After “The End”
My heart is still an animal, a chameleon, to be specific.
I’ve tried. I really have. To tame it. To make it realize that I call the shots. That I’m in charge of it, not vice versa. But we’re still a work in progress.
All of this would be so much easier to bear if only my crazy, stupid heart would behave. But no. It’s not behaving. At all. It’s fluttering, bobbing. A second ago, I swear it was in my stomach. Then it soared to my throat, sat on my tongue, before backing down into my chest.
Calm down, will you, I say to my anxious heart.
We’re dead. We’re so dead, is the useless answer.
We’re not dead. It’s gonna be fine. We’ve done this before.
Yeah, but not like this. Also, what if this is the time everyone laughed?
“Damn it! Just stop,” I snap.
“What?” Comes the voice from beside me.
I look to my side and frown. Then smile. It all comes out in a weird fashion. “What?”
The girl next to me, Josephine, my classmate, raises her eyebrow. “You said, stop.”
“Did I?” I shift in my seat and smooth the edges of my notebook. “Uh, well, I was talking to myself.”
“Clearly,” she scoffs and turns away.
Josephine and I, we’re not friends. We’re sort of enemies, actually.
So, this semester I’m taking a class where we’re supposed to incorporate a real life event into a piece of fiction. It’s called turning life into fiction. And the first time we workshopped my story in class, Josephine was the one to call it cliché and forgettable. I still remember being red in the face, sweating and angry. No one, and I mean no one is allowed to call my story cliché. Because, hello, it’s not. I mean, falling for a married professor, when has that happened in the history of the universe?
Our love is our art, Layla. And people always judge art. They tear it down. They pick it apart. That’s just the way it is. That’s what my blue-eyed professor said to me later that night when I told him how mad I was. I jumped his bones after that, and when he was inside me, big and strong, I asked him to repeat those words. He did. And since then, I hate Josephine a little less and I love Thomas a little more. I think I keep loving him a little more every day.
The professor calls out Josephine’s name and she stands up, grinning, like she’s been waiting for this moment all her life. Well, maybe she has. We’re at a bar in East Village, and every Friday they host a Lit night. It’s open to all the schools around the tri-state area and only the best of the best go up there and read their work.
This Friday it’s our school’s turn and they have chosen me and Josephine. So basically, I can’t fuck up. I need to be good, confident, presentable. I need to be fucking awesome at this. My words needs to be fucking awesome.
Okay, I need to stop. I’m scaring myself. My coward heart can take only so much.
I sit up in my seat by the stage and watch Josephine walk up to the mic. She is smiling and confident, and despite myself, I feel proud of her. She opens her notebook, clears her throat and begins. Her voice is loud and her tone has inflection in all the right places. I can feel the room sigh and gasp with her. The more I watch her, the less nervous I become. I can do this. I really can. All I have to do is stare at my purple notebook and read something I wrote. I’ve done this countless times ever since I started at this school almost a year ago. How hard can it be, right? Right?
Well, it can be pretty hard.
Because when they call my name and I stand up, my legs begin to shake. My knees knock against each other. I swear I feel the sweat dripping down the back of my checkered-skirt covered thighs.
I get on the makeshift stage and stand in front of the mic, run my fingers over the spiral bound notebook. I’m scared to look up and find every eye in the dimly lit room on me. There’s something about being judged that still gets to me.
Shaking my head once, I close my eyes and think of something good, something encouraging. It’s a thing I’ve been doing this past year. Whenever I think I’m less or I’m unworthy, I think of something precious in my life. Something that I earned for myself. I think of the love of my life.
Behind my closed eyelids, I see his eyes. They are blue, bluer than the water, the sky, the flames, and they are blazing. Then I see his smirking lips, full and kissable. They are mouthing the words, the magical, life-changing words: I love you. Goosebumps pierce my skin. I feel electric. He loves me. Me. How can I be less? How can I be unworthy when he is the face of my requited love?
Smiling, I open my eyes and look up. And there he is, plucked right out of my dreams.
He stands in the back. In fact, he’s the only one standing in the room full of people sitting down. He looks large and looming. He looks like the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.
Well, duh, my love-drunk heart scoffs.
With a cigarette in his mouth, he leans against the maroon wall. His face is dipped, the dark hair hitting his eyebrows. He needs a haircut, but I keep telling him to leave it long. It makes him look dashing. He laughs at me. But whatever. He hasn’t cut it yet.
Even though his face is dipped, his eyes are on me. They are fraught with heat. So much so that, they could burn me from across the room. Well, what else is new? When Thomas is around, distance has no meaning. He touches me without even laying a finger on me.
I take another deep breath, badly hoping to taste the smoke rising from his lips. Maybe I do because all of a sudden, I feel relaxed. My anxiety is gone. He’s here. My heart’s still fluttering, though. Still kicking up a ruckus. But only because it wants to tear out of my chest and fly to him. It wants to feel the smoke coming out of his mouth and filling up my body.
I smile at him but he doesn’t reciprocate. It’s okay. I’m not scared of him not returning my smile. That’s the way he loves, hard and rough and unpolished.
Leaning down, I say into the mic, “Hi, I’m Layla Robinson. And my story is called, The RuleBreaker.”
Words river out of me in thick streams. I wrote this story in the days when Thomas was repenting. When I was mad at him for abandoning me, for making me miserable, for making me think the worst about myself. Since then I’ve added to it, polished it, wrote about things that I was scared to examine. I’m not the kind of writer to do that. I write and I move on to something else. But I wanted to finish this story, make it into something beautiful and ugly, at the same time.
I say the last words and look up. I’m breathing hard. It feels like I’ve run out of words, my language is dried up and I’ll never be able to talk again. It feels like all my emotions leached out into the open and I’m empty.
I need Thomas to breathe life into me again.
My eyes find him again. He is standing straight, the cigarette gone from his mouth, his lips parted, his chest moving up and down with the heaving breaths. His emotions are rioting, as well. Similar to mine. See? Soulmates. He feels what I feel.
Just as I shut my notebook and jump down the stage, the room bursts out into applause. I don’t care about their approval now. I need something else. Biting my lip, I smile and then, take off. I run across the room, the claps thundering and bouncing against the darkly-painted walls.
Thomas is ready for me because as soon as I reach him, I jump up and wound my limbs around his sculpted body, and he doesn’t even oomph. He fits me against his chest, like I was there all along. Like my body is a part of his body, and us being apart is ridiculous.
I could laugh with happiness, with freedom that I get to do this. That the harlot gets to run to her firebreather, gets to tangle herself to him out in the open. People take these things for granted, holding hands, kissing in public, caressing each other’s faces. Not me. Not us. We never got to do that when we were falling in love. We didn’t even know we were falling. So yeah, this is magic.
Thomas’ arms are tight ropes of muscles that span my back. I pant into his neck, gasping warm breaths over his skin. A tiny shiver runs along the column of his throat. I know it’s because of me. But still, a shock ripples through my own system that I affect someone, that I affect him in this way.
“You weren’t supposed to smoke in here,” I say into his neck.
His arms flex around me. “Haven’t you heard? I’m the rulebreaker.”
I chuckle and push away from him, my notebook dangling from my hands. “I thought you had a meeting.”
There’s a twinkle in his fire-breathing eyes. Twinkle and desire. “I did.”
“You blew them off?”
I gasp, trying to get down but he doesn’t let me. Instead, he begins walking. I blush as he walks across the room, with me wrapped around his body. He passes by the same tables as I did to get to him, and approaches the exit by the stage. The claps have long since stopped, and I’m met with stunned glances.
Great. They think I’m crazy.
Grimacing, I hide my face in Thomas’ neck and wonder if they will expel me for this. Thomas walks through the main door of the bar and steps outside. With me hanging on to his chest like a spider-monkey, he takes lunging steps along the humid New York sidewalk and veers off toward the alley between two buildings. Pressing me against the damp wall, he breaths on my lips. I moan as the smell of cigarette and chocolate hit me on my nose, on my tongue.
“I’m pretty sure they think we have no sense of boundaries and that we’re crazy,” I breathe, rubbing my nose against his.
“I’m pretty sure they already had that thought when you ran across the room and jumped into my arms,” he rumbles, his lips twitching.
“Whatever.” I roll my eyes. He chuckles and goes to catch my lips in a kiss, but I move away. It took all my willpower, however. “Thomas, you’re not supposed to blow people off. That’s rude. You’re supposed to be nice to them, especially if they’re your editor.”
God, this man. How can he be both boyish and arrogant at the same time?
“Says I,” I tell him and again, try to untangle myself from him but again, he doesn’t let me.
Thomas doesn’t say anything for a second, simply smirks. His palms move from my back and travel down to my ass. He kneads the flesh in his hands and whispers, “Yeah, not buying that. You love it when I’m mean to you.” Those words are accompanied by him getting his hands under my skirt, and palming my bare butt. Thongs for the win, right?
Nope, not so much right now when I’m trying to talk to him and we’re out in the open but he won’t stop distracting me.
“Thomas.” I try to be stern but I’m pretty sure I sound weak and melty. “Stop. I’m not talking about that.”
He doesn’t stop his movements, instead, leans over me, pressing the toned, hard planes of his body over my soft, cushiony ones. “Talking about what?”
I raise my eyebrows at him. It’s difficult though, when all I want to do is close my eyes. “About sex.”
At this, he practically plasters his shuddering abdomen to my heated core, and my thighs automatically tighten around his hips. “I’m not talking about that, either.”
I fist his shirt. “You so are.”
His forehead rubs against mine. “Nope, not sex. Fucking. I’m talking about fucking.”
God, I’m so full of this man, and he isn’t even inside me. He doesn’t need to be, though. The moment I saw him, he made a home inside me, somewhere deep and dark. A piece of his soul latched to a piece of mine. An invisible thread that ties me to him and him to me. We don’t need to touch to be able to feel it. Though touching is good. Very, very good.
My fingers sink into his long, wavy hair and my back arches. “I don’t think you should talk like that here.”
“Yeah?” He chuckles. It’s knowing “Why? Does it make you wet?”
It could be dangerous how much he knows me. How transparent and naked I am in front of him, even with all my clothes on. But it’s not. Requited love is never dangerous. Only glorious and yeah, sometimes shameless.
“You know it does,” I whisper.
He rubs his palms over my inner thighs, massaging the soft flesh. “So what do we do now?”
“It’s a real problem.”
I bite my lip and look into his burning eyes. “Uh-huh. I probably need saving.”
“Is that right?” he growls.
I nod, my eyes wide and innocent. Ha! When Was the last time I was innocent? Can’t remember.
“Are you gonna save me or what?” I ask Thomas, who has grown larger in the last five second. His broad shoulders are blocking my vision. He’s the extent of my world.
Thomas’ thumb presses too high on my thigh, too close to my pussy. It’s wet and ready and swollen. It’s breathing with lust.
He dips his head and runs his open mouth along the column of my throat. His breaths are misty and so fucking arousing. I think I’ll die if he doesn’t do something soon. I’m about to tell him that when a burst of laughter sounds from a distance. I freeze and so does he.
We’re out in the open. Sure, it’s dark and we’re partially hidden in the alley but this is the city. It never sleeps. I think it burns even brighter at night. There are some things you can only see when it gets dark.
Are we going to become that thing? Him and me?
We look at each other. It’s dangerous and risky and it’s not something that normal people do. A normal couple would unwind themselves from each other, catch a cab, go home, fuck in the bed. Maybe they’d have their lights on, just for the thrill. But their windows would be closed. They wouldn’t be frisky on the side of a busy street.
My crazy, crazy heart is throbbing, pounding. I’m sure Thomas can feel it against his chest. Any moment now, he’s gonna open his mouth and growl in that sexy way of his we’re going home.
But he says something completely different. Because we’re not normal. I’m his harlot and he is my firebreather.
“Are you sure you want to me save you, baby?” he refers to my earlier statement, adjusting me in his grip, until I feel his swollen cock against my core. “Coz saving is hardly the thing that I do.”
My teeth dig down on my lip. Hard. “Then what is it that you do?”
His thumb inches closer to my pussy and presses down on my clit. I jump and shiver, making him chuckle as he whispers in my ear, “I make you fall apart. Sometimes slow. Sometimes hard. And sometimes out in the open where anyone can see.”
Thomas is rubbing my clit over the scrap of lace and I’m beginning to undulate my hips. I want more. “I don’t care. Do whatever you want. Just don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.”
“I won’t. Even if the people you know, people you go to school with hear you moan. They’re just a wall away, Layla. Does that make you hot? Does it make you wanna get fucked, baby? So they can hear and wonder. Is it that little Layla Robinson who’s making hot as fuck noises? Violet eyed and crazy haired and so fucking sexy that they walk around with a constant hard on.”
“Thomas,” I moan as the pressure of his thumb increases. The power his words have over me is ridiculous, otherworldly. I’m going to come just by listening to him.
“But they know not to touch you, yeah? They know you’re mine.” His whispers are dying out. They are getting lower and lower in tone, being dragged out of his chest. He’s drowning in the eroticism of the moment, just like I am.
I moan and hump against his cock, making him hiss, “Don’t they, Layla? Tell me, baby.”
“Yes,” I whisper back, surrendering to him, to his words, pressing open mouthed kisses on his stubbled jaw. “They know. They know how crazy I am for you. How hard up and hot. That I’ll let you do anything to me. Anything you want.”
His groan is large and loud and aroused. His shudders are overwhelming and telling. My words are just as powerful, just as potent to his heart as his are to mine. He wraps a fist around my hair and arches my neck. “Are you trying to kill me, Layla? Because if you are then you should know that I’m not scared of going to hell. But I’m not leaving without feeling your cunt shudder over my cock and smearing me with your cum.”
He’s slayed all the words with his last ones and I don’t even care where we are. Are we even on Earth? Maybe we’ve died and we’re both in hell or heaven or whatever. I just want him inside me.
Thomas makes short work of our clothes, simply opening his zipper and shoving aside my thong. He enters me with a clean, sure stab of his cock, and after that, we are a melody of groans, grunts and moans.
We fuck in a dark alley. It’s dirty, rough and quick. It’s sweaty and gasping and maybe immoral. But it’s ours. Just like our love story, and I love it.
Later that night, Thomas takes me to his place in Brooklyn. I spend most of my time in his two-bedroom apartment even though, I officially live in the dorm in the city. Thomas has never said anything about moving in and I never brought it up either. It’s too soon anyway. We’ve only been really together for a few months.
Mrs. Carter, Thomas’ next door neighbor usually watches Nicky when Thomas needs it. She is a sweet lady who has a crush on my boyfriend. She loves his poems and wants to be a poet herself. Thomas sometimes teaches her and it’s really fun to watch. He tries to be nice to her but it’s hard for him.
Nicky’s asleep when we reach. While Thomas is busy explaining the even/odd syllables to Mrs. Carter, I tip-toe to Nicky’s room. He’s grown so much over the past year, it’s scary. Like, I’d blink and he’d be off to kindergarten. His breaths are soft and calm and he is drooling over the latest hat I gave him. He never goes anywhere without it. It’s not purple in color, unfortunately. His preferences have changed to red, which is sort of hurtful but I’ll convert him again. I trace my finger over his sleep-swollen cheek and he lets out an adorable snort.
I’m Layla to him, the girl who brings him hats and sometimes kisses his daddy. But a few weeks ago, he called me mommy, or something similar that completely freaked me out. That night was hard for me. I cried thinking about all the things happened to Hadley and how she is somewhere no one knows about. I cried thinking about the day Nicky will know that I’m not his mom. I’m just some girl his dad cheated with, on his real mom. I wondered if he’ll hate me. I still wonder that even though Thomas told me that we’ll figure everything out together. But if we can’t, then I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t think I’ll be able to take Nicky’s hatred.
I walk out of his room, softly closing the door behind and find Thomas waiting for me in his bedroom. Sometimes I feel like his room is made up towers of books rather than walls. It’s perfect; it suits him. He’s on the bed, his chest bare, a book in his hands. “Is he okay?” he asks.
“Good,” he mumbles.
My heart squeezes at the trust Thomas places in me when it comes to Nicky. Not long ago, Thomas was still reeling from Nicky’s accident. The fear of losing him almost consumed him. It’s still there but he’s slowly bouncing back. And the fact that he trusts me so much is sort of making me wanna cry tonight. Like he doesn’t need to go check on his son if I said he’s doing okay. Like, I’m his son’s real mom.
I’m not. I’ll never be.
The things that might happen in future suddenly seem so near, so immediate. My mind races with all the things that could go wrong. All the ways my simple, small life can be torn apart.
I freshen up in the ensuite and wear Thomas’ t-shirt to sleep in. When I get into bed with him, I don’t want sex, I just want his arms around me. I tuck my head under his chin and press my body to his side. He understands. He closes the book and gathers me in his arms, kissing my forehead.
“I love you,” he says.
I press a soft kiss on his chest. “I love you too.”
“It’s gonna be okay. I got you.”
I nod and close my eyes. And as I drift off to sleep, I realize this is something I never knew about the requited love. The weird fear. The pang in the chest. All because things are so beautiful and so perfect. So dream-like.
All because I have everything I ever wanted.
A sound wakes me up in the morning. A sound and a giant weight on my chest. I gasp and my lids pop open. I’m met with the clear blue eyes, and a big, wide grin.
“Nicky,” I gasp.
“Layla!” he shrieks from where he sits on my chest. “Wake up! Wake up.”
I grimace and try to dislodge him from my body. I think he just crushed my lungs. “Wh-what’s happening?” I wheeze out.
He giggles and shrieks, again. Then jumps up and down on the bed, screaming wake up, wake up. I put my hands up and sit. “Okay, okay. I’m awake. What is going on?”
“Daddy say surprise,” he tells me, swallowing all his r’s and then falls down laughing.
I chuckle and cough at his antics. “What surprise?”
He doesn’t answer me because he’s busy blowing raspberries on the bed. I tackle him and his laughter reaches a new decibel level. He screams Layla over and over, until I make him sit and narrow my eyes at him. Red-cheeked, he does the same and we have an early morning staring contest. Until he breaks down laughing again.
“Oh my God, what’s happening?” I mutter before shouting, “Thomas!”
“Thomas,” Nicky copies me and I shake my head. That little parrot.
“Daddy,” I call Thomas, in a sing-song voice and sure enough, Nicky does the same. “You can’t win from me, buddy,” I tell Nicky who claps at this.
I’m getting ready to call Thomas again when I really see Nicky. I really see what he’s wearing: white shirt and blue jeans.
What… what’s happening?
Why’s he wearing that?
With his black curls and blue eyes, Nicky looks like a miniature version of the man I love. My crazy heart begins to beat really, really fast.
We’re fucked, it says.
We love him too much, it says.
As if I didn’t know that. As if I haven’t spent days thinking about the future. As if I wasn’t freaking out about it just last night.
Frantically, I look around and find Thomas leaning against the bedroom door, wearing the same exact outfit.
They’re both trying to kill me. That’s the explanation. Because I’m dying. This is what dying feels like. A rush of feelings and emotions. All clashing and racing together. Ballooning, ready to explode.
“Hey, baby.” he smirks, sexily as he enters the room.
He bends down, kissing me on the lips. Dry and chaste. Innocent. Such a sweet delusion.
“What are you doing?” I widen my eyes. “Why’s Nicky wearing that?”
“I think he likes it.”
I look at Nicky. He isn’t interested. He’s playing with his daddy’s watch, talking to himself. I look back at Thomas who hasn’t moved his eyes from me. They are warm, simmering instead of blazing. It’s the look I’ve gotten to know pretty well in the past months. It means he’s being nice and thoughtful. Though he’d never admit to it. He says I’m imagining things in my head whenever I call him out.
But the look is real. Why’s he looking at me like that? My heart’s buzzing, and so is my soul. I know this is something big. Huge.
Oh my God.
I gasp. “Oh my god, are you proposing?” I sit up straight. “You’re proposing, right? Oh my God. I think…” I press my hand over my chest. “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Thomas takes a seat, then and grips my wrist in his warm hands. “Hey, Layla. Relax. Calm down, okay?”
“A-are you –”
“No, not yet.” He shakes his head but then grumbles, “Thanks for stealing my thunder, by the way.”
I swallow. “You scared me.”
His jaw clenches and he lets go of my hands. “Does that scare you? Me proposing to you?”
I look at him. His carved cheeks, his soft lips, his beautiful eyes, the rich, dark hair. Then and there, I promise to myself that when I die, I’ll close my eyes and imagine his face, just the way it is at this moment. It’s a little pissed off, a little vulnerable, a lot beautiful and in love. It’s all his faces wrapped in one look.
“Yeah.” I lick my lips and he flinches. “It scares me how much I want that. How much I want you to ask me that question and how much I wanna say yes.”
Softness explodes on his features. Softness and relief. He’s such an idiot. How can he not know that I’d say yes.
Anyway, he covers it all up with his sexy smirk. “Understandable. I’m quite the catch.”
My breath rushes out in a gasp and I roll my eyes. I swat at his chest. “You’re such an a—“ I stop myself and glance at Nicky. Thomas finds this amusing, the way I clean up my language around the little guy and I punch his arm. Then I remember.
“Hey, what’s the surprise?” I jump and ask.
“Forget it. It’s ruined.”
“It’s not. What is it? Nicky said there was a surprise.”
At the mention of his name, Nicky abandons his toy of the hour and crawls over to his daddy. Thomas smushes him to his chest and kisses his forehead. “Tell her, Nicky that she ruined it. We won’t tell her the surprise, after all.”
“It’s ruined!” Nicky shrieks, again eating up his r’s. “Surprise!”
“Ugh. You guys are the worst. Seriously.” I pout.
Thomas nudges Nicky. “Do you think we should tell her? I mean, she’s a girl. She probably doesn’t know better.”
Giggling, Nicky srunches up his nose. “Layla’s a girl.”
I’m outraged. “Is that what you’re teaching him about girls?”
He raises an arrogant eyebrow, which surprisingly Nicky copies. “Do you want the surprise or not?”
With my eyes, I tell him that he’s gonna pay for the girl comment, but not right now. Damnit. I need to know. “Tell me.”
Thomas grins, then. And it’s so unexpected that I forget to breathe. I can only watch him as he leans over and opens the nightstand, and fishes out an envelope. He gives it to me and I open it with trembling hands. It’s airplane tickets. To Paris.
“What? Where… What?”
“It’s the tickets. To Paris,” Thomas explains, with a chuckle.
“Ha ha. I can see that but…I don’t… I don’t get it.”
“I talked to your program director. I told them that you want to go, even though you’ve refused their scholarship.”
“B-but you know the reason why I refused. I can’t live in Paris for a year. I can’t be away from you and Nicky.”
“So we’re going with you.”
“We’re all going together?”
“Yes.” Thomas sighs, explaining patiently. “If you look closely there’s more than one ticket.”
I don’t care about the tickets so I don’t move my eyes from him. “For…an entire year?”
I still don’t understand. “But… how… How are we gonna do it? I mean, the money. My mom pretty much hates me now. I don’t think she’ll fund my Paris adventure. She even hates paying for my college and they gave that scholarship to Josephine, and you have your book coming out. I can’t –“
Thomas cups my cheek, effectively shutting me up. “I told you I got you, and I do. Do you trust me?”
I nod and oddly, tears spill down my cheeks. “More than anyone.”
“Then we’re going, baby. You and me and Nicky. We’re together and we’re going as a family.”
“Family,” I breathe.
I look down at Nicky. He’s crawled back to his toy now that his daddy and Layla are whispering. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life.”
I rest my forehead against his and close my eyes. “Okay, I’m sure I’m in a shock right now because it’s still not sinking in. But I know one thing for sure.”
“I’m scared” I nod and open my eyes to find his lips twitching.
“Because I love you so much that I think you can’t be real.”
“Yeah, I know how that feels.”
Thomas smiles and kisses the tip of my nose. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I whisper over his lips.
Then, I cry and laugh. Then hug Thomas tightly before lunging for the little monster who’s chewing Thomas’ watch and tell him how much I love him, too.
In this moment I have another epiphany, we’ve been soulmates long before we met each other, Thomas and I. And Nicky, even. Because he came from the man I love. The man I’ll always love. The man who’ll always love me.
No matter what happens, no matter how wrong things go in future, we’ll always be together. We’ll always be a family.