My head is pounding now. A steady throb in my temples. I squeeze my eyes shut as tightly as possible to block out any and all stray light. Reaching out, I grab the pillow that he left behind and use it to cover my head. It smells like him. Like his shampoo, anyways. The pillow blocks out a little more light, but not much.
God, I hate hangovers.
Last night I drank too much. I always drink too much. At first I told myself I did it to keep up with the good old boys from work, who didn't think a woman could hack it in business. Work hard, play hard, drink hard. Then I told myself that I drank because I deserved to drink, to unwind after a hard day's work. Then, after I'd stopped believing that particular lie, I told myself that I drank because I wanted to stop feeling.
The truth is, I don't know why I drink. Sometimes, usually during the holidays, Dil will quietly ask if I've gone to AA yet. I always laugh at him when he asks and then follow up with a large gulp of whatever I'm drinking at the moment. He always smiles sadly and nods, like he understands something I don't.
I hate my cousin Dil almost as much as I hate hangovers.
"You only call me when you're drunk."
His words were very soft, very calm. But I could hear the pain in his voice, and I flinched. "That isn't true," I said, not nearly as softly or as calmly.
He sat up in bed, and all I could clearly were his jutting shoulder blades, ghostly pale under the moonlight. He bent over and started fiddling with something on the floor, but I couldn't see what.
I bit my lip, feeling torn. I was pissed off at him for accusing me of something like that and then turning his back to me. And I was pissed that he was right. Finally, after watching his back for a few more moment, my irritation got the better of me, and I asked what he was doing.
"I'm getting my clothes." He sighed and pulled a shirt over his head. "I'm leaving."
I glared daggers at the back of his head. "Excuse me—you're what? Just who the hell do you think you are?"
"I am tired, Angelica. That's what I am," he replied, turning around to glower at me. The whites of his eyes shone in the near-black room. If I could have seen his irises, I knew that they would be that strange, overly bright green that always indicates he's angry.
"So am I," I bluffed, "so why don't you just go?"
He sighed again but didn't say anything else. I listened as he fumbled for his shoes in the dark. When he stood up, I refused to look at him, but I heard his steps creak along the old wooden floors of my apartment. Then I heard the front door open.
I don't think I'd ever moved that fast before in my entire life. In a flash I was out the room, across the apartment, grabbing onto his elbow just as he was about to step into the hall. Startled, he stumbled backwards, and I took advantage of the opportunity. Slamming the door shut, I positioned myself in front of it, barring any possible exit.
Even in the dim lighting, I could see him grab at his chest as he tried to control his heavy breathing. "Jesus, Angie! You scared me half to death!"
Which wouldn't be too hard to do, actually. Instead of voicing this thought aloud, though, I blurted out, "Don't go."
He ran a hand through his thick shaggy hair. "Why not?" he challenged.
Good question. I thought it over, trying to figure out what would be the best thing to say—what would get him to stay but allow me to keep my pride intact. I decided that, if he chose to be stubborn and force my hand, I would suck it up and say that I was sorry.
"Because I want you to stay," I quietly told him.
He sighed. Then he nodded. "Let's go back to bed and get some sleep."
As we headed back to my bedroom, I reached over and took his hand. His long slender fingers entwined with mine, and he gave my hand an affectionate squeeze. An "I forgive you" squeeze. Smiling under cover of night, I congratulated myself on skillfully avoiding the necessity of apologizing to him.
That hadn't been our first fight, and it certainly hadn't been our last. But this morning, as I groan with the pain of my headache, cursing my hangover, that particular fight filters to the forefront of my mind. He hadn't been entirely on the money, of course, but he'd been mostly right. I usually am drunk when I call him. I feel my throat tighten and for a second I'm afraid that I might vomit. But then I realize the feeling isn't nausea, it's shame.
He deserves better than that. He really does. Well—now that he's shown the good judgment to finally leave me, maybe he'll have the judgment to get involved with someone who will treat him like the great guy he is. Maybe. I can only hope.
As the pain in my temple keeps chipping away at what shreds of sanity I have left, I throw all the pillows on the floor. The pillows aren't helping. Keeping my eyes shut isn't helping. Nothing is helping. Half-heartedly I consider getting up to go rummage for some aspirin in the bathroom, but I quickly reject this idea. Right now, the thought of going all the way across the apartment to the bathroom has all the appeal of trekking across the Sahara without a canteen or camel.
Then, while I'm still writhing in misery, I hear it. A soft squeak, as someone gets into bed beside me. I feel the mattress depress a little from the additional weight, and my throat constricts again, but for a very different reason. I don't open my eyes. I don't dare … not until he gently slips an arm around my waist.
When I do open my eyes, I see my ugly gray ceiling. I glance downward and, sure enough, across my stomach lays his arm—lean, pale, dusted with seemingly a million freckles. For a seeming eternity I stare at his arm, but it never disappears. His arm is real. He's really here.
"I'm sorry." It's his voice, too. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
I roll over to face him. The light that is filtering through my blinds bathes his face in a warm glow. His hair is a tangled, ratty disaster. He's squinting a little because he hasn't put on his glasses yet. His nose is just a little too pink—he must have gone and gotten sunburned at some point this past weekend. Staring at him, I realize that I have never seen him look more beautiful than he does right now and right here.
He tilts his head, looking concerned. "Angelica? You okay?"
Slowly I smile. "Yeah. Just a bit of a hangover."
"Want me to go get you some water or something?"
"No," is all I say. I turn around and snuggle against him, my back fitting perfectly against his cozy chest.
We lay together in companionable silence for a long time. My head still hurts, but I don't give a damn. I send up a promise to God—the God that Susie Carmichael has never lost faith in through all these years—that I will stop drinking. While musing on this, I begin lightly stroking the arm that's still around my waist. He sighs happily.
He's here, he's real, and I don't want this moment to end. But after briefly wetting my lips, I venture, "You were gone when I woke up."
He nods. "I thought you were still asleep."
"Well, think again."
"I wanted to surprise you with breakfast," he murmurs into my hair. "Though given your current state, I don't imagine you'll probably want any."
Silently I apologize to him, for thinking he would just up and leave me. Out loud I ask, "Was that you making coffee?" I try to sound annoyed but only manage "barely restrained hysteria."
"Um … uh … maybe?" He sounds nervous. More nervous than usual, that is. "If I say that I used the last of your premium coffee beans, exactly how mad would that make you?"
Taking hold of his arm, I pull him closer. I don't trust myself to speak. Not yet. He's so close that I can feel his heart hammering away in his chest.
"Chuckie," I say, finally, softly.
"I love you."
He doesn't respond. Doesn't speak, doesn't move, doesn't even seem to breathe. I desperately want to turn around so that I can see his face, but irrationally I'm afraid that if I move, I'll spook him. As I'm thinking all this, he leans forward, his lips brushing past my ear.
"Angelica," he whispers. His breath tickles against my face.
My heart is beating as quickly as his now. "Yes?
"I love you too." He kisses my cheek. "I always have."
I will stop drinking. So help me God, and so help me Susie Carmichael, I will. For him. And, even more importantly, for me. After all, if he loves me, maybe it's time I start loving me too.
It'll mean that Dil will get cocky, of course. I'm sure that the little creep will try to take all the credit. But that's a small price to pay, isn't it? Besides, I'll get my revenge—when I announce over Thanksgiving dinner that I'm engaged and they all ask who the lucky guy is. I do hope Lil is nearby, so that she can catch her fainting husband.
Author's Notes: Thanks for coming on this ride with me! Glad you've enjoyed the first two chapters, and I hope you find this a suitable conclusion. It's a little sappy, but heck, if you can't be sappy in a romance, where can you?
By the way, the absence of Chuckie's name in the previous two chapters wasn't meant to "fool" anyone because, as y'all know, it was perfectly plain who Angelica's been talking about this whole time. Referring to Chuck as "he" and "him" was just a stylistic thing I was experimenting with ... dunno if it's had the effect I was going for, but hopefully. Til next time!