Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chapter 18

I wasn't always this way
I used to be the one with the halo
But that disappeared when I had my first taste
And fell from grace
It left me in this place
I'm starting to think maybe you like it
I tear you down
I'll make you bleed eternally

Can't help myself
From hurting you when it's hurting me
I don't have wings
So flyin with me won't be easy
Cause I'm not an angel
I'm not an angel

(lyrics from “I’m Not An Angel” by Halestorm)

The guy was being lauded like he was some kind of big deal. The bartender was waving off his money like it was no good. Other guys were patting him on the back like he’d accomplished something important. The only thing Mike could see was that he was pulling Chelsea around like she was his personal caboose. He really, really hoped someday he’d win the Cup, but if she was his he’d never, ever put her second like that. 

“Let me pay for those,” Mike fished a wad of bills out of his pocket and offered it to the bartender. People who really were big deals flashed cash, they bought the first round, not accepted it like a gift. She turned at the sound of his voice which made him feel minutely better. At least she hadn’t forgotten him altogether.
She gave him one of those warning looks, the ‘don’t go there’ look, and that made him feel just a little better. So she didn’t want him to get his ass kicked, well that was something. 

“Oh c’mon baby, let me offer my congratulations, you know, on getting my sloppy seconds.” He’d been as disgusted as anyone when that fucking douche Avery had said those words about Phaneuf dating his ex, but they made Mike smile now when the words slid off of his tongue. Chelsea looked pained but the words weren’t aimed at her. 

The big guy turned slowly. It was like watching a tall tree sway in a windstorm. The colour of his eyes was like looking into the eye of a hurricane. Mike had a split second to think that he’d just made a really stupid mistake, kind of like spearing Ott on purpose; you couldn’t help wanting to do it even though you knew the result was going to be a whole new world of pain. 

“I’m sure I didn’t hear that right,” the big man said slowly and deliberately as he leaned in towards him. “You do know I was there first, before anyone else, right?” It might have looked friendly to a bystander, with Jimmy’s hand resting on Mike’s shoulder and he could hear the big shit eating grin in the big guy’s voice as he whispered in his ear, but the little voice in the back of Mike’s head was telling him to save his own skin and back away slowly now. Still, the other voice in his head, the cocky young stud, told him to put up his dukes. 

“Oh yeah, well, I made her scream my name,” he grinned up at the straw hat wearing cowpoke and wondered how long he’d be able to stand up with him. His ego was telling him that all of those early morning workouts, all those arm curls, all those push ups would have the big slow speaking dolt on his knees in no time. That little voice in the back of his head, his reality check, was laughing at his expense.  

“Maybe you did,” Jimmy smiled, all teeth and twinkling blue eyes that, just like a dog, was a warning that Mike knew he should be heeding as the big man took off his cowboy hat and put it carefully on the bar behind him. “Or, just maybe, CeeCee didn’t want you to feel bad about your...little pecker.” He heard Chelsea’s sharp intake of breath right before the crowd around them laughed nervously. He wondered how many of them had seen Jimmy fight before. He wondered if any one of them would be willing to give him some tips. 

“I don’t think Chels had any complaints, didya Chels?” Mike turned towards her, hating that she was trying to hide behind her boyfriend and hating it even more when she scowled at him. 

“You mean other than you sticking your eeny teeny weenie in some other woman?” Jimmy stepped between them and grinned menacingly. Mike glared around him at Chelsea who looked like she was trying to make herself invisible. It was one thing for her to go running back to Jimmy. It was another thing to tell him their business. 

“Chelsea, I said it didn’t mean anything,” he began, reaching for her and getting only empty air as she pulled her arm back away from him. 

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Jimmy said in a slow, deliberate growl as he grabbed a hold of the front of Mike’s shirt. “It means you stay away from her. It means you don’t talk to, don’t contact and don’t even look at her. You feel me, buddy?” 

Mike heard it, heard the threat and knew it was probably suicidal to ignore it, but he did anyway. His gaze was locked on the pleading expression on Chelsea’s face. 

“Chels, you once told me that you hadn’t seen enough of the world. I can give you the whole god damn world on a silver platter. All he can give you is this little corner of it, and we both know that won’t ever be enough for you.” 


Chelsea could hear her grandfather’s words in Mike’s plea and it sent a shiver down her spine. There was such a jumble of emotions inside of her, with half of her wanting to smack him and the other half of her wanting to forgive him everything and let him take her out of the bar, out of this city. A few minutes ago she thought she’d made up her mind, thought she’d come to terms with her decision but now, even though she could have spat in his face for calling her sloppy seconds, there was a part of her that still wanted to kiss his face off. 

“Go away Mike,” she pleaded with him but he stood his ground, even with the imposing figure of Jimmy standing guard. 

“Just tell me you love this big...,” Mike looked up at Jimmy and then back at her, “jackass and I’ll go.” His dark eyes pleaded with her not to do it and Chelsea felt her stomach try to climb up through her throat. 

“Just...just go,” she begged, turning away so she didn’t have to watch him practically begging on his knees.

“You heard the lovely lady,” she heard Jimmy add, sounding a little too pleased with himself. She winced. The whole testosterone thing was getting to be a bit much and she really didn’t want there to be a fight. 

“I don’t take orders from you, cowboy bob,” she heard Mike growl. She could feel the tension between them. A wrong word, sideways glance, and she knew the fists were going to come out. 

“Stop,” she moaned, dropping her forehead onto the back of her arms, “both of you just stop it.”

“Chelsea,” she felt his hand on the small of her back and just for a second she remembered how comforting that was. 

“Mike, you need to go,” she hissed. 

“Yes, Mike, take a walk,” Jimmy growled, sounding far less friendly. 

“You haven’t said it,” Mike whispered, his voice in her ear, the width of his chest blocking out the light. Chelsea ground her teeth together and squeezed her eyes shut. “Chels, I know you....” 

“You don’t know. You don’t know anything about me if you think that I can just forget what you did,” she snapped, her eyes filling with tears of humiliation and confusion. “You don’t know anything if you think I could forgive you for that.” She watched her words wound him, as if each syllable was a barb she was pressing into his skin. It seemed fair; after all, he’d broken her heart. “So just go Mike, please,” she whispered, turning her exhausted gaze away from his and reaching for one of the shots that had been lined up on the bar. She tipped the liquid into her mouth and felt the burn at the back of her throat. 

“Unless of course you want to stay for this.” 

Chelsea understood, in that moment, how silence could be truly deafening. The music, which never stopped in Cowboys, suddenly ceased and it seemed, as she slowly turned around, that every pair of eyes in the place were now staring at her. It was like that dream she’d had, or maybe it had been a nightmare, where she was standing naked in front of a crowd. 

It took her a full minute to realize that Jimmy had gotten down on one knee in front of her. It took at least another five seconds to realize that what he was pulling out of his shirt, what was catching the light on the end of the chain around his neck, was the engagement ring she’d given back to him when she’d left for Washington. She watched, barely breathing, as he slid the ring from the chain into the palm of his hand and despite the fact that she had brought this subject up back in the truck, the only thought that kept replaying in her head, over and over again, was ‘Oh god, please don’t’.

He turned those blue eyes of his up to meet her gaze, his boyish smile lighting his entire face. She wanted to tell him ‘not here, not now’ but when she opened her mouth to speak, nothing would come out. She looked at Mike, part of her hoping that he’d say it for her but he was only shaking his head and looking sick. She wanted to tell him this wasn’t her idea but the words died on her lips when he turned his furious gaze away. She was still staring at his profile when she felt Jimmy sliding the ring on her finger. She didn’t even remember saying yes.


Now it was like he’d won best in show or whatever the big prize was for Stampede. Mike stood there, sick to his stomach and trying to decide if life without the possibility of parole was an actual option, while half the bar came to congratulate the big string bean in the hat. 

“Let’s go.” It was Nicky at his elbow. Of course it was. Nicky was the reasonable one, the logical one. He could give Spock a run for his fucking money. Mike nodded. After all, there was definitely no more to see here, apart from his heart lying on the floor, being stomped all over. 

He turned and was allowing Nicky to lead him away from crowd when he realized she wasn’t where she had just been. He only saw her out of the corner of his eye, making her escape, shoving her way through a group of women near the door. 

“I’ll be right back,” he mumbled to Nicky and made a feint towards the bathrooms. It was a good thing guys didn’t go to the john en masse as Nicky didn’t even make a move to follow him which was also a good thing. Nicky would definitely try and talk him out of this. 

As soon as rounded the dance floor he made a beeline back towards the door and out into the warm night air. 

She was standing near the old battered pick up that he’d seen sitting near her barn like she wanted to lean on it but wouldn’t. The paint on the truck was faded and chipped and the whole thing was covered in a thin layer road dust. He thought that she looked so shiny and clean in comparison in a sapphire coloured shirt with the shiny silver collar and the dark jeans that hugged her ass but he knew that neither of those compared to the way her hair shone dark copper red in moonlight. 

“You can’t marry him,” he said simply. She didn’t look up, but he could see an ironic sort of smile tug at one corner of her lip. 

“No?” was her only reply. 

“You don’t love him. At most you pity him. You can’t make a life out of that,” he insisted. She glanced up at him and the tears in her eyes shimmered in the darkness. 

“No?” she replied again, that same ironic smile now fading as she returned her gaze to the toes of her snakeskin boots. He wanted to grab her, to shake her, but he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans instead. 

“We could go, right now. I could charter a plane. We could go anywhere you want. Never come back,” he offered, feeling a sense of panic rising when she would not react. She scuffed the sole of her boot against the ground and shook her head so that all of those deep red ringlets fell into her face. 

You could,” she mumbled, “but I have...responsibilities.” Mike clenched his teeth as he rocked up onto his toes and then back onto his heels. 

“You mean the farm? Ranch? What the fuck ever. Fucking sell it or I’ll pay for someone to look after it, whatever,” he offered. She glanced up at him through all of that hair and just the faintest hint of a smile tugged at the corners of her full, ripe mouth.

“Do you really think it’s as easy as that?” She made a dismissive noise and went back to digging the toe of her boot into the ground. 

“No. Yes, I don’t know, maybe. Fuck!” He grabbed his hair and pulled as he stared at her. “You’re a fucking means to an end for that asshole, can’t you see that?” He yelled. He didn’t mean to yell. He expected her to flinch. Maybe even to flee. She did neither. She just shrugged her shoulders and then sniffed. 

“I know,” she replied quietly, turning those amazing green eyes up at him. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me, in his own way,” she added, reaching up to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. His hands flew out of his pockets and before he’d even thought about it, he had her by her shoulders and was shaking her like an errant child. 

“How can you do this? How can you throw your life away on someone who sees you as just another piece of fucking property?” He wanted to make her cry now but she just stared back at him, blinking and hiccupping, almost laughing. 

“Why does it matter to you Mike? You don’t care about me,” she grinned in that hysterical sort of way, crying and giggling at the same time. He stared at her, shaking his head. 

“Don’t care? What...don’t care? I fucking love you.” He surprised himself by saying it. It felt strange to say it but as soon as the words slipped out he knew he meant every word. She shook her head and then pushed him away as she turned around, reached up and rubbed the back of her hand beneath her nose. 

“Yeah, that’s totally why the first opportunity you had to stick your dick into something that wasn’t me you took it just like that,” she snapped her fingers in his face and then shoved him away. 

“That was a mistake, how many times do you want me to fucking tell you that?” he snapped, trying to grab her again. She pushed his hand away. 

“God! Please, stop trying to make yourself the victim in all of this Mike; like I’m doing this to you. You made a choice because you scared the shit out of yourself y by having an actual feeling. It’s okay,” she grinned, shrugging her shoulders. “Hey, I ran away from all this before. I know what it’s like not to want to be tied down to something.” 

“So why let yourself? Why fucking do this?” he asked, grabbing her hand and holding up the ring, shaking her hand as he did. “Why put yourself back in those chains?” 

“Is that what you think they are Mike? Chains? Do you think I’m selling myself into servitude?” Her eyes got big and then she tipped her head back and laughed. “Jesus fucking Christ Mike, he didn’t just buy me at the white slave market,” she added rubbing at her eyes and walking away from him. He grabbed the back of her shirt and swung her around. 

“You fucking love me too.” He wanted to sound confident when he said it. He hardly did at all. In fact, as he stared down into her leaf green eyes, he wasn’t sure at all. 

“Yeah,” she replied quietly, reaching up to touch her fingertips to his bottom lip, “maybe, for a minute or two. Then I came to my senses and saw who you really are when you fucked that tramp.” Her ironic little smile turned into a grimace and then she turned and walked away.

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