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Saturday, July 2, 2011
Falling in Love Again by Claire Matthews
As she walked to the front closet to put on her coat, Rachel bowed her head sadly. Thinking back, she realized that their fight had involved no screaming, no tears, no drama—it hadn't even been a fight. She had simply walked into his apartment and found him on the couch with Kristin Rhodes. They were sitting, facing each other, with their legs criss-crossed, like kids. They were laughing. Rachel stared at them, wide-eyed, her feelings of shock and embarrassment and hurt freezing her in place.
Kristen was his high school crush. She and Josh were still friends, and Rachel was fine with that. On a normal day, when she wasn't feeling tired, and beat down by work and the never-ending chill of winter, and suffocated by a lingering head cold that wouldn't go away, she probably would have joined them. Had a drink. Been friendly.
But not tonight.
"Rachel!" Josh called, looking surprised to see her. Why was he surprised? She had told him that she would stop by after work. He unfolded his legs and moved towards her, but she turned quickly and walked out the front door. He quickened his pace and started after her. "Rachel, wait…" he called, but she was already halfway down the stairs, her head tucked low, her feet moving swiftly. "I have to go," she muttered into her chest, turning the corner and catching a glimpse of his bare feet as they continued down the stairs, chasing her. "Please don't follow me!" she called breathlessly over her shoulder, and her voice sounded weird, high and shrill, in her ears.
She continued out to her car, and by the time she climbed in and closed the door, she was weak with relief. Her cell phone rang four times on her drive home, and when it rang once more after she entered her condo, she reached into her purse and turned the damn thing off. Let him have his night with Kristin, she thought morosely. Two hours and three glasses of wine later, she fell asleep on the couch, her head resting on the side cushion awkwardly.
When she woke, her neck was stiff and her temples were pounding. She padded slowly to the kitchen and looked at the clock on the stove-12:15 am. Wow, had she actually passed out? She'd only had a few glasses of wine…and no dinner…and a bit of an emotional breakdown.
Her mind started working, and she wasn't happy with where it was going. Had she over-reacted? It's wasn't like she caught them in a steamy embrace. There was just something about Kristen that brought out the worst in her. She was so pretty, and so animated, and shared such a long history with Josh. Somehow she took Rachel's confidence, which was normally in plentiful supply, and poured it down the drain.
Rachel put on her coat, thinking about Josh, and Kristin, and wine, as she grabbed the trash bag from the kitchen and made her way out in the frigid midnight air to the dumpster. She hated the dumpster, and preferred to take her trash out at night, when she didn't have to actually see the heaps of garbage in the huge metal container. As she trudged along in the half-melted snow, she lost her bearings and her foot slipped out from under her. She landed hard on one knee, her palms outstretched to break her fall.
She lifted herself up unsteadily, and dragged the trash quickly to the bin, limping back to her front door. In the light of the apartment, she looked closely at the gash in her knee, wincing at the blood dripping slowly down her shin. She washed the grime and gravel off her hands, gathered some bandages and peroxide from the bathroom, and trudged slowly towards the couch, feeling sad and tired and sorry for herself.
She was still applying pressure to her knee when she heard a knock at the front door. She jumped in surprise, her heart pounding. Oh gosh, it had to be Josh…who else would be knocking on her door in the middle of the night? She went to the door and opened it slowly.
Josh just looked at her, taking in her disheveled hair and clothes, the bloody gauze in her hand, the seeping wound on her leg.
"Oh my God, Rachel, what happened?" he gasped, finding his voice and moving towards her, concern in his eyes. She backed away quickly.
"Nothing, I'm fine…I just tripped when I was taking out the trash," she murmured through clenched teeth, looking away quickly, crossing her arms over her chest.
"You're bleeding," he said softly, moving closer and placing his hands gently on her shoulders. She buried her chin in her chest, refusing to meet his gaze. She needed him to stop talking so sweetly, stop rubbing her shoulders so gently.
"Josh, why are you here? It's the middle of the night," she asked wearily, twisting out of his grasp and walking from the dimness of the hallway to the bright lights of the kitchen, to regain her bearings.
"You wouldn't answer my calls, or my texts…I wanted to make sure you were okay," he said, keeping his distance, wary of her mood.
"Well, I'm alive and well, and it's late, so…" she raised her eyebrows at him, a silent invitation to leave. He just stared at her, his eyes wide. She sighed heavily, and he moved towards her, his steps tentative. When he reached her, he said "C'mon, let me see this," and he grabbed her gently under the arms and lifted her to sit on the edge of the counter. He put his hand gently behind her calf and lifted her leg for a closer look.
"It won't stop bleeding," she whispered, staring at the curls on the back of his head as he leaned over her knee.
"It'll stop in a minute, you've just got to be still and hold some pressure on it," he said softly, taking the gauze from her hand and holding it firmly over the cut. "Here, put your hand over this…" he murmured, and she held the gauze in place as reached for a clean hand towel and ran it under some cool water. He began to run it down her leg gently, wiping the drying blood from her skin. "You know," he began, talking to her leg instead of to her, "Kristin came by tonight to tell me that she's moving to Los Angeles. Apparently she met some guy who owns a bunch of sporting goods stores, and she's moving out there to be with him." He brushed his lips over her knee, right above her cut, and then stood up straight. Rachel nodded silently, and stared at her hand as he reached for it and began running the cool towel over the cuts on her palm. He blew lightly on the scrapes, then kissed each of her fingertips slowly, gently. Rachel's eyelids felt heavy, Josh's closeness and warm scent making her suddenly drowsy.
"I'm going to put a bandage on your knee, but then you have to be still for awhile, okay?" he instructed, lifting her off the counter and walking her slowly to her bedroom. He laid her back on her bed and straightened her legs across the mattress, covering her cut with a few clean gauze strips and some tape. He began to talk softly, still aiming his words at her leg as he worked.
"Rachel, you don't really believe there's anything going on between me and Kristin, do you." It was a statement, not a question. Rachel brought her hand to her eyes and covered them, embarrassed.
"Josh, I don't know…I guess, when I saw you with her…laughing and being silly with her," Rachel paused, took a deep breath. "You're such good friends, and it seems so easy between the two of you. I'm just—I'm not that girl…" she signed wearily. She felt Josh slide up the mattress, until his face was even with hers.
"But I don't want that girl," he whispered, moving her hand from her eyes. "The girl I want is sweet, and kind, and a little shy," he kissed the tip of her nose quickly. "And funny, and smart…and sexy, even if she doesn't know it," he continued, grinning a bit as she rolled her eyes. "And every time I look at her, my stomach does a little flip, because I'm stupid-crazy in love with her…" he mumbled as he leaned into her lips, kissing her softly. Rachel's breath caught in her throat, and she reached for his face, feeling the rough stubble of his beard on her sore palms.
And as he continued to kiss her—soft, wet, warm kisses—Rachel's stomach did a little flip, and she fell in love with him again.
About the Author: Claire Matthews currently lives in Houston, Texas, where she has taught political science at a local community college for the last 15 years. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and one anti-social dog, and enjoys reading, writing, and all kinds of social media.
She's published stories at Total-E-Bound.com, and has an upcoming release with Evernight Publishing. Website: clairematthews.yolasite.com