DISCLAIMER: See previous chapters.
Someone to Watch Over Me
The next morning:
He'd been in a blissful fog since he'd awakened: Max was long gone by the time he roused at ten, of course. He'd known she'd be off to work and had made her promise to check in with him if she needed anything, wanted to talk ... He believed she'd be better this morning, and her old self in a day or so, given the extraordinary story she'd finally told him, revealing the demons that drove her to him the night before, but knew he was right when he'd made his way out to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee: she'd left him a note, nothing special in itself, but she'd left it on a plate, nestled next to a piece of now-cold toast with jelly eyes, a dab-of-mayo nose, and a wide, beaming grin made of dark, wrinkly raisins, a portion of a marshmallow adding a single, silly tooth. The note's final line had read, "P.S. I made you breakfast."
She made him smile...
Max. The woman who had been on his mind nearly non-stop since she dropped in on him, literally; the woman who was an extraordinary mix of genetic planning and environmental conditioning, a unique 'nature versus nurture' outcome... he'd learned a little more about her last night, learned about a horrific, heartbreaking loss she'd been made to suffer, so young, in circumstances so brutal that a show of any reaction at all, let alone grief, would have exacted more brutality. Thank God they were free of it; thank God Zack had been rattled enough by it to demand their escape. Thank God Max had found her way to his penthouse, and he could offer small comforts to make up for the childhood she had stolen from her... Thank God Max had found him, and found in him someone she could trust...
She had taken his heart hostage from the first moments he'd met her, no matter what he tried to tell everyone, including himself. Less than twenty four hours ago he was still in denial, secretly yearning for that connection with Max that he truly saw as unrequited. But in her pain, when she needed someone to understand, Max had come to him, and that small step made all the difference in the world... Overly dramatic? Pathetic misjudgement of the situation to find desire where none existed? Finally, he was able to put away such fears, because no matter what he might have tried to tell himself before, the look he'd seen in her eyes didn't allow him to discount its significance – for along with the pain and the trust he'd seen a tenderness there, a connection ... even her own longing, for him...
And for the first time since she'd reappeared in his penthouse, after his injury, he held, in his thoughts of her, not just an impossible dream... but hope...
Soon, the same morning:
Bling's session with him that day had been at 10:30, and it didn't take long for the perceptive therapist to see that his charge was off in his own world – and not long after that, to correct his assessment and suspect Eyes Only was off in a special world for two, with a certain revved-up woman and a dazed, growing belief that the woman of his dreams held him in hers, as well... Bling had only to ask a few, seemingly innocuous questions to be sure – if the article was done, if he'd gotten any sleep... if Max had stopped by yesterday... And at the spacy look of Logan's remaining disbelief and wonder that preceded his reply, Bling knew something must have happened – something good.
He'd said nothing more about it, but wore his own pleased, slightly smug smile through the rest of the session, Logan oblivious to his reaction. Before leaving, however, Bling crossed over to his backpack and pulled out a white paper bag. Reaching inside, he produced out a small bottle of dark green glass and handed it to Logan. "Here," he began, "I picked this up for Sandra and me, but I can get another on the way home. I think you ought to have this one..."
"What is it?" At the silent shrug he saw in reply, Logan unscrewed the bottle's cap to sniff the contents delicately. His expression of surprise told the therapist he now had Logan's full attention for the first time that morning, much to his continuing amusement. Logan touched the open top and tipped the bottle a little to coat his finger, and rolled his finger and thumb together, confirming his first guess. "It's... massage oil?" he stammered. At the still silent shrug, now coupled with a delighted smirk, Logan tried to bristle, "since when have I needed..."
"Not so much 'need,' as appreciate. Or even enjoy," Bling suggested.
"I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm sure you picked up some wrong idea somewhere." Logan just couldn't seem to make eye contact with Bling – another dead giveaway, the trainer mused.
"Hmm, maybe so. Still..." Bling crumpled the sack and tossed it in the nearby wastebasket, by the shelves stacking the therapy room's towels and equipment. "If not right away... soon enough, I suspect." Hiking his backpack on his shoulder, he let his grin linger as he got back to business, "I'll be done at the hospital by 4:00. I'll be back around then..." He started toward the hall, but then turned, and with an amused smirk, turned back to ask, "unless... you're expecting company and will be busy..." At the exasperated grunt and the rolled eyes he got in return, the quiet man finally chuckled. "I take that as a no. Still... I'll be sure to knock before I come in."
And at the sound of the door closing behind the therapist, Logan was left alone to stare at the container in his hand, wondering just what the man had seen to make such a comment... but his thoughts soon wandered back to Max, and the trust he'd seen in her eyes hours before... and a small smile grew. Pausing to take another whiff of the exotic oil, he chuckled a little, then screwed the bottle top back in place. Only beginning to imagine how amazing the oil's scent could be, warmed and rising from Max's skin, he dropped the bottle onto his lap and pushed on out of the room to try and get a grip on his day...
Later, the same morning:
An easy way to jumpstart his day was to see what the night drop and morning mail had to offer. Bling had brought in both upon his arrival for their session, so, after his shower, Logan started by fishing through the new materials left on his hallway table. He went from the items just now added to the stack, to some of the materials left waiting, their recipient having put off dealing with them. Languidly, Logan looked again through the small stack – including a couple concert announcements, a gallery opening, all products of mailing lists left over from pre-Pulse days of art walks, and wine and cheese receptions, and wealthy patron status... He tended these days to wait a while before throwing them away – even though he couldn't imagine fully living that life again, the efforts to reopen more galleries and concert seasons fed his hope that things were starting to turn the corner, and the long period of the economic depression was finally starting to recede...
Shifting through the papers on the table he came yet again across the creamy, expensive pre-Pulse card stock and the real, old-fashioned engraving, and was again reminded that he'd left this invitation waiting far longer than was decent – and it dawned on him that he'd finally stalled long enough that the decision was probably made for him by now, anyway. Flipping it back onto the table, he went on to sort through the rest of the mail there, and in another minute, dropped a few of the items in his lap and backed away to start his pivot – but the old-style script on the table pulled his eye back to the card, and he moved back to the table again, lifting the formal invitation with the small, ripped piece of notebook paper clipped to the top, in Bennett's familiar, looping scrawl: "Come on, Logan, it's been a month. Say yes."
That 'month' had been ten weeks before, when his cousin had told him in the same breath that he was getting married, and that he wanted Logan to be his best man. The invitation had come four weeks later, the engagement parties and showers had been post-mortemed in the local papers, and Bennett telephoned every so often to assure Logan he truly was wanted, and all would be fine.
Too late now, certainly. Even Bennett wouldn't wait until the week before the wedding, still hoping that his hapless cousin would agree to be paraded in front of Seattle's snootiest. Ironic, too, that timing; would he have agreed to be best man if he knew he had someone he could take as a date and seem a bit less pitiful, a woman who would agree to go with Seattle's newest novelty, a Cale-on-wheels? And would he have had the nerve to ask Max if she'd appeared at his side, leaning on him for comfort, just a few weeks earlier than she had, making it clear that he had a place in her life?
He wondered if Max would ever consider going to a wedding... to a Cale wedding. With him. Had she ever had a chance to go to one? Probably not one like Uncle Jonas and Aunt Margot would throw for their youngest... Before last night he might have thought she'd just scoff or laugh, probably go if he really wanted her to, but wouldn't have let him forget that she owed him for the big favor she'd bestow by going as his date.
...but now... the look he'd seen in her eyes just hours before ... her smiles... her desire for his company, to help her through the bad times...
Well, it was too late for him to worry about that now, wasn't it? Bennett would have asked one of his brothers or a friend by now... and he couldn't just go as a guest after stalling Bennett so long ... he'd send a nice gift, drop him a note ... and would make sure to call when they were back from the honeymoon.
He tossed the invitation aside and went back toward his computer room to log in the information pulled from that day's mail. As he did so, however, he couldn't help but imagine Max at a Cale family function ... Max at a formal, evening affair ... Max at a wedding...
Two days later:
Not unusual for him, Logan had gotten involved and lost track of the time, and now was running late for his pick up game. He almost didn't stop for the phone, having managed to pull open the front door before the caller spoke to his message machine. But when he heard the voice, and especially the words of someone who knew his cousin might ignore the ringing phone unless begged, his forward momentum was stopped...
"Logan? Logan, you there? C'mon, pick up; look, Mom's wearing me out..."
At the sound of Bennett's voice, Logan sighed, shut the door and turned around to snag the phone, bracing it with his shoulder as he took the moment to adjust the contents of his bag and shove the towel in with the rest from where he'd dropped in his lap on the way out, and start to pull on his vest...
"Finally – you could return a call, you know..." The groom sounded frazzled, Logan chuckled to himself. "You've got to call her and tell her you'll be at the rehearsal..."
"It was bad enough when I told her you'd be best man, but she's wanting to know why you haven't shown up at any of the parties, and haven't RSVP'd about the rehearsal dinner cruise... she thinks you're going to back out..."
"Whoa, Bennet; hold up a minute..." Logan shifted the phone from his shoulder to a free hand, his bag sliding off his lap unnoticed. "The wedding's in what, three days? You can't mean..."
"It's tomorrow. The rehearsal's tonight. I told you I'd wait for you and I knew you'd cave. You just better cave in the next few hours, though, because if I go crazy and elope I'll tell Mom it was all your idea."
"Bennett..." Logan said helplessly. His mind raced with the dilemmas he thought he'd managed to escape with his delay: his family and their friends, many of whom he'd not seen for many, many months and most, not since the shooting, all waiting for his performance and screw-ups and the inevitable struggles with the chair; taking the high road with his aunt and uncle as he always did, just inviting them to be increasingly belittling with their comments, just to see if they could get under his skin... The sudden thought of facing them all in twenty four hours – and several of them that evening at the rehearsal – brought on a sudden, cold sweat he could swear he felt to his toes. But the thought of Bennett holding out against his mother, stubbornly certain Logan would agree, was a powerful image – but appreciation or guilt, he wasn't quite sure... and his pragmatism prodded that he couldn't avoid them all for ever, no matter the looks or the whispers or the snickers...
...but the other thing – the thing about all the family and friends saying "poor Logan, no woman would have him now" just might be averted – because Max had come to him, saying he mattered, saying she found comfort and care and assurance in his company. Maybe ... just maybe ... he could ask the most beautiful girl in Seattle to be his date...
... and at the thought – knowing that he might still chicken out because of his family, or might take abuse unfairly heaped on him by blood relatives ... knowing he'd pass on the 'dinner cruise' no matter whatever else happened ... but knowing that, if he did show up at the wedding with Max at his side, society's 'finest' would spend half their time gossiping about what a lucky man Logan Cale was, after all – he finally relaxed ... actually smiled ... and drew a deep breath to speak.
"Neither of us would survive your eloping," he smirked. A drawn breath later, sitting back in surrender, he let his thoughts start imagining the scene. "So what time's the rehearsal, cuz?"
A/N: My thanks to all of you who have read, with extra thanks for those thoughtful folks who left reviews. The interest, encouragement and support are appreciated far more than you know.