“You don’t have to do this,” James said, as I came back to the bed with a wet cloth. He lowered the ice and gently I pressed the cloth to his face, wiping the blood from his skin.
“I don’t mind,” I said, smiling gently. He returned the smile and I found it hard to resist his charm. He must have mastered the art – with his good looks and strong jaw… and his body. We still hadn’t figured out why he was lying in Sophie’s bed in his underwear and why he didn’t have any clothes lying around but I didn’t mind at all. He was sexy. I’d been in a serious relationship since I was sixteen and still a virgin. I’d only slept with one person. No wonder this sexy, rough, and bloody stranger made me feel so hot. I was free from my boyfriend for the first time in seven years. Who cares if he hypothetically belonged to Sophie? I barely knew her. What did I care?
Darcy stormed back into the hotel room from the balcony.
“I need a fucking cigarette,” she said. “V?”
I looked over my shoulder at her, feeling James’ eyes on me as I turned away from him. “I’m out,” I told her. “Sorry, Darce.”
“Fuck,” she said, looking at James. “You? You have any?”
“I don’t smoke,” he said. “Sorry.”
“God damn it. You’re useless,” Darcy said, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “I hope that naked man in my bed has more than just condoms in his pockets. V, wait here for Sophie and… hopefully Karen.”
“Sure,” I nodded, as she hurried out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her. I turned back to James, bringing the cloth back to his face. He was still smiling.
“How do you girls know Sophie?” he asked, shifting his weight and coming in closer to me.
“We don’t really,” I confessed. He laughed. “Sophie was with Darcy and Karen. I met them last night. They needed a ride and I needed help paying for a hotel room. Voila. Problem solved.”
“You’re all sharing a hotel room and you don’t know anything about each other?” he asked.
“Worse things could have happened,” I said, wiping the last of the blood off of his face. “It seems like you’re the one who should be questioning your involvement with Sophie. We aren’t the ones who got punched in the face.”
He laughed again and shook his head. “Well, I deserved what I got,” he said. “I am, however, slightly concerned that she might have drugged me or something and who knows what she did once I was out. You don’t remember seeing me here last night?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Sorry.” I smiled at him. “I wish I remembered you.”
He smiled and reached up, gently brushing his fingers under my chin.
“A pretty girl like you,” he said. “You should be more careful in a city like this.”
Oh my God, my head just dropped right to my crotch. His eyes were absolutely…
Broken from my trance by the sound of her voice, I whipped my head to the right to see that Sophie had just stepped into the room. Right behind her stood my boyfriend, Caleb, who I hadn’t seen since my graduation party a few days before. In his hand he held a leash which was attached to the dog that I’d completely forgotten about and had apparently misplaced.
“Look who I found in the hallway,” she said. “I recognized the dog but not the boy. Turns out that they know each other. Weird.”
I pushed away from James and came to my feet, making eye contact with Caleb. He was angry, I could see it in his eyes. I didn’t blame him. Not only had I disappeared from San Francisco without an explanation but he’d called me for an answer and I’d just hung up on him and now he walked into a hotel room in Las Vegas to find me in a bed with my face six inches away from a sexy naked man.
“Caleb…” I said, stepping towards him. “How…”
“Not here, Cia,” he said, nodding to James and Sophie, who had walked across the room to set a box of donuts and four coffees on the table beside the window.
“Okay,” I nodded. “Sophie, I’ll just…”
“Sure thing, Cia,” she said, nodding. “Do what you need to do.”
I stepped forward and gently touched Caleb’s forearm to lead him out of the room. He pulled away from me and it tore my heart in two. As we stepped into the hallway, it sounded as if Sophie might have punched James in the face again but I couldn’t concern myself with that anymore. I shut the door and looked up to my boyfriend. I’d been away from him for so long and had put my mind on so many different things, that I’d allowed myself to forget how much I loved him. Just seeing his face again made me feel safe. His messy hair, his brown eyes, the lips that I loved kissing. Tears came to my eyes as I realized how badly I had treated him over the past few days.
“Cia, don’t,” he said. “Don’t even start. After what you did to me, and to your aunt and your sister… that’s not fair. Don’t give me that.”
“Caleb, I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I don’t even know what I was thinking…”
“Damn right, you don’t!” he cried, dropping the loop of Charlie’s leash around the door knob of Sophie’s room. “What the hell are you doing, Cia? What are you trying to prove? Look at you! You look like shit… like a two dollar hooker. And who the hell was that guy?”
“He’s no one! I just met him, I was just…”
“You’re throwing our relationship away over no one?!” he cried.
“No, Caleb… I’m not…” I started but I lost my breath as a sob overtook my composure. I inhaled sharply and looked up at him through my tears. “I’m going through something… and I don’t… I don’t…” I covered my face with my hands as I started sobbing again. I couldn’t find my words or the explanation that I needed to give him. I wasn’t so sure that I even had one. Although I’d had a purpose when I first headed towards Las Vegas, it seemed like I’d let the night get away from me and I’d lost my way.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Cia. After you called me from a bar in Oregon and then hung up on me, I spent the whole night worrying about you. And then at 4 o’clock this morning I get a call from a hotel manager in Las Vegas because my dog has been found wandering the halls alone. They were going to throw him in the pound so thank God that he had my phone number on his tags because who the hell knows what kind of state you were in to have lost him in the first place. What choice did I have but to get on a plane and come rescue him from whatever shit storm you’d created?” he yelled.
“Caleb, I’m sorry! I can’t say that again. I’m just… I’m looking for my mom. I need to find her,” I said. “This is what this has been about and I just… I met these friends and… it felt good to let go a little bit and stop thinking about it for just one night.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at me. “And you couldn’t come to me for that, Cia? I know more about your relationship with your mom than anyone else and you couldn’t trust me enough to talk to me about this?”
I sighed softly and wiped my eyes again. I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Caleb,” I said. “But our whole relationship is framed around my mom’s illness and I just…” I sighed deeply and looked at my boyfriend, unable to stop myself from crying. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here. Why do you keep going through this with me? I’m just like her.”
Caleb sighed and reached for me. “Cia… I’m here because I love you,” he said. “Okay? You’re not making any sense right now but you’re not anything like your mother. Look at me.” He hooked his finger underneath my chin, just like James had done just ten minutes earlier. The difference this time was that the eyes looking into mine were genuine. Caleb was everything that I had, he was my past and my future, my forever. I had put him through all of this and for what? I was chasing a ghost through the desert. My mother wasn’t dead but she was nothing more than a memory to me. It’d been so long since I’d seen her. What was I looking for?
“You’re stronger than she ever was, Cia,” he said, brushing his fingers against my cheek. He was saving me from myself again, just like he always did. He’d been saving me since I was sixteen years old. He pulled me into his arms and he kissed my forehead gently. “And because of that, you’re going to get yourself out of this mess and finish whatever it is that you’ve started here, okay?”
I nodded, burying my face into the comfort of his t-shirt. He smelled like home. Safe and familiar.
“Okay,” I said.
“I booked a room on the first floor,” he said. “148. When you’ve said good bye to your… friends… and after you get your shit together, I’ll be downstairs with Charlie waiting for you.” He was still frustrated with me, I could hear it in his voice but at least he was holding me. At least I still had that.