Authors: Lara Hunter
Oliver would not be pleased if he knew that I was turning to this dude for help,
I sniffed, once again digging into my purse for my cellular phone.
It’s his fault for not being there when I needed him. And it’s not like I’m going to sleep with the guy or anything—I just need a place to crash.
Nodding decisively, I once again pushed the button that produced my list of contacts; this time hitting the fourth name that appeared on the list.
“Hello, Kirk? I’m sorry to be bothering you at such a late—or, depending on how you look at it—early hour. Is it OK if I came over—now?”
I had to say one thing for Kirk Taylor. He looked darned adorable first thing in the morning.
Standing in the doorway of his modest apartment on the less than celebrated south end of Bennington, Florida, Kirk’s ruffled golden hair shone in the rays of a new born Florida sun. His wide gem blue eyes sparkled in this same radiant light. And OK, it didn’t hurt matters any that he came to the door shirtless; his firm, trim chest and solid abs fully exposed above the border of some tight fighting, figure forming blue jean shorts.
“Lil?” He blinked his sleepy eyes and shook his blond head in what seemed a gesture of complete and utter confusion. “Weren’t you and Oliver supposed to be in Miami for another few days? What are you doing back home so soon? And are you OK? You sounded really stressed out and worried over the phone, and you look like you haven’t slept all night. What can I do to help?”
“Whoa there dude,” I interrupted, holding up my hands in a sign of surrender. “One concerned, angst ridden question at a time, please. And before I answer any of them, may I ask one of my own?”
“Anything, Lily!” he exclaimed, looking as though he was about to burst at the seams with empathetic worry.
“Now careful, dude, this is a pretty tough query to navigate first thing in the morning—so, with that in mind, I’ll phrase my question slowly and carefully. Can I come in?”
Kirk blinked, gaping openly at this inquiry.
“Um, sure!” he said finally, immediately stepping aside.
Sad to say that the state of Kirk’s apartment did not reflect his personal appearance in terms of overall cuteness. This compact, four room apartment seemed to burst at the seams with papers, newspapers, magazines and video game equipment scattered everywhere.
“Sorry the place is such a royal mess,” he mumbled, running some soothing fingers through the strands of his golden hair.
“Well this is about how my place looked last night,” I told him, adding with a shrug, “Of course, I have an excuse. Some nut job broke in and ransacked the place.”
His eyes flying wide, Kirk rushed forward and swept me up in two strong arms, holding me closer than close as he whispered in my ear, “Oh my God, Lily. Are you all right? Tell me what happened!”
Without awaiting an answer, Kirk set me down in a big plush comforter that looked a bit worse for wear; I didn’t care though, as its comforting confines served to cradle and cushion my weary body.
Also comforting was my friend’s gentle presence as he parked himself on a pleather clad foot rest just opposite my chair.
“Tell me what happened,” he repeated, leaning forward to pin me with a penetrating gaze.
“I wish I knew, my friend,” I released on a second sigh, adding as I relaxed in the chair, “Yesterday morning, I swear I thought I was living a dream—sharing the beauty of Miami Beach with the man I adored. Then I go out to the beach and then most literally wake up from the dream—awakening from a nap to find that Oliver has left for home with a mysterious, rather flimsy explanation. I flew home last night to get some answers—only to find that my apartment had been totally trashed and ransacked. I just now finished up with an exhausting round of police interviews and when I drove to Oliver’s place to find a place to crash, I found that… he wasn’t home.” I said these last words in a low, hushed tone as I averted my gaze to the wall.
My eyes flew wide moments later, as Kirk once again swept me up in a tight, all-consuming embrace; rocking me back and forth as he whispered, “You have a place to be now, Lily. You can stay here as long as you like. Just don’t worry about anything, OK? I’ll take care of you.”
Emphasizing his words with some very tender actions, Kirk lifted me out of my chair and walked me to his kitchen table where a pile of freshly flipped blueberry pancakes awaited us.
Taking a seat across from me at the table, Kirk retrieved his serving fork and plunged it into two of the steamy buttered hotcakes, depositing them on my plate and encouraging me to, “Relax and eat.”
While I hungrily dove in to this impromptu—but admittedly delicious—breakfast feast, I watched in silence as Kirk retreated to the room that I assumed to be his bedroom, returning moments later with two fluffy pillows and a worn but colorful patchwork quilt, which he tossed atop the surface of the comfy couch I’d vacated moments earlier.
“Unfortunately I do have to go into work today, Lil,” he said over his shoulder, spreading his soft, luxurious quilt over his couch before tossing the pillows at its edge. “So once you finish your breakfast, I want you to lay down here and relax; try to forget about everything and get some sleep. I’m sure you’ll feel much better after a nap.”
Managing a small smile, I said between bites of some mighty good pancake, “Thank you, Kirk. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” I paused here, adding in an affectionate tone, “What would I do without my friend?”
Turning to me, Kirk warmed me with a tender smile as he assured me, “As far as I’m concerned, Lily, you’ll never have to find out.”
Soon I found myself collapsed and ensconced in my readymade personal haven; my exhausted being wrapped in a cradling comforter as my head reclined in the cottony depths of two luxurious pillows.
My eyes drifted shut as fully and finally, I surrendered myself to a deep sleep; drifting gently into a delicate dreamscape that offered a soothing aura of solace and escape.
I pictured myself floating free into a mass of whispery clouds; celestial formations that I hoped would shelter me from the traumas and problems of the last few days.
For a time I skipped and traipsed light on my feet; racing through the clouds as I seemed to seek out a certain destination.
Or, perhaps, a certain person.
I squealed like a school girl as my eyes beheld a beautiful bronzed man; one whose golden skin, dark eyes and cocoa brown hair proved a startling contrast to his ivory hued surroundings.
“Oliver,” I breathed, breaking out into a mad run as I held my arms open for him.
Turning with a smooth flourish in my direction, Oliver regarded me for a long, timeless moment with a cold, unsmiling expression.
Then, abruptly, he turned away.
“Oliver!” I repeated, this time in a scream as I bolted upright in my makeshift bed.
Finding myself once again alone in Kirk’s apartment, I released a low, deep sigh as I covered my face with my hands.
As exhausted as I was, and as much as I tried to get the rest that I needed, the same questions continued to plague my mind.
Where was Oliver? Who was he with—and when would he come back?
Finally I managed to get back to sleep; falling into a deep, very restful repose as I curled into the fetal position in the depths of Kurt’s cushiony couch.
Thankfully the specter of troubling dreams finally abandoned my psyche; freeing me to finally get the rest that I needed. When I finally awoke several hours later, I was stirred by the feel of a gentle kiss, planted tender on the skin of my forehead.
My eyes fluttered open to behold the person who gifted me with this delicate kiss. I admit that I was disappointed to see a grinning, super cute blond in front of me, as opposed to a bronzed, sultry brunette; even so, I returned Kirk’s beam as he kneeled to hand me a single, very radiant red rose.
“Thanks my friend,” I told him, openly admiring the rose’s dew-glistened, ruby hued petals and inhaling its lush, fragrant scent.
“I would love to give you a whole dozen but I still have to shell out my rent this month,” he told me, adding as he handed me a multi-colored box that weighed heavy in my grasp, “I did manage to spot you a dozen doughnuts, though; chocolate cream with sprinkles, just as you like them.”
“Yum!” I exclaimed, exchanging high fives with my beaming crony as I threw open the box.
“Glad you like them,” he nodded, adding as he wagged a scolding finger in my direction, “No snacking, though, until you eat your dinner. I have a triple cheese lasagna in the oven, almost ready for you.”
Soon I found myself once again at Kirk’s kitchen table, this time devouring a yummy, cheesy treat that warmed and filled my tummy.
“Honestly, Taylor,” I shook my head between bites, “I had no idea that you were such a gourmet.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Ashton,” he assured me with a wink, adding more seriously, “I hope you don’t mind, Lily—but when I was at work today I told Trisha about what happened to you.”
“You didn’t,” I released on a sigh, sinking deep in my seat.
Grabbing my hand across the table, Kirk pinned me with an empathetic glance as he said, “Lily, you have no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. You haven’t done anything wrong, something terrible was done to you.
Trisha sends her good thoughts to you, and reminds you that you still have several more vacation days—just in case you need a little more time to rest and deal with things.”
“…and after those days are used up, I need to get my rear in gear and get back to work,” I completed with a smirk, adding more seriously, “Just out of curiosity, Kirk, did you happen to see Oliver at work today?”
Kirk shook his head.
“No,” he said faintly, with a shrug. “Not that this means anything, though. You know what a big building we have at Clark Industries. My duties rarely take me anywhere near Oliver’s office and frankly, that’s just fine and dandy with me.” He paused, adding as he tightened his hold on my hand, “I still wish to this day that you could have given me a chance, Lily. I know that I can’t give you the clothes, the jewels, the theater tickets, the Miami vacations… but if you were my lady, I swear I’d always be there when you needed me. And even, for that matter, when you didn’t. I’d probably get pretty darned annoying with my ever-present presence, so to speak—but you’d never have to worry about me running out on you, cheating on you, or hurting you in any way.”
“I know, Kirk,” I affirmed, squeezing his fingers between mine as I added in a soft voice, “Maybe if I had met you before, my dear, then things just might have been different. But—and since I have absolutely no desire to quote Woody Allen, I’ll quote Ms. Selena Gomez instead—the heart wants what it wants.”
An uneasy silence met this comment; one that I broke by setting aside my fork and gesturing broadly in the direction of Kirk’s living room.
“So Kirk, what’s on the schedule for tonight?” I asked, forcing a genial smile. “Care to watch some TV while we unabashedly pig out on those scrumptiously fat-drenched doughnuts?”
Kirk grinned, breaking the tension with a little chuckle as he reached deep in his pocket.
“We’re not just going to watch some TV,” he told me, producing a DVD case that looked eerily familiar. “We’re going to watch one of your favorite movies as we devour our doughnuts.”
“Wayne’s World!” I exclaimed, immediately recognizing the smiling—if a bit curious—faces of Wayne and Garth on the cover of the DVD. “I’m so in!”
Moments later I lounged once again on Kirk’s couch; this time sitting by his side as we laughed, chortled and recited the lines of our favorite comedy classic.
Lulled into a drowsy, relaxed state by my friendly, homey surroundings, I found it increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open as the movie continued. Finally I lost the battle, drifting off to sleep as the film’s closing credits rolled on the screen before me.
When my eyes fluttered open moments later, I found myself still on Kirk’s couch and nestled close to my now sleeping friend; my head resting on his shoulder as he let loose with a loud snore.
I must have been well and truly sleepy to doze through all that racket
, I yawned, blinking my eyes against the rays of blinding sunlight that flew free through a nearby window.
With a gentle but very purposeful hand, I shook my friend awake, saying as I did, “Kirk? You’d better get up or you’ll be late for work.”
Pinning me with a sleepy gaze, Kirk shifted restless on his couch and stretched his hands high above his head.
“Just wait until I tell all my friends that I slept with Lily Ashton,” he mumbled with a joking grin. “So what are your plans for today?”
“I’m supposed to have a meeting this morning with the head of a security company,” I told him, running some soothing hands through the strands of my mussy dark hair. “His team is going to change the locks on my doors and install a security system in case my intruder decides to make an unwelcome encore appearance.”
“Sounds like a plan. We want to make sure that you’re good and protected,” he said, releasing a groan of acute discomfort as he stood up slowly from the couch. “Ack. I’m not as young as I once was, Lily—and my back is protesting this fact, as loudly and vehemently as possible.”
“You know,” I told him with an empathetic grin, “You didn’t have to sleep on this couch all night, here with me. You could have gone to bed.”
I took in my breath as Kirk turned to me, searing me with an intense gaze that betrayed his inner emotions. I answered him with a blank, confused stare that managed to betray mine.
“I stayed here,” he told me, voice low and sincere, “Because you needed me.”
I considered these words hours later, as I sat alone on another comfy couch, this one located in my own living room.
Assured through a phone call from the En Guard security company (ordinarily I’d find that moniker funny—now, not so much) that my security system was working and in place, I collected my things, said an awkward goodbye to Kirk—the all too accommodating host who insisted on hugging me and kissing my cheek in an all too warm gesture of goodbye—and headed back to my place of residence.
Only it didn’t feel like my home anymore. I had new locks and a new security system, to be sure, a high tech outfit preprogrammed to ensure my safety; what I didn’t have were those precious objects that my intruder had soiled and broken. What I didn’t have was my peace of mind; or the ability to be relaxed and comfortable in my own home—or, for that matter, my own psyche.
Reaching for the cell phone that I’d dropped haphazardly on my plain cherry wood end table, I dialed Oliver’s number; rolling my eyes heavenward as I heard the opening lines of his all too familiar voicemail message.
Yet this time when I heard the beep, I was more than ready.
“Oliver, this is friggin’ ridiculous,” I barked into the phone. “What’s with the disappearing act? I need you. Where are you? Call me as soon as possible.”
Hitting the end button on the phone, I jumped up from my couch and bounded for the door; setting out for a rather sketchy side of town that—oddly enough—was starting to feel like home.
Soon I found myself once again standing at Kirk’s doorstep with my purse and my overnight bag in my hand; offering him a sheepish smile as he opened his door to me.
“Lily?” He blinked in surprise as he waved me inward. “I wasn’t expecting to see you this evening.”
I gritted my teeth.
“Yeah, well, I still feel kind of odd about going home after—well, after everything that has happened,” I told him, clutching my hands in front of me. “And, I’m sorry to say, Oliver is still nowhere to be found. I really don’t want to impose on you, but I need a place to stay for just one more night.”
“Say no more, Lily. My home is yours,” he assured me, adding as he motioned me toward his living room couch, “Sit down and relax while I make us dinner.”
Soon I sat once again at the edge of my newfound resting place; happily devouring a plate of steamy homemade spaghetti as Kirk and I enjoyed a viewing of that sentimental old chestnut ‘Love Story’ starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal.
Even as I ate Kirk’s food and enjoyed his warm, congenial company, I couldn’t help but lose myself in the fantasy of this classic romance; one in which a rich, spoiled young man falls in love with a smart, sassy working class girl.
I’d first seen ‘Love Story’ as a teenager, when my mom took me to a matinee showing at a revival theater where I’d spent many a happy evening. To this day I remember us crying together at the film’s end—with emotional teenaged me declaring that I’d found one of my new favorite films. And now I couldn’t help but notice the obvious similarities between this story and my own and as I saw the developing love story on screen between the characters of Oliver and Jenny, my heart ached and pounded for my own Oliver. I just couldn’t help but wonder where he was right now, and if someone else was playing the role of his romantic heroine. His Jenny.
Of course, I’d never wish Jenny’s fate on anyone, not even a rival for the affections of the only man I’d ever really loved
, I mused quietly, adding as I felt my heart sink,
It just hurts, that’s all.
I didn’t notice when the single, wayward tear crossed the surface of my cheek but Kirk certainly did. I jumped in my chair as he leaned forward and kissed it off, his tongue flicking ever so softly at the moisture as his lips caressed my skin.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this movie,” he whispered. “It’s just that, well, I’ve been thinking about you all day Lily. I think about you all the time—and I never dreamed that I could get this close to you. So somehow tonight, I thought that a romantic film was in order.”
I stared at him for a moment, his sudden boldness and sense of nearness leaving me speechless.
Finally I averted my gaze from his smiling face, saying as I did, “Oh it’s all right. ‘Love Story’ is a classic movie, one always worth watching. It’s just that the hero is a rich guy named Oliver, and—well, right now it hits a little too close to home, I guess.”
I took in my breath as Kirk jumped to his feet; pushing the off button on his television set before turning to stand tall and proud before me.
“Well in my mind, Lily, the solution is pretty simple,” he told me, kneeling before me and piercing me with an intense stare of sheer adoration. “Start a new love story and with a real man who knows how to take care of you. A man who would never desert you, never make you cry. A man like me. I swear it, Lily, I could make you forget about the spoiled rich boy in just one night—just give me one night, babe.”
With these words my host surged forward; searing my lips with an intense, very passionate kiss. Suddenly his mouth was on mine, his hands were on my shoulders, and his tongue flicked tentative across my lips.