Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chapter 17

I'm not strong enough to stay away
Can't run from you
I'd just run back to you
Like a moth I'm drawn into your flame
You say my name but it's not the same
You look in my eyes
I'm stripped of my pride
And my soul surrenders
And you bring my heart to its knees

And it's killing me when you're away
And I wanna leave
And I wanna stay
And I'm so confused
So hard to choose between the pleasure and the pain
And I know it's wrong
And I know it's right
And even if I tried to win the fight
My heart would overrule my mind
And I'm not strong enough to stay away
There's nothing I can do
My heart is chained to you
And I can't get free
Look what this love has done to me

(lyrics from Not Strong Enough – Apocalyptica ft Brent Smith

This is the hard part, she knows from experience. This is the part where she has to watch him go out there and do what he has to do. This is the part where he can get hurt. Oh not like a bull rider, ‘thank god for that’ she thinks as he stretches his long arms over his head and cracks his knuckles. But even that’s not the hardest part this time, she knows as he turns and gives her that hesitant little boy smile that is hopeful and pessimistic all at the same time. This is when she’s supposed to kiss him for luck and they both know it. He’s hoping she will and for her part Chelsea suddenly feels like she’s dangling at the end of some kind of thread, swinging in the wind between what if and why not. 

If she kisses him then they’re back together and Mike was just exactly what he had been meant to be all along; a rebound and nothing more. On the other hand, if she doesn’t kiss him, here in front of all of these people, some of them friends, then there will be questions, there will be looks and worse than that, she’ll have hurt him and after what he’d done by not taking advantage of her when she practically begged him to that seems unforgiveable. 

She can feel her pulse rise as she walks towards him and the way Jimmy tries not to look like an eager puppy tugs at her heart strings. She could still walk away. He knows it and she knows it and if he takes it for granted that she won’t then she definitely will. Even as she stands in front of him she hasn’t made up her mind completely. It isn’t until he grins like he’s just been given his heart’s desire and relief flashes behind his blue eyes that she knows. Right up until that moment she could have kissed his cheek and she knows as she goes up on tip toe now that if that was all she’d offered he’d have taken it gratefully. 

His arms are a familiar confinement when they wrap around the small of her back. They don’t remind her of being in an anaconda’s clutches like it does when Mike holds her but it is like putting on a seat belt, familiar, tried and true. His lips are warm and soft when they capture hers but the kiss doesn’t make her toes curl. The kiss is like the first mouthful of homemade apple pie; as warm and good as you remember it being, but it isn’t chocolate mousse. 

“Good luck Jimmy,” she whispers as he holds onto her a beat or two too long, almost like he’s afraid to let her go. 

“I’m going to make this run for you,” he tells her earnestly and she can’t help but smile and nod. She knows he’ll take down that steer and wrestle it into submission and when he does he’ll turn and grin up at her and if his hat hasn’t come off in the process he’ll toss it into the air. She knows all of that like she knows that the sun will go down tonight and come up again in the morning. 

“I’ll be right here,” she tells him and goes back up on tip toe to gently brush her lips against his again. He looks like a kid on Christmas morning. Her heart breaks a little but she holds that smile and all of the affection she has for him and every ounce of safety she feels in his presence in her eyes and when he turns and heads for the chute she knows the extra bounce in his step is something she’s put there. 

There are other girls, other women leaning on the rails watching the big men who do this event show off their muscles. She knows some of them and she looks longingly towards an empty spot at the railing where some of the other barrel riders are whistling and calling out bawdy cat calls to Jimmy as he climbs into the saddle. She can remember being one of them, being a little insecure when some of the girls with their blonde pony tails and flashy tasselled blouses would call out to him, offering their special favours if he won. 

“Chels?” She freezes as she turns to head in the direction of those familiar faces. Dropping her head she knows without needing him to tell her that he’s seen the whole exchange. The hurt in his voice makes it crystal clear that he’d seen it all.


Finding her in this crowd was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack, Mike thought as he took back his ticket and headed into the grandstands. He scanned every face as he sidestepped through the aisle, his ass bumping buckets of popcorn as he followed Brooks towards their seats. He hadn’t wanted to sit, hadn’t wanted to buy the tickets at all but it had been their only way in. Even now he didn’t want to sit, didn’t think that he could. 

He knew that she had to be hating him right now and as every single moment passed he could feel her getting further away from him. 

“Hey look at this,” Brooks shoved the program into his hand. Mike looked down at without seeing it and then looked helplessly at his friend. He couldn’t seriously want him to read this right now. Rolling his eyes the big forward reached over, opened it and pointed to the time and the event scheduled. “Just in time, that’s all I’m saying. His event is up.” 

Mike was from Calgary, he’d been going to Stampede his whole life but he never really got into the whole cowboy thing. Still, he knew what the steer wrestling was. It was for show offs; big guys landing on little cows and looking tough. He sneered. 

“Wonder if I can pay someone to sharpen up the cows horns and run the fucker through,” he hissed. The woman sitting beside them clapped her hands over her young daughter’s ears and Brooks shook his head. Mike shrugged and slid further down in his seat. 

“Can you just look for her without running your pie hole?” Brooks hissed back at him and Mike hunched his shoulders and tried to become one with the seat. There were all manner, shape and size of cowboys milling around the chutes. He’d thought he’d be able to pick Jimmy out but as hard as he stared at every single straw cowboy hat, one beanpole in jeans looked pretty much like the rest; until he saw her red hair. That was like a beacon in the darkness. 

Mike was on his feet and shoving his way down the aisle, stepping on toes and knocking over popcorn buckets and gallons of pop before winning his way to the stairs and flying down them. He thought he heard Brooks calling after him, spouting some kind of well meaning suggestion no doubt, but he’d had quite enough of the big man’s advice and ignored the voice behind him. Instead, he zeroed on the way her ass poured into those dark jeans and how the white stitching hugged her curves in a way that made his mouth water. 

“Hey buddy, where do you think you’re going?” Someone stepped in front of him and he had a split second to think that the guy had made a stupid decision before he straight armed him out of his path. Mike heard the guy call after him but just as he’d done with Brooks, he ignored the shouted warning and continued towards his goal. 

And then he wished he hadn’t. Then he wished he’d never woken up, never gotten dressed or got in the car to come to this god forsaken place. He swayed on his feet as he watched her go up on tip toes to offer her succulent mouth to the big dopey goof in the hat. He felt his stomach try and crawl up and out of his mouth as he watched their bodies fit together until there was no day light between them. He dry heaved as he saw the soft, love struck look on the big dick head’s face as he let her go. 

Go’ he told himself, ‘go now and pretend you didn’t see this’ but her name escaped his lips before he could listen to his own advice.  He was going to have to work on that, on thinking before he spoke and most importantly on considering his actions before he went running ahead like a bull in a china shop. If only he’d done that he might not be here now, he thought as he watched her scanning the faces of those nearest to her. He hoped she was looking for him but as her name escaped his lips unbidden, his mouth moving before he’d had a chance to stop himself, he knew, just by the way her head suddenly dipped and all of those red curls fell into her eyes that he was wrong and, worse than that, that he was much too late.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said quietly, looking at him through her lashes. He wanted to believe that she couldn’t face him. He was half afraid that she would and that he wouldn’t see himself in her eyes. He wanted to be fearless and tell her she was the one who shouldn’t be here but when he opened his mouth to say the words, those weren’t the words that spilled out. 

“I’m an ass; a fucking ass. Ask anyone. But that guy? I know I fucked up but...that guy, really?” Brooks had told him to grovel. Mike had planned to beg and he knew that he didn’t have the right to feel betrayed after what he’d done but he was currently fighting the urge to kick that skinny jean wearing cowpoke in the family jewels. 

“He’s…,” she turned to look towards where horses were currently being loaded into chutes and a hesitant smile tugged at one corner of her mouth. “He’s dependable,” she said quietly. In other words, not a cheating douchebag like him. Mike nodded. He didn’t need to be told. He knew what he’d done was the worst thing in the world. 

“I made a mistake,” he made a grab for her arm. She took a step back and stuck her hands in her back pockets. “Okay, a big, bad fucking huge ass mistake but I swear to god it will never happen again.” Her smile got sad and then she dropped her gaze and kicked her boot into the dirt. 

“I’m sure you mean that,” she whispered. He barely heard her over the announcer’s voice but he could read her lips, he’d had practice; all those nights of looking for instruction, harder, slower….

“What the…?” Mike moved faster than she could step away from him this time and grabbed her with both hands. “Fucking yell at me or something. C’mon let’s fight. Call me names. Jesus fucking Christ, don’t just stand there and act like it’s no big deal to you.” Those intense green eyes of hers looked into his and Mike felt the ground being pulled out from under his feet as he wondered how he could have already lost. It felt like he’d come out of the bathroom for the third period only to find he’d already missed the whole thing. 

“I don’t want to fight with you Mike,” she told him, her gaze poignant but unwavering. “You should just go.” It was on the tip of his tongue to ask where. He’d expected her to tell him to go to hell. He hadn’t expected her to be so damn calm. 

“But I told you I loved you.” It had come to this. He was panicking and reaching into the bottom of his bag of tricks and pulling out the only card he felt like he had left to play and she just stood there looking at him as if he was the very sweet but kind of slow kid in class. 

“I think that we both know that’s just something you say in the heat of the moment.” If she’d kicked him in the balls it couldn’t have hurt anymore Mike thought as he stared back at her. He’d been accused of a lot of things, been called a lot of names, on and off of the ice, but none of it, including the concussion he’d had last season had wounded him like this.  

“I guess if that’s what you want to believe it doesn’t matter what I say now huh?” he asked, putting on that mask he often wore out on the ice, the one that he hoped said he was one bad mamajama that shouldn’t be fucked with and more importantly that he didn’t care if you thought he was some kind of manboy for driving a scooter. “Well then I’ll just say it’s been a slice,” he said, giving her a smile that in no way matched the emotion he knew was in his eyes; the one where he kinda hoped her boyfriend fell off his horse and was trampled to death and that she grew old all alone. 

He held onto her a minute too long. Jesus Christ he thought he was going to cry as she blinked back at him, looking at him as if he was one of those scary guys from a horror movie whose face was all burlap sack and stitches, like she didn’t know him at all, which seemed right. 

He’d been a total fucking asshole and if she’d yelled and slapped and scratched he’d have gladly taken the abuse. He had no idea what to do with being kissed off like this. So with one last look at the freckles that bridged her nose and the way her hair curled against the moonlight pale skin of her cheeks, Mike forced himself to let go of her without saying any of the spiteful and angry words that were running around in his head, then he turned on his heel and left, without looking back. 

“Second’s not bad,” Jimmy reached across the bench seat of his pick up for her hand. Chelsea looked down at his big man paw with its long fingers and wondered if her hands were still shaking. She had been able to paint a smile on her face and congratulate him and she’d even been able to stand beside him like a dutiful girlfriend while other people patted him on the back and openly admired the gash the steer had opened on his arm like it was a trophy. Now that they were alone, she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to keep up the facade. 

“No,” she replied, giving him a quick smile, “not too bad at all.” He gave her hand a squeeze and then let it go for which she was grateful. Chelsea put her hand on her lap, laced it with her other one and turned her attention out the passenger side window. It was too hard to watch Jimmy humming happily while her hands felt clammy and her stomach was still churning like she’d had bad Chinese. 

“It’s good to see the whole gang again,” he continued, blissfully unaware of how her skin was prickling with anxiety. She wanted to tell him to shut up, that all that she could think of was the look of revulsion on Mike’s face, as if she’d been the one that had done something unspeakable in front of God and everyone. She’d withdrawn somewhere inside of herself, hidden away like a rolled up hedgehog in a shrub at the side of the road and she was a little ashamed of herself for it. 

“I should have slapped him,” she muttered, digging her nails into her palms as her entire body began to shake, the shock just beginning to wear off, a slow burning rage taking its place. 

“What was that? Did you want to go home to change before we go to Cowboys?” Jimmy asked, turning to glance over at her, his contented grin like a ray of sunshine cutting through the emotional fog that had descended over her. She looked at his blue eyes, at the way the sunlight made his fair hair shine like wheat blowing in the wind and felt her chest get tight. 

“I don’t deserve your forgiving me like this,” she blurted out. His smile faded but just when she thought that she would see that blank expression take its place that would mean he didn’t want to talk about it, what she saw instead was a sort of empathetic tenderness she didn’t think she deserved. 

“Remember when you left for Washington, when I told you that you were free?” Chelsea nodded. It had felt like someone had lifted a noose from around her neck at the time. “I meant it,” he told her with an earnest smile, reaching across the cab with one hand and brushing the back of his hand along her cheek and then into her hair. “I didn’t think you’d bring that back here,” he added, sobering as he turned his attention back to the road, “but on the other hand, I knew I could never keep you long if I didn’t let you spread your wings a little bit.” He effortlessly twirled her hair around his finger and then let it go so that it bounced against her cheek. “I’m just sorry you got hurt in the process,” he added quietly, letting his hand fall onto the seat between them. Chelsea stared down at his hand, at his long fingers, remembering the way his tough, calloused skin had felt against hers’ and she shuddered. “Cold?” he asked, his gaze and the barest hint of a smile showing genuine concern. He reached for the controls for the air conditioner but she surprised herself by reaching out to stop him. He looked over at her, his eyes narrowed, confused. 

“So you’ll have me back, just like that?” she asked. His grin broadened. 

“Of course,” he said without a pause for thought. 

“Then we should get married, soon,” she blurted out. Jimmy swerved, cranking the truck over onto the shoulder of the road in a shower of gravel. 

“Do you mean it?” he asked, his face saying that he hoped she’d say yes, his eyes saying he thought she’d say no. 

“Yeah,” she replied, letting him wrap her up in his arms in a joyous bear hug. She bit back the rest of the sentence, ‘I think’ and did her best not to feel her heart break apart in her chest.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” Mike looked up at his friend over the bottle he’d just opened and grinned. 

“Never,” he replied and then tipped the bottle up to his lips and proceeded to try to empty it. Brooks raised an eyebrow and then shook his head. He was on his second bottle of JD and he could still feel his broken heart in his chest. He was going to need another bottle. 

“Pick a girl, any girl in this fucking place, take her home, bone the shit out of her and I guaranfuckingtee you will feel a hundred percent better.” Mike paused, bottle still in his hand and then shook his head, tilted the bottle back and drained it.

“More!” Mike slammed the bottle down on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand.
“Dude, you need to slow down,” Nicky sighed, even as he signalled the waitress to bring another bottle. She looked at Mike and shook her head. He grinned at her. She had red hair. He liked red heads. 

“No, what I need is not to take dating advice from Johnny Drama over there,” he moaned, aiming a threatening look at Brooks who only shrugged and then went back to admiring the scantily glad cowgirls out on the dance floor. 

“You could still get her back,” Nicky told him and that, to Mike, seemed hilarious. He put his head down on the table and laughed until he remembered that he was upset, so he reached for the bottle, which was still empty. 

“More!” he demanded, slamming the bottle down and then reaching for the half empty pint in front of Brooks who was obviously nowhere near as drunk as he was because the glass was gone before Mike could even reach across the table. 

“I could try and talk to her for you,” Nicky offered, peeling off a fifty to hand to the waitress who stood above them with the bottle dangling enticingly from her fingers. She had red nail polish. Her fingers would look good around his cock. ‘No. No, that’s how you got into this mess’ he reminded himself, watching her tuck the fifty into her cleavage as Nicky took the bottle. Mike reached for it. Nicky held it away from him. “You are not so drunk we could not go to one of your Timmy Hortons and get you a coffee and then we could go see her, together,” his Swedish friend offered. Mike eyed the bottle and then narrowed his eyes at his friend. 

“Gimme.” Shaking his head, Nicky held the bottle just out of his reach. 

“I thought you loved her.” Mike growled and made a swipe at the bottle. His fingers brushed it but he couldn’t close his hand around it. 

“Gimmethedamnthing,” he snarled, making another swipe at it and coming up with nothing but air.
“Well? Do you? Do you love the girl?” Mike had never been mad at Nicky before, but he was getting mad now. He stared at the bottle and then looked up into his road roomie’s eyes. 

“Gimmethefuckingbottle or I swear I’m gonna rip your fucking head off and let Ovie use it as a sock puppet,” he said as slowly and as ominously as he could. Backsy sighed but didn’t look the least bit worried as he handed him the bottle. Mike took it and was twisting off the top when he caught a flash of red out of the corner of his eye. He told himself it was just the waitress but that didn’t stop him from turning and watching her walk across the floor; or rather be led, pulled behind like a cart attached to a big fucking donkey. 

“No no no no!” Nicky had a hold of his arm before he even knew he was going to get up. Brooks was off of his barstool and grabbing a hold of the back of Mike’s belt before he’d even gotten all of the way to his feet. At that moment they’d have needed Boogard, may his soul be at peace, and a tow truck to stop Mike from following them to the bar.

“This is not a good idea man,” Brooks hissed in his ear as he tried, in vain, to pull Mike back down onto his barstool. Mike laughed. As if he didn’t already know that. As if the warning bells weren’t already going off in his head. 

He didn’t want to be that guy, the mug shot on Monday morning on the front of the Sports page. He didn’t want the call from Leonsis’ office telling him to get his heinie back to Washington. He didn’t want the stern talking to from McPhee. He certainly didn’t want to see the look of disappointment on his mother’s face when her son had to stand up in court and plead guilty to battery.  Even so, knowing all of that, he didn’t sit back down. Instead he turned and glared at his friends.

“Let. Go.” Brooks did, with a shake of his head and a roll of those big blue eyes the ladies liked so much. Nicky, on the other hand, held fast. 

“You’ll regret it,” his blonde, baby faced friend warned. Mike grinned. 

“I already fucking do.” 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, she is going to regret saying she wants to get married. Mike needs to go win her back! Great chapter!