Authors: Michele G Miller
"So I did something crazy..." she admits with a shrug.
* * *
Jules pulls down a dark, winding road two streets before her neighborhood and follows it to the end where it opens up into an empty parking lot. Bringing her mom's car to a stop under a dim street light, she picks up her cell and stares at it. With a deep breath, she locates his number and dials it.
Her heart pounds as the line rings in her ear. It is nearly eleven o'clock at night, but she knows she can’t put this off.
His endearing nickname eases her nerves. "Hey."
She fiddles with the keys dangling from the ignition. "I'm sorry, I know it's late. Did I wake you?" she asks after an awkward moment of silence.
His voice sounds deeper than usual. "No, it's fine. Are you okay?"
Silence fills the air for a moment. "Um, not really," she admits.
She can hear him shuffling around on his end of the line. "I'm here, what's up?"
"Can you meet me?"
He makes a clucking sound and Jules guesses he is contemplating her question. "You don't have to, it's just-"
"No, of course I can," he exclaims quickly; stopping her. "I can be wherever you want."
"Okay, give me ten minutes."
She is able to mumble a quick word of thanks before he hangs up.
Jules climbs out of the car, sits on the trunk and faces the large, wooden play set she used to play on as a kid. It is quiet here. Woods surround the playground area and parking lot, and the melody of crickets fills the balmy night air.
She lies back on the rear window while she waits and looks up at the clear night sky. She closes her eyes and tries to remember those hours missing from her memory on the night of the twister. According to her parents they were trapped for about four hours, and a little over an hour of that was the rescue crews trying to dig them out without bringing the house crushing down on them. Thus far she had only experienced a few flashbacks: West telling her they weren't going to die; her freak-out moment when he joked about dying in the arms of a beautiful woman; the memory of twisting her body around to face him and the feel of his abs under her hand as she used his shirt as a face mask; and then the moment she told him she wasn't in love with Stuart.
Each memory unlocks a moment with West that draws a mark on her heart permanently.
The rumbling of his motorbike signals his arrival, and Jules rubs her sweaty palms together as she follows the lone headlight coming down the long road. He pulls up next to her car, kicks his bike stand down and turns off the loud engine.
He wears a tight white tee shirt and ripped jeans, and Jules’ mouth goes dry when he pulls the helmet from his head, hangs it from the handlebars and turns his warm eyes her way. He looks both concerned for her and thrilled at the same time.
"Hey," she calls out to him tentatively; remaining on the trunk for fear her knees will give out if she tries to stand.
"Hey, yourself," he replies with a smile.
Jules pats the trunk next to her as he swings his leg around the bike and stands beside it, looking at her. He looks around the park as if he is hesitant to come any closer. "Is everything okay? What's going on?" he asks, unsure of himself. It isn’t something she is used to seeing. Any time she's ever noticed West around, he always acts so confident and sure of himself; a quiet loner who does his own thing.
"Can we talk?"
His face wipes clean, as if he pulled a screen down to cover his emotions, and he saunters over to the car and leans against the trunk next to her legs. Two inches to the right and they would be touching.
She clears her throat before she begins, and reminds herself it is high time she figures things out with West Rutledge. "I've been thinking about those hours we were trapped."
"I thought you couldn't remember anything. The concussion, right?"
"Well, yeah, it's like selective memory loss. So, yeah...conveniently enough, I haven't been able to remember all of the horrifying moments after I hit my head." West nods and hooks his thumbs on the edge of his pockets.
"It should all come back, though," she tells him, positive it will.
"Why would you want it to?" he asks.
"Well, why wouldn't I?"
He props his booted foot up behind him on the fender. "It sucked." His voice is filled with emotion and it strikes her how lucky she is that she can’t recall the full terror of being trapped; thinking you would die at any moment.
"I'm sure most of it did," she agrees; her hand reaching out and touching his shoulder lightly. "But not all of it."
He pushes off the car and faces her with a deep sigh. "Look, Jules-"
"Why did you ask me if I was in love with Stuart?" she blurts out; interrupting him.
The question freezes him and he shrugs. Jules simply stares at him and raises her brows to let him know she isn’t letting him off the hook.
"I said a lot of things that night to keep you coherent. You obviously don't remember half of what we talked about."
"I keep having memories. They're slowly coming back to me."
"And why is this one important enough for you to call me at eleven at night?"
"I don't know...it was an awkward memory to have." His features clearly show confusion at her cryptic explanation, and he lifts his hands in a silent question. "I was at Stuart's house. I woke up in his arms with the memory of myself telling you I didn't really love him."
West raises his arms and takes a step back. "Look, I don't need to know the details surrounding you and Stuart. I should go."
"Oh gosh, no...it wasn't like that!" She slaps her forehead and slides off the car to stop him. "West?" Her fingers barely skim his arm and he whirls around, grabs her by the waist and pulls her against him.
They stand there silently, and Jules relishes the contact of his hands on her arms. Her chest touches his with the rise and fall of each breath they take. She has to crane her neck to look up into his face because he is looking over her instead of at her.
With a soft voice, she speaks. "Look at me."
He tips his head down towards her and her breathing stops altogether when his stormy, dark eyes meet hers. His eyes speak volumes and she is compelled to lift up on her toes. Her mouth reaches for his as her lids lower, but West's grip tightens and he straightens his arms; resolutely pushing her away.
Holding her at arm’s length, his voice is firm but gentle when he says, "No."
A wave of embarrassment washes over her with his second rejection, and she swallows back a lump of emotion. She looks to the ground and tries to step out of his grip. However instead of letting her go, he pulls her back to his body again and lifts a hand to caress her face. For a moment she wonders if he will kiss her in spite of his apparent rejection, but then he speaks.
"One of these days, Jules Blacklin, I'm going to kiss you again, but it's going to be when you're mine." He moves his thumb from her jaw to swipe across her bottom lip and locks his gaze with hers as he adds, "Because when I start kissing these lips, I don't want to know he gets to kiss them after me."
She’s sure she’s going to melt right into the ground as he watches her. Indecision flashes through his eyes and Jules wishes, not for the first time, that she knew what he was thinking. One moment he looks as if he’s going to kiss her, and the next he looks mildly furious at her for some reason.
"You know what? I shouldn't have come. You need to go back to your boyfriend, Buffy," he hints; pulling back from her.
It’s as if she was involved in a car wreck. Her emotions and feelings are the car, and West, with his words, is some fast-moving object that has thrown itself out into the middle of the street. What the heck? West has already taken three steps back to his bike before she confesses.
"We broke up."
He freezes; his back ramrod straight, his arms ending in clenched fists as he stands there not facing her. "Do you want to repeat that?"
She can’t help but smile at his tone. "I said we broke up."
He tips his head up and his chin turns ever so slowly as he looks over his shoulder at her. He is skeptical. Even under the dim lights of the parking lot, she can spot the doubt written on his face. "Why?" he asks and turns his body to face her fully.
"I told you underneath that house...I don't love him. Not the way he deserves."
"That didn't stop you before," he hints; suddenly acting bored with her.
"Really? Do you have to be such a jerk about it?"
"Yeah, you are. What's with the tone? The sarcasm?"
"I'm just speaking the truth. I'm not going to sugarcoat everything for you, cheerleader. That's not me."
"I'm not asking you to sugarcoat anything, West. I'm merely asking for a little compassion."
"Oh, that's rich. You want me to have compassion for you? For what?"
"I just broke up with my boyfriend of almost two years."
Frustrated by the conversation, she kicks a stone by the car.
"What the hell does this have to do with me, anyway?"
She looks at him standing there with his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He looks to be gearing up for a fight, with his brows knitted together and his mouth tight.
"I did it for you," she admits.
"I didn't ask you to dump your boy toy, Buffy."
"First, he wasn't my boy toy, Spike." She throws in the 'Spike' name out of anger at his attitude with her. What is his problem? She thought he would be happy, but maybe she read all of their conversations wrong. Maybe she is an idiot. As quickly as she thinks it, she brushes it aside. Nope, no way is she wrong. She can feel it deep inside her; there is something between her and West that is extremely unique. "Second, when I say I did it for you, what I meant was that it's like I told you…I don't love him. I haven't been in love with him for a long time." She closes her eyes and wraps her arms around her stomach as she makes her last confession. "I simply didn't know it until you touched me."
What she imagines in her head for this moment is West pulling her into his arms and spouting off something romantic and sweet, or perhaps sarcastically sweet, as is his way. What she doesn’t expect is the anger he exhibits when he drawls, "You're joking, right?"
Driven to make him understand, she bridges the gap between them and takes his hand; holding it up between them. She decided to call him tonight on the way home solely based on her emotions, so she needs to be more honest with him than she's ever been before. "No, I'm not joking. I don't know what this is between us, but I can't stop thinking about you. That's not fair to Stuart."
"Stuart? What about me? You think this is fair to me?" He snaps his hand away and steps back, and Jules is shocked. "Hey, West...I dumped Captain America for you," he mocks. "What the hell is that?"
"You can't put that on me."
Jules' mind whirls. "I'm not putting anything on you."
"No?" Sarcasm laces his voice again. "Would you have dumped him if it weren't for me?"
"He's changing schools. Leaving for Houston tomorrow."
West snaps his head towards her and she steps back from the ice in his eyes. "Oh, I get it. The golden boy is leaving so why not, right?"
Angry heat rises in her at his words. "Are you mental?"
He growls, running his hand through his disheveled hair. "I'm gonna go."
"You're gonna go?" She steps backward until she lands against the side of her car, defeated.
He looks at her as he climbs on his bike. His brown eyes watch her thoughtfully, lingering on hers as he pulls on his helmet and kicks the stand back up. His mouth opens and she waits for him to speak with her heart pounding in her ears. She can’t believe he’s going to walk away after everything they said to each other the past few days. His engine growls to life and she straightens, taking a step towards him with a silent plea in her eyes. She knows he can see it. She knows that he is aware of what he’s doing to her by driving away, and yet he does it anyhow.
Jules stands next to the car and watches his taillight until it disappears down the long, winding road out of the park. The humming of his motorbike is the only noise to disturb the stillness of the night. Weary, Jules sits in the car and rests her forehead on the leather covered steering wheel. She allows herself some self-pity as she thinks about her conversation with Stuart earlier. She laughs at herself for calling West here like a besotted idiot. What was she thinking? She isn’t, obviously. It is so uncharacteristic for her to go out on such a limb. She has always been the smart one; the thinker. Tanya was the risk taker and Katie was the cheerful ball of energy. Jules, though? She’s a planner. Since the twister happened she hasn't planned a thing, and yet here she is, sitting in her car in a vacant parking lot at midnight, rejected by a guy she never should have thought twice about.
"You're the mental one," she grumbles to herself as her palm smacks the wheel.