We lay on the couch, my back to his chest, his arm snug around me. We were supposed to be watching TV, but his forehead was pressed into my neck, and I was grilling him on the first days of my sickness.
“What did Eric say when you called him?”
“He wasn’t upset, if that’s what you’re asking. Half the cast is sick now, I think.”
Great. Our show was going to suck balls if we were all exhausted all the time. We could call it an experimental piece—Phaedra Lethargic.
I asked another question. “What did he say about you taking care of me?”
His forehead lifted off my neck. “He doesn’t know. He told me to get you in bed, and you’d be fine. He suggested that I use your phone to call your Mum.”
That would have been horrific. Knowing my mother, she would have asked him when he planned to pop the question right after she found out his name.
“But you stayed.”
“I couldn’t just leave you. I told Eric I wasn’t feeling well either, and I stayed with you.”
“Do you really have to ask?”
“I do.” I’d heard him all those weeks ago on that phone call, heard him say that he didn’t care, that I was just inconvenient. Whatever reason he’d stayed… I needed to hear it.
He said, “Well then, if we’re doing this, I’m doing it the right way.”
He tried to sit up behind me, but our position on the couch was snug, and we were both still a little out of sorts, so we ended up tangled, him practically on top of me. I was still stuck on my side, squished beneath him. He tried to wiggle off of me, but it was reminiscent of a turtle on it’s back. Finally, he gave up, and lifted up just enough so that I could turn onto my back, and then he lowered himself more gently on top of me.
Despite the fact that we’d slept in the same bed for a week, this was still intimate, still exciting, still terrifying. He held himself up on his elbows as much he could, but he was weak, so his weight still pressed in to me.
I liked it.
“What was I saying, again?” He asked. “Oh, right, that I might be falling in love with you.”
I blinked. Then blinked again.
I blink-blink-blinked my way through a multitude of emotions in mere seconds—shock, disbelief, excitement, fear, lust, uncertainty, and settled on something… something too big for a name. There was a galaxy inside of me—complex and infinite and miraculous and fragile. And at the center was my sun. Garrick. Love. The two were like synonyms to me now. He was falling in love with me? With me?
A brush of his hand brought me out of that universe, and back into the moment. “You could drive a man crazy with that kind of silence.”
“I love you, too.” I said. Then I remembered that he hadn’t quite said those three words. He’d said he was falling in love with me. And there had been a maybe in there. Shit. “I mean… what I should have said was that I feel the same. I’m just falling, too. Because already being in love with you is too fast. That would be crazy. It’s too much, right? It’s too much. It’s too fast. So… I’m not in love with you. I’m not. Not that you’re not loveable, it’s just there’s a difference between falling in love and being in love. And we are the first and not the second, not yet. So, I too may be falling in love with you. That’s what I meant to say. That’s all I meant to say.” I was falling apart. His eyes were soft and unchanging and gave nothing away, so I kept devolving into incoherency. Finally, he kissed me, quickly, but it felt like a punctuation, like I could finally stop talking.
I sighed, “You’re supposed to do that before I start crazy-talking.”
He laughed and kissed me again, a little longer this time.
“I like your crazy talk. Better yet, I love your crazy talk. It’s settled. I’m no longer falling. I am definitely in love with you. That’s not too much, is it?” His grin was blinding and so mocking that I gave him a swift pinch to the arm.
He didn’t even have the decency to look pained. He just kissed me, pressing all of his weight in to me, and it was the best kind of ‘too much.’
I’d always thought too much, too much in my head, as Eric said. But since I’d met Garrick, I had an embarrassing tendency to stop thinking completely. The things that came out of my mouth as a response were almost always embarrassing, but sometimes… they worked out. Sometimes, saying the first thing that came to mind went well. Sometimes simple and honest worked the best.
I hoped this was one of those moments.
“I’m a virgin,” I told him. “That’s why I ran away the night we met. I didn’t have a cat. I wasn’t with Cade. I was just afraid.”
He paused mid-kiss on my neck. Then, slowly, like shifting-of-tectonic-plates-slowly lifted his head. He stared at me, into me, through me. I resisted the urge to hide my face, to run away screaming, to make up ridiculous excuses involving some other kind of animal. I whispered, “You could drive a girl crazy with that kind of silence.”
He reacted—it was small—the skin between his eyebrows pinched together.
“Let me get this straight… you didn’t have a cat? Did you get a cat just so that you wouldn’t have to tell me you were a virgin?”
I pressed my lips together to keep them from trembling. I nodded. The look on his face was somewhere between shock and amusement. He was flabbergasted. That was the best word. His flabber had been thoroughly gasted.
“You said you loved my craziness,” I reminded him.
“I do. I love you. It’s just… honestly? I’m relieved.”
“You’re relieved that I’m a virgin? What, did you think I was a hoe-bag?”
“I would never think you were a hoe-bag.” Was it completely inappropriate to find the way he says ‘hoe-bag’ adorable? “But I knew you were hiding something. I was worried there was some other reason you didn’t want to be with me. I’ve been paranoid about it for months.”
“You’ve been paranoid? I heard that phone call where you said I was an inconvenience. You were planning to change jobs because of me. I was petrified if I ever looked at you too long or gave away how much I missed you that you’d pack up and leave.”
“What are you talking about? I was never planning to leave.”
“I heard you. That day I came by the office. You were on the phone with someone back in Philadelphia, and you said you were over us, that it had just been a inconvenience—“
He held a hand to my lips, “Bliss, now I will stop your crazy talk. While our situation is anything but convenient, you have never been an inconvenience to me. And I wouldn’t have left even if they fired me. I was far too enamored with you.” I resisted the urge to correct his use of the past tense. He is enamored with me. He loves me. God, that felt good. So good, I might get it tattooed somewhere on my body.
He blew out a breath, and the blond strands on his forehead danced in response. “The phone call was actually about something that happened before I left Philadelphia. It’s part of why I’d left Philadelphia. “
I remembered that long ago day that I’d asked why he left Philly, he’d changed the subject rather effectively by kissing me. I hadn’t cared then. Maybe if I had, things would have happened differently. He shifted off of me, once more on his side next to me. He barely looked at me as he spoke, “I had a friend, Jenna. Our relationship was a lot like your relationship with Cade. We became friends during graduate school, and even though I knew it was a bad idea, we tried to be more. I cared about her, but as a friend, and nothing more. When I ended the relationship—well, it was a disaster. We were working on a show together. We did a lot of work at the same theatres, and much like the early Phaedra rehearsals—we ruined everything we did together. As a result, I was having trouble finding work and most of our friends had taken Jen’s side, so when Eric offered me an out, I ran. I was so ashamed at first. I’d quit. I’d given up. And I’d lost a good friend in the process. The phone call you heard was about Jen. That’s what I was over. And that’s why I came down so hard on you and Cade. I was terrified you would go to him, even though I knew you were just friends. I was scared you’d make the same mistake I did. I’m sorry. I handled this all so badly. If I had told you when you asked you might have understood—“
It was my turn to stop him with a kiss. I turned onto my side, and pulled him against me. I poured every misplaced emotion into that kiss—the uncertainty I’d felt about his feelings, the fear of my virginity, the remorse over all the time we’d wasted. I let go of all those things, sent them off with a kiss.
“I understand now,” I told him. “That’s what matters.”
“I love you,” he said. I would never get tired of that.
“I love you, too.”
He said, “Can you say that one more time? So, that I can be sure it’s not the sickness addling my brain?”
I kissed him, softly. In our current state, softly was about all we could manage.
“I love you, Garrick.”
It was shocking how not scared I was.
A gold necklace sat weighted and heavy around my neck. My hair was piled in curls and jewels, and my dress, though sweeping and simple, was heavy and lush. I sat staring in the dressing room mirror as the makeup designer put finishing touches on my hair, and I completed the application of my stage makeup. It was opening night, and despite my heavy costume and jewelry, I felt like I was going to float away.
Excitement rushed faster than blood through my veins.
We were here. Finally. The opening had been delayed a week due to the widespread sickness, but even so, I thought the show was good. Really good. And I wasn’t alone.
Kelsey came careening into the room, looking drop dead gorgeous as Aphrodite. “I know, I know. You don’t have to stare. I know how amazing I look.”
I smiled, just glad to have her back. She’d been the only one of my close friends to evade the dreaded mono, which was incredibly cruel, considering spin the bottle had been her idea.
She’d shown up on the last day of spring break to demand we “stop being prissy girls and make up already,” only to find Garrick and I curled up in bed together. She’d pieced together pretty quickly why I hadn’t wanted to go out dancing that night, and with a wide grin backed out of my room saying, “Don’t mind me. I didn’t see anything. My lips are sealed.” At first, Garrick had totally freaked, but since then she had definitely become an ally.
She smiled at Megan, the designer finishing my hair and said, “Looks great, Meg! You’re fantastic! I think Alyssa needed you for something though, so you might want to finish up fast.”
Megan nodded, spraying the final product with half a can of hairspray before fleeing the dressing room.
Kelsey threw herself into a chair beside me, “You’re welcome. And first, you look gorgeous. I’m a little envious. Shouldn’t Aphrodite have a better dress?”
I rolled my eyes.
“All right, okay. Nevermind. Secondly, you’re going to be amazing tonight. Seriously. Like, give her a Tony now amazing. Third, break a leg.” She leaned in and licked the side of my face, some weird pre-show tradition she’d had for as long as I’d known her. “And lastly, there’s someone else waiting outside to wish you a good show. You’ve got five minutes until warm-up. I can promise you privacy for three, so you better take advantage while you can.”
She placed a quick air kiss on my cheek, skipping toward the door and shut it behind her once Garrick had slipped inside.
“Hi,” He said.
He stepped farther into the room, and I stood. It was disconcerting to see myself in the dozens of mirrors all around the room, so I focused on him, which wasn’t hard. He looked gorgeous as always.