ret·ro·grade (rĕtʹrə-grād´) adjective

1.Moving or tending backward.
2.Opposite to the usual order; inverted or reversed.
3.Reverting to an earlier (sic) condition.
4.Archaic. Opposed; contrary.

Chapter 8 – Retrograde

Bobby left his car parked in Midtown and they cabbed it to the Upper East Side, getting out near the Met and entering the Park on the path that led to Turtle Pond. From there they simply wandered, stopping every so often to watch a game of touch football, or smile wistfully at a laughing mother chasing her toddler up a grassy slope. They slowly made their way toward Central Park South and their ultimate destination of cheesecake at Rumplemeyer's.

Alex could no longer resist. It certainly didn't appear he was going to come out and tell her himself. "What does Leslie think about loaning you out for a Saturday afternoon?"

"Who?

"Leslie Stokes," she was surprised he needed a reminder. "Very tall…very beautiful…very brunette…"

"Oh, uh… that was business." Bobby squinted and focused his gaze on the horizon, not meeting Alex's eye. "The next time I saw her…that would have been personal."

"Would have been?" When he finally turned to look at her, Alex saw a well-remembered dark heat in his eyes and felt long-cold embers rekindle within her.

"I suddenly remembered I prefer blondes," he murmured in a deliciously low voice. She shivered with the memory of that low voice against her skin and the corner of his mouth quirked, reminding Alex of just how well he could read her.

Mercifully, he turned his attention back to the Park and Alex was once again able to breathe. "What about you? Leave any yearning hearts back in Chicago?"

Short-lived reprieve. Alex hesitated. "Maybe one," she shrugged. Bobby's steps slowed and it was Alex's turn to avert her gaze. As soon as she did it, she knew the action made her look guilty, but she wasn't ready. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he was watching her curiously and Alex abruptly changed the subject. "What about that list of apartments you promised me?"

"Oh, yeah…" Bobby stopped and reached into the back pocket of his jeans, removing a piece of folded-up notebook paper and handing it to her. Alex immediately recognized his left-handed scrawl. Looking around, she spotted a bench about ten paces ahead and gestured toward it before walking over to sit down.

Bobby joined her, sitting with one elbow perched on the arm of the bench and his other arm draped across the back, casually watching the people and activities around them.

Alex's heart sank as she quickly scanned the list. "You do realize that I'm looking to rent a place, not buy it?" Bobby chuckled, but Alex didn't think there was anything too funny. "God…is this really what rentals are going for these days?" she turned to face him and he nodded. She must have looked totally discouraged because Bobby took pity on her. He leaned close to pull the list from her hands, turned it over, and pointed to one address in particular.

"I happen to know the owner of this place. He's looking to sub-let for six months while he's temporarily in Europe with his job," Bobby handed the list back to her. "I could probably negotiate it down a little more for you."

Alex sighed. "Only six months? Then I'd have to move all my stuff again."

"That's the best part…it's fully-furnished," his voice was encouraging. "Put your furniture in storage for now, and you have six months for things to fall into place."

"Fall into place?" Alex cocked an eyebrow at him. "That sounds too easy."

Bobby grinned at her. "Yeah…well…think about it. Or let me know if you want me to find some other places for you."

Alex nodded as she considered the options in front of her. "I'll let you know." She gave him a small smile of thanks.

Still gripping the paper, she lowered her hands to her lap, sighed and relaxed into the back of the bench. What could be better than people watching in Central Park? To her left were what appeared to be a father and pre-teen son throwing a frisbee. Directly in front of her and Bobby were a couple of kids – late teens, maybe early-twenties – lying on the grass and making out like there was no one else around. And walking slowly toward them on the path to their right was an elderly couple, holding hands. He said something to her and she smiled up at him. Alex found it comforting that love still burned, even at an advanced age.

"So, are you going to tell me about this yearning heart in Chicago?" Bobby's question put an end to her serenity and Alex looked down at the paper in her lap rather than face him. "Is he why you're back in New York?"

She ran her thumb back and forth over the edge of the paper as she thought about how to respond. It's time, Alex.

"Bobby, I haven't been totally honest with you. I…didn't just happen to run into you that day in the bar." It took every ounce of her willpower to look up at him, but once she did, determination set in. This is Bobby. You can tell him anything. In an unconscious gesture, her chin tilted with confidence. "Deakins knew before you did that I was back in town. I called him that morning. He told me where you'd be."

Bobby's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why all the secrecy?"

"He didn't say anything because I asked him not to."

"Not him…you," he was starting to sound irritated. "If…you wanted to see me…why didn't you just call?"

This is going to be harder than I thought. "I didn't want to open any old wounds. Not unless I was sure…" Words failed her and Alex wished she had planned this better.

"Sure?" Bobby leaned in close and tilted his head, ensuring he could see into her eyes – see every nuance of emotion, whether or not she meant to reveal it. She knew his tactics. "Sure of what?" Filled with uncertainty, Alex hesitated. Bobby suddenly sat ramrod straight and there was a flash of pain in his eyes. "You're…you're not…sick, are you?" His voice was soft and concerned.

"No!" she gasped. Shit. "God, Bobby…I'm sorry. I'm not saying this very well…"

"Then what the hell is going on?" The irritation was starting to sound more like anger.

Alex swallowed hard, and included a dose of some guts with that lump in her throat. "That yearning heart in Chicago?" Bobby nodded. "He asked me to marry him."

His facial features went lax and his eyes blank as he stared at her. "You're getting married," Bobby stated in a flat voice.

"No…I'm not…"

"Christ, Eames!" He shot up off of the bench and paced a few steps before turning on her. "You're killing me here!"

She took a shaky breath. "Sit down, Bobby," she tried to coax him. "Please?"

Bobby ran his hand through his hair then flung himself onto the bench, pursing his lips as he looked at her with strained patience.

"Barry asked me to marry him after my mom died," Alex began calmly. Get this out now, girl, or you'll never get another chance. "I considered it…briefly. But I just couldn't say yes. In my head, Chicago was always temporary – it was where I lived, but New York was home, ya know?" She watched him, looking for a sign that he understood the feelings she was trying to express. Bobby gave her a brief nod and she was reassured to see that he was at least still listening to what she had to say. "Marrying Barry would have made Chicago…permanent. It would have meant giving up on New York and my life here. It would have meant giving up on…" her voice trailed off softly as her nerve started to leave her.

"Giving up on…" he prompted, and when she didn't continue, "Giving up on what?"

"There were too many things here that were unresolved." Alex hated the pleading tone in her voice. "I ran away five years ago…but that didn't settle anything."

"Giving up on what, Alex?" This time his voice was demanding.

"I knew…even before I saw you…" and she wished there was an easier way to do this. But then she realized that she'd already done the hard part – she'd left him and tried to make a life without him. There really was nothing left to lose. "I still love you, Bobby…" she whispered. When he didn't respond but just looked at her with an unfathomable expression in his eyes, Alex couldn't stop herself from rambling. "I know that I've hurt you… and…I know that you've gone on with your life …"

Bobby reached out to grab the paper from her hands, crumbled it and threw it to the ground. "Enough!" Once again he shot up from the bench, pacing restlessly in front of her. One hand scrubbed through his hair and gripped the back of his neck while the other clenched and unclenched at his side with nervous energy. Alex figured the safest thing to do was to stay quiet until he controlled himself. When he stopped in front of her and reached to grab her upper arms, she wasn't sure what to expect.

He yanked her to her feet and leaned in close. "Marry me, Alex," he ordered.

Breath gusted from her and Alex heard humming in her ears as fear, love, disbelief – all combined to muddle her brain and blur her thoughts. "Ah…" No words would form. No emotion would anchor her.

"I don't care what arguments you give me," Bobby's low voice was steady and his dark eyes bored into hers. "I don't care how many times you say no." Alex recognized this steely resolve. This was Bobby at his most convinced. This was Bobby when he was confident he was right. "I intend to marry you."

That got her attention. As stunned as she was, her brain recognized a threat to her independence when it heard one. Instinctively it leapt to defend her. "What are you going to do? Club me over the head and drag me into your cave?"

"If I have to!" and his grip tightened.

Several seconds passed as they stared at one another – each wanting dominance. And then, another corner of her brain spoke up. Why are you fighting him, Alex? She relaxed in his grip and Bobby felt it. His eyes softened and his hands moved from her upper arms to rest on her shoulders – his fingers softly massaging the tense muscles they found there.

"Alex, we've wasted too many years already," he sounded defeated. "Enough. I want what your parents had. And I want that with you."

"Bobby…" Alex started to explain.

"You can't say no." His fingers tightened on her shoulders.

"I'm not saying no," she raised her hands to rest them on top of his. "I'm saying not now," and she softly caressed the backs of his hands. He was about to protest, but Alex interrupted him. "Bobby, I don't have a job. I'm living with my dad. Half my stuff still hasn't arrived from Chicago…" She was getting to him – she could see it in his eyes. "I just got back. We need some time. And I need you to…"

"To what?" he gave her a teasing smirk. "'Woo' you?"

Alex grinned, took a step closer to him, and wrapped her arms around his waist. "You could at least pretend I need convincing," she tried her best to pout.

Bobby's left hand came up to span the side of her face and he tucked his thumb under her chin so he could tip her face upward. "You need convincing?" His voice was thick with emotion and Alex again saw the dark heat. The embers he had rekindled earlier now flared as his mouth drew closer to hers and she felt his breath warm against her skin. The last thing she saw were his eyes drifting shut before she closed her own and surrendered.

She ached at the first familiar touch of his lips sliding sensuously over hers. The sound of her whimper blending with the deep vibration of his moan was a nostalgic tune she'd almost forgotten. He ran his tongue lightly over her lips and Alex opened to the full power of Bobby's kiss. Mouth slanting over hers, he threaded one hand into her hair while his other arm wrapped around her waist to pull her body tight against his. His tongue slowly slid along hers and caressed the inside of her mouth as though trying to re-learn her contours. Bobby moaned again and Alex swallowed the sweet sensation along with his taste and her own yearning.

Perhaps realizing where they were, Bobby eased away from the kiss but held her close, panting against her hair. "I can't wait long," he croaked.

"You won't have to," she breathed. Alex leaned back to look up at him. "Call your friend with the sub-let."

Eyes still hooded and dark with passion, he smiled at her then groaned as he pulled her in for one more, quick kiss. "I love you," he murmured against her lips and Alex hummed with contentment.

Sighing, Bobby put a more respectable distance between their bodies. With his arms still loosely wrapped around her waist, he dipped his head to catch her full attention. "So…what do you want to do with the rest of your Saturday?"

Alex gave him a mischievous smile. "There's still the St. Moritz."

"Right…" Bobby nodded once. "Cheesecake." He released her but Alex grabbed his arm to get his attention.

"Goren," she said with a tone of long-suffering patience. "The St. Moritz is a hotel."

---------------------------------------------------

As it turns out, the cheesecake from room service was even better than Rumplemeyer's. Or maybe it was just the way Bobby served it.

End

A/N – Melodrama, much?