Imagine Me, page 19
“Reese.” Shane’s voice rang low and warning.
“Said we had to be here to protect MacCabe’s little sister and make sure you’re okay. Lucky girl to have so many people watching out for you.”
MacCabe’s little sister.
“I just wanted to make sure you were safe from any fallout.”
All I heard from Reese’s retelling was MacCabe’s little sister. Protect her. I was so sick and tired of having to say it over and over again.
“I don’t need protection, Shane. I don’t need to be rescued.”
“I know that.”
“Do you?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. “I thought you did. I thought you treated me as an equal when we were together. But here you are.” I looked him up and down. “Protecting MacCabe’s little sister. Treating me as a child who can’t stand on her own two feet.”
“You’re with Jack MacCabe’s little sister? You got a death wish, man?” Reese asked.
“Shut up, Reese,” Shane growled at him. He took a deep breath and stepped closer to me, trying to talk lower so only I could hear. “I miss you.”
“We’ve already had this conversation, and yet you just don’t get it. You left me twice. Twice.” I held up two fingers to make my point, because words weren’t seeming to work. “And despite all my proclamations to every man around me that I’m fine on my own, they are continually ignored, because apparently I don’t know better for myself.”
“I made a mistake.” He held out his hands in supplication, looking defeated. “You were right. I was scared of what you made me feel.”
His words thumped against the wall I’d built around myself in the last thirty-six hours. I stared into his eyes and a part of me wanted to. I really, really wanted to believe him.
But then I remember all the times he called me a child. I remembered the time he told me I was a nice fuck, but a mistake. I remembered the time I told him I loved him and practically begged him to love me back, and he turned me away. I remembered when he told me I wasn’t worth it. I saw how he treated me just like Jack, my father, and Hudson; always assuming they knew what was best for me, despite my direct wishes.
“You need to leave.” I hated the slight waver in my voice. “Go take in your criminal.”
“Jules, let me help.”
“I don’t need your help.” My raised voice drew attention from outside as Dr. Voet walked in. “I’m fine on my own.”
“Everything okay in here?” Dr. Voet asked.
I stared at Shane as he breathed heavily, seeming to weigh his options. Reese rested a palm on his shoulder as though letting him know it was time to go.
“Yeah,” Shane said. “Just asking some questions. We’ll be heading out now.”
And he turned to walk away, staring at Dr. Voet as he walked past.
“You okay?” Dr. Voet asked me, his hands coming to rest on my shoulders.”
I swallowed hard and nodded, even though I felt far from okay. Especially when I met Shane’s hollow eyes as he walked out the door.
Was I making a mistake?
The first gift arrived on Tuesday. It was a small gift bag that the department secretary placed on my desk. When I asked who it was from, she shrugged and said a student delivered it. I removed the tissue paper and pulled out a . . .
Lunchable? A pizza lunchable.
“Who the hell gift wraps a pizza lunchable?” Jolene asked. “That’s a shitty gift.”
I looked in the bag to see if there was more and saw a piece of paper stuck to the bottom that said ‘read me.’ Of course, curiosity had me unfolding it, because Jo was right, who the hell sent a lunchable as a gift.
A pizza lunchable because it already comes apart and I know how much you enjoy your pizza in pieces. I miss sitting across from you at Sunday brunch, and watching you eat the toppings, then the cheese, and finally the crust. You never noticed me watching, but I always was. I can’t remember a time when my eyes weren’t drawn to you.
I miss you,
P.S. My favorite pizza toppings are meat. All of them. I figured I’d share since I know you like green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sausage. I also know you only like mushrooms on pizza. No other way.
I wanted to roll my eyes and be unaffected, but it was too soon, and I was too close to crying. I was about to toss it, but Jo said she’d eat it. I’d stared at the cheap yellow plastic with crappy pizza crust and sauce behind it, and felt possessive over it. It was mine.
But I made sure not to enjoy it.
Wednesday, I got a flat box, wrapped in simple blue paper. When the secretary passed it to me, I carefully held it like I would a bomb. Jolene rolled over and bounced in her seat to see what the next gift would be.
Swallowing hard, I began tearing through the paper, revealing a white clothing box. Opening that, I saw a shirt peeking out of tissue paper.
Let’s cuddle and talk about science.
I didn’t want to laugh at how perfect it was. I didn’t want to feel my eyes burning for a third day in a row. I wanted to be indifferent.
Setting the shirt aside, I saw another piece of paper at the bottom of the box. Carefully, I unfolded it and began reading.
I love the shirts you wear. Every time I saw you, I looked forward to what they would say because they always made me laugh. I miss seeing the way they fit you perfectly, outlining the perfect curve of your breasts. Because, yes, I miss all of you. Every part.
P.S. I collect CPD shirts. Mainly because they’re free, but also because I love the station and the shirts are always soft.
My heart raced and my lungs struggled to keep up. Losing the battle, I wiped a lone tear off my cheek and placed the shirt back in the box. Jo was kind enough to not point it out and we got back to work.
I realized what he was doing. Showing me how much he knew me, and I couldn’t deny enjoying the attention, but it hurt so much because I’d made my decision. Why hadn’t all this effort come before? Why did I have to be crushed for him to decide he cared?
My nerves tingled with both excitement and dread over what the next day would hold.
Thursday, a Christmas Cookie-scented Yankee Candle was sitting in a bag, with a lighter that said, “Baby you light up my world.” Another note was stuck to the bottom and my hand trembled a little when I opened it.
I know you love citrus and vanilla candles. Really any baked good-scented candle. But I know that Christmas Cookie is your favorite. It’s also ridiculously hard to find in the spring. My days are a lot darker without your smile.
I miss you,
P.S. My favorite scent is vanilla on your skin.
I laid the note on my bench and brought the candle to my nose to smell, and I smiled.
I waited all day Friday. Every time the door opened my head shot up and my heart beat in double-time. But every person that walked through the door came with empty hands. No gift showed up that day and as the minutes ticked by, I learned how much they were breaking down my walls to be so disappointed with the mere possibility he’d officially given up on me.
My insides were a juxtaposition of hope for more and determination to stay strong against giving in. I was scared as to which would win out.
Dr. Voet had caught me on my way out, and with a hopeful but hesitant expression, asked me if I wanted to grab some dinner. I think he knew the answer before I even gave him a regretful smile. He’d been understanding and said he’d still love my company in the mornings for non-coffee. Jolene walked up beside us and invited herself to that party saying she’d bring the creamer next Monday.
I hadn’t expected anything over the weekend, assuming Shane had given up after not hearing from me. So, when I opened the door to a courier asking me to sign for a package, I couldn’t stop the excited smile that stretched my cheeks. I tore open the padded
Five blank cards for you to keep for whatever it is that you collect them for. I love it about you. I love that you have a drawer dedicated to cards that make you happy. I thought of you with every one I looked at, trying to imagine the sound of your sweet laugh as though you were there with me.
I love you,
P.S. I’m sorry I missed yesterday. Work was rough and long. I missed not having you to hold me and run your fingers through my hair when the day is hard. Even when I was scared of my feelings for you, I couldn’t stay away no matter how much I tried. Every night I’d come to you for comfort and you never turned me away. I was unworthy of it, but I’m selfish and miss it all the same.
I began reading through each card, laughing at them all. Wishing I had been there with him to go through the cards and listen to his deep rumble when he laughed too.
“I wanted to send you something sexy, but the postman told me to get out of the box.”
“You must have a p-value of at least 0.05 because I fail to reject you.”
“I can’t believe how much I’m not sick of you.”
“Roses are red, but sometimes their thorny. When you’re not with me, I get sorta . . . Corny.”
“I just want you to be happy (and naked) but mostly happy.”
Tears mixed with my laughter and for the first time, I really wanted to pick up my phone and call or text him. But I didn’t know how. Where did it leave us? Did he still think of me as Jack’s little sister, in need of protection? As someone who wasn’t an equal?
I ran my fingers over his I love you, and the walls I’d erected against him cracked a little more. Maybe he did know me. Maybe he did love me.
I just didn’t know what to do with it yet.
Sunday, I opened my door to a mug that read “Well Shit”, with hot chocolate stuffed inside. A note fell out from between the two packets when I pulled them out.
I love your love for mugs. Even when you don’t drink hot coffee. I figured maybe some hot chocolate would make them feel more useful.
I still miss you,
P.S. I collect pictures of Cincinnati, because you were right, I do love the city.
Monday, a small velvet box showed up at work and I cracked it open slowly. A silver bangle bracelet shined against deep blue velvet. I pulled it out and read the inscription. She believed she could, so she did.
You are stronger than most men. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than. Even me.
I believe in you,
Biting my lip, I slipped the cool metal on my wrist, already feeling stronger with the words.
Nothing came on Tuesday and I began to give up on Wednesday when a knock on the door came. A courier with another package.
I pulled out a CD with a handwritten title “All the things I didn’t say.” Jo put it in for me. With “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Ingrid Michaelson playing in the background, I unfolded the note.
I love you. I’m so sorry I was stupid and didn’t say it when you needed to hear it. You’re right, I was scared. I know I told you a little about my time in the foster system, and it wasn’t a horror story, but it wasn’t anything great either.
I’d moved around so much and I never got to know anyone enough to love them, or have them love me. There was actually one family I’d stayed with for two years when I was twelve. After being bounced around for two years, I’d thought that was it. I loved the mom and dad and two brothers. For the first time since I’d lost my mom, I truly felt like I was home.
But the dad got a job overseas and I was put back into the system. After that, I’d hardened myself, never getting close to any family. As soon as I turned eighteen, I focused on me and my future, throwing myself into work. I know it’s no excuse, but for over twenty years, my heart remained frozen there. Until you. You broke through.
I miss everything about you,
Jo held me as I cried for him. For how alone he must have felt. For how much shit he was dealt in life. I wanted him there so I could sit on his lap and hold him to me. I wanted so much, but I didn’t know how to go about it.
I opened my messages and typed out no less then twenty-two before I ended up just sending “Hi.” I sat, staring at the glowing screen hoping the three dots would pop up saying he was responding back, but nothing came. Eventually, sleep claimed me and I woke up gripping my phone to my chest.
When I pushed the home button, I saw his reply. “Hi.” So simple, but a start. It was something. I stared at my phone until it was time to leave for work, still trying to come up with another message, but it never came. So, I closed my phone and went to work instead.
No gift came that day, and as much as I wanted to write it off to maybe another busy day at work, doubts began eating at me.
Before, when I shut him out, I was cold. Now? Now I was running over every detail that led me to that point. With every good memory, a bad one bled into it. My insecurities ate at me late into the night whispering in my head how I wasn’t worth it.
“What are you waiting for?” Jo asked on Thursday after seeing how depressed I got when another day went without a package. She asked the same question that had rattled through my brain for days.
“I don’t know,” I whispered. Swallowing, I turned to look at her. “Maybe I’m not worth it.”
“Hush. Of course, you are. You’re amazing. Just call him.”
“It’s so easy, isn’t it? And yet, every time I pick up the phone, I freeze with doubt.”
“I’m an idiot. And the longer I let this go on, the worse it gets and yet I can’t do anything. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
She didn’t say anything, just let me try to process my thoughts.
“I mean, what if I call him and we’re together and he loves me and I love him, and it doesn’t work out? What happens then? Do I just become another person who abandons him? Who hurts him? I pushed so hard and what if I ruin it?”
“You never know until you try.”
“I never took you for a little baby-bitch.”
“Then stop acting like one.”
Each day that passed without another gift, without a text, I was sure he’d given up on me. Maybe he should have. I honestly didn’t know anymore. I’d talked myself in so many circles, weighing so many pros and cons—some that didn’t even exist outside of my own imagination—that I was frozen in doubt, mixed with a yearning I could barely stand.
When a gift came in to the lab on Friday, I set it aside without opening it. I couldn’t at work. And maybe Jo was right, I was acting like a baby-bitch. But for a few more hours, I immersed myself in work and tried not to think about anything outside of the lab. I had control over my procedure, running it step-by-step, like I’d always known. I had no control over the flat gift currently leaning against my desk.
I thought Jo was going to blow an artery when I told her I was going to wait until we got home. She became like a little child on Christmas day with the way she badgered me.
“Can we open it now? How about now? Now?”
When we got home, later than usual, she stared me down.
“Open the damn gift.”
“Can I use the bathroom first?”
“No. You went before we left, so stop stalling or I’m going to get you a shirt with a cat on it. Make you wear it around so everyone knows what a pussy you are.”
I glowered at her, but snatched up the gift and sat on the couch. She plopped down beside me and bounced like a child.
I opened it slowly, revealing a wide wooden picture frame holding a black and white photo. It was of the street sign on the corner of 5th and Vine.
“What the hell is that?”
Shrugging, I flipped the frame over to find a folded piece of paper taped to the back.
This is the spot I fell in love with you. I didn’t know it then. But I watched you laugh and twirl to the fading salsa music, not caring who saw or what they thought. Watching you felt like a punch to the chest. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like my heart was growing too big as it beat faster and faster, crushing my lungs.
You halted your dancing to look up at me and it all stopped. I leaned down to kiss you, trying to swallow up some of your joy. I was desperate for you that night. I was desperate to be deeper inside you, cover every inch of your body, leave my mark on you. I’d never wanted to be a part of someone as much as I wanted to be a part of you.
And it scared the shit out of me.
I’m sorry I pulled away.
I’m sorry I fought so hard.
But right there on that street corner, it changed everything. I wanted you to know, and have a memento of when you broke through my walls. I wanted you to know the exact moment you changed my life.
This will be the last letter. Not because I’m not sleeping with my phone gripped in my hand. Not because I’m not hoping you show up at my door. But because I want to show you how much I respect the decisions you make for yourself. And if space is what you need, then I hear you. I will always be here.
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