stabbed into my steak, putting all my fears into the effort of cutting through the meat. “Eric, please just consider—”
“You’re not ready, kid.”
Kid. There it was again.
“You think you are. I know it. And you’re frustrated.” He opened a bottle of red wine and poured some for both of us. “I get it, Dana.”
“No, you don’t get it.” I pushed back in my chair, ready to dart out that door, before I recognized my response for what it was. I couldn’t keep running. Running didn’t solve anything. I had to stay. I had to talk to him. “When a woman flirts with you, you don’t feel like there’s a giant ball of fire eating you alive from the inside out. When a woman touches your hand or your arm, you don’t stop breathing, your lungs don’t swell up and close off until your face is purple and someone calls 911. You don’t have blurred vision, you don’t break out in an uncontrollable sweat, your pulse doesn’t race and your chest doesn’t hurt so much you think you’re having a heart attack. Don’t tell me you get it.”
“Fair enough.” Eric sipped from his glass. “But let me tell you what I’ve seen since I got here today. You couldn’t look me in the eye when you were asking me to touch you—and stuff, as you so eloquently put it. You couldn’t say the damn word. Sex. You couldn’t tell me what you wanted. You jumped when I accidentally touched you when I was helping you put your coat on. You couldn’t handle that waitress thinking you were my girlfriend. You tensed up when I forgot and put my hand on your back for just a second. You’re not ready for this, however much you may think you are, and however much you want it.”
Everything he’d observed was right, but he’d fallen short on his interpretation.
“Don’t you see, though?” I kept stabbing my steak, cutting and cutting, breaking it down into pieces so small a toothless baby could eat it. “That’s not going to go away on its own, no matter how much counseling I go through and no matter how much time passes.”
“More time could help.”
“It’s not. It won’t. If time could make this better, or counseling, or prescriptions…anything, I’d be past it already. I’ve tried it all except—”
“Except what? Except asking me to touch you, to force you to experience all of those things even when I see what it does to you? What, do you think I should just hold you down while you freak out right in front of me, because of me, because of what I’m doing to you? You might as well ask me to rape you.” He blanched and pushed his plate away. “That’s not going to happen, I can tell you that.”
“You’re not being fair.”
“Oh, I’m not? Tell me what it would be if not that. Tell me how you think this will play out. I’m all ears.”
“I asked you because I thought—I thought you could be patient with me. Take things at my pace.”
The look from earlier was back. His eyes were so intense, so filled with anger there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that if I was a man, he’d hit me. If we were on the ice, at least.
“Even better. A nice, prolonged form of torture. That’ll sit really well on my conscience for the next fifty years while you lock yourself away from the world in your apartment.”
He took his plate, still full since he hadn’t eaten a bite, stalked back into the kitchen and tossed it all down the garbage disposal. Even from a distance, I could see the line between his brows, could nearly hear his jaw grinding in frustration.
“The cow was dead before it hit your plate,” he said a minute later.
I looked down, and through my tears saw that I’d broken my steak into mush. I set the knife down and tried to eat it, because I was hungry. It’s not very easy to eat when you’re crying though.
I had been so sure Eric would help me.
Always, the whole time I’d known him, he’d told me if I ever needed him, for any reason at all, he’d do anything he could to help me. Not once had I ever taken him up on that, not really. I mean, I’d had him forge my dad’s signature on my report card once in middle school, but that’s not the same. That was me being a stupid kid and thinking I could sneak a bad grade past my parents without them noticing. That wasn’t a real need.
He stayed in the kitchen, washing all the pots and pans, wiping down the counters, cleaning the range top. I ate until I couldn’t make myself take another bite for fear it might come back up. Conflict always made my stomach nervous, and this whole day had been filled with conflict.
“You didn’t eat much.” He met my eyes for a second before taking my plate away. “You used to eat better. Not like a bird.”
“I usually do. Eat better.”
He nodded, then washed my plate, running the garbage disposal again. After he turned the water off and left the dishes to dry in the rack, he dried his hands on a towel and came to sit across from me again. He pushed the towel across to me. “Dry your eyes. I always hate it when you cry.”
I dabbed the towel on my cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
“Soupy’ll kill me.”
My breath caught a little. If Eric was thinking about Brenden’s reaction, then he was considering it.
“The hockey world is small. You know that.” Eric poured himself more wine, then looked at my still-full glass before returning the bottle to the table. “He’ll find out you’re here in no time. And he’ll kill me. It’ll be even quicker this year than it would have before—now that he signed with the Storm to be the captain in Seattle.” The Portland Storm’s minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League was based in Seattle. Brenden had been happy for the opportunity, even though it still wasn’t an NHL team like he wanted to be playing for. “First time someone gets called up or sent down, they’ll be all over telling him. Hell, some of the boys who’ve played up there earlier this year might tell him even before that happens. They might feel like they owe it to him.”
“I could explain it to him.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said through a laugh. “Right. You’ll explain it to him as well as you explained it to me, huh? When I thought you wanted me to pay some crackpot therapist to have sex with you? Good plan. I’m sure that’ll go over really well.”
“Brenden trusts you. And he knows I trust you. You won’t push me too hard, but you won’t go easy on me either.”
“This is about a lot more than just trust.”
I knew that all too well.

“Physical intimacy and emotional intimacy are tied pretty closely together,” I said to her. I still couldn’t believe I was thinking about going along with this, but if I was, I had to be sure she had thought about every aspect of it. “More so for women than for men, and I’m not saying that to be an ass. What happens if you start having feelings for me? This is all going to be new for you. How are you going to handle it?”
And then there was the problem of what if I started having feelings for her. But that was minor, in comparison. I could deal with my own heartbreak if it came to that. I’d gotten by before after having my heart shattered. By her, even.
But for me to be the cause of Dana’s hurt? I didn’t know what I’d do with that.
“I’m not asking you for a lifetime commitment or anything, Eric. I know I might get hurt, but I have to do this. Please?”
It was her eyes that would kill me, not her brother. Soupy wouldn’t like it, but I could eventually make him understand. At least I could make him understand as well as I did, which wasn’t necessarily saying a lot. But fuck, her eyes! Even when she was a little girl, she had this ability to rip my heart out and squeeze it, just with those brown eyes. They’d get so big, too big for her face, and they’d fill with these huge crocodile tears. I’d never seen such big tears, building and building until I was sure they had to spill over any time, but they just kept building. And then when they finally did fall, it made me feel like the biggest asshole of all time, because I couldn’t keep her from getting hurt.
She didn’t have those tears building now, but her eyes were wide enough and so full of fear and hurt and vulnerability, I knew the tears were coming.
I couldn’t handle that again. Not so soon. She’d just stopped crying a minute ago.
“How long do you intend to stay?”
We were over halfway through the regular season, and the Storm hadn’t made it to the playoffs for three years in a row. We were right in the thick of things, but there were no guarantees. We had to finish out the season better than we’d started, at the very least. I couldn’t really afford to lose my focus right now.
But Dana never asked me for anything, not even when she desperately needed help. And she was determined. I knew how determined she could be. It was what made her one of the best women’s hockey players in the world, back in the day. It was what had kept her isolated for seven years. She was going to use that same determination now to get someone to do what she’d asked me to do.
The thought of anyone else touching her wasn’t something I could contemplate. I might not be sure I had the stomach for what she wanted me to do, but if someone was going to touch her, it would damn well be me.
“I took a leave of absence from work. FMLA. I’ve got six weeks. I even found someone to sublet my apartment.”
Six weeks. That would pretty much coincide with all that was left of the regular season. Of course it would.
“You know that my life requires me to be around the guys a lot. Babs lives here. Sometimes the boys will come over and hang out. Practice, work outs, pre-game meals, games, road trips, charity events… It’s not just me you’ll be with. They won’t touch you, but they’ll be around.”
For the first time all day, Dana met my eyes—really, truly looked at me, not just in the general vicinity of me, or somewhere past me, but at me.
“I know. But you’ll be with me.”
I heard what she said. But I also heard what she didn’t say. I’m safe when I’m with you.
Was she? Did she really believe that, or was she just trying to convince herself of it?
“It’ll probably be best if they think you’re my girlfriend. No need for PDA in front of them, but I don’t want anyone thinking you’re on the market. Just in case.”
Norty, in particular, needed to know to keep his mitts to himself. The guy got around, and Dana was just his type—blonde, tall, fit, and curvy.
“Okay.” Dana agreed to that too easily. That should have been a harder condition for her to accept, because of what it implied. Especially considering how she’d reacted to the waitress’s comment earlier.
I dragged a hand over my face, feeling the scrape of stubble on my palm. I’d have to shave tomorrow or it’d start looking like I was growing a playoff beard. I’m not superstitious, but it didn’t seem like a good plan to taunt the hockey gods with something like that.
“Are you sure about this? I mean, really, truly sure?”
She looked so damn hopeful it made me want to punch something. How could she feel hopeful when she was asking me to torture her?
“So you’ll do it? You’ll help me?”
“You’ll have to let me tell you how beautiful you are, things like that.”
Just like that, she recoiled. “I’m not—”
“You are. Beautiful. You always have been, and you always will be, and you need to hear it.”
She was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever known, and it was mainly because she didn’t want to be. Dana didn’t wear makeup. She didn’t dye her hair. She didn’t get fake nails or Botox or think about a boob job or liposuction. The thing she wanted most was to avoid men’s notice, but her efforts had the opposite effect. At least on me. She was all Dana, all natural, no additives or preservatives.
And she was beautiful.
“You have to let me tell you that as much as I want and without brushing it off. And you have to start to believe it.”
She took a breath. “That’s going to be hard.”
Compared to everything else she wanted, letting me tell her she’s beautiful was the least of her worries. For either of us. I couldn’t decide if it was going to be harder on me or on her. Physically, I knew it would be worse for her. But there was a hell of a lot more going on here than just the physical.
“It’s all going to be hard.”
Dana nodded. “Okay. Will you do it?”
I couldn’t let her find someone else to do what should be my job. Hell, even if she didn’t have the panic attacks, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand by while knowing someone else was touching her. I didn’t know what that meant, or at least I didn’t want to admit it to myself. “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I already regretted it, and I hadn’t done anything yet.
Dana smiled, a real smile, one of the first I’d seen on her face in far too long. “I wish…I wish I was brave enough to kiss you on the cheek.”
She used to do that all the time, back when she was a little girl. She would kiss her dad on the cheek, and Soupy…and after I’d been around a while, she started to kiss me on the cheek. She’d do it after I’d had a good game sometimes, or to thank me for some silly thing or another. Every now and then, she’d do it for no discernible reason at all.
No one else had ever done that to me. It was so chaste. So innocent. Sweet.
       She couldn’t wish for it nearly as much as I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment