The cages we build for ourselves can be more confining than any prison and they sure as hell can get you into a lot of trouble. Especially when you don't realize you're trapped until you're clawing at the bars and crying for release. I never realized I was in such a situation until last night. I was happy, content with my life and the people in it. I felt safe – finally things seemed normal.
Then Alec walked into Crash and fucked it all up.
How the hell did I get into this mess?
One minute we were having drinks and talking like old friends, the next we were in bed.
Doing things that must be illegal in at least 49 states.
It was the most erotic experience of my life -- absolutely magnificent. Passionate, exciting and perfect. It's exactly how I imagined sex to be with the one I love…
But I don't love him. I'm in love with someone else … and that someone else is Logan.
I love Logan.
Yes! Yes, I do. I have to, because I'm marrying him in less than 12 hours.
Oh God. Marrying Logan.
And here I lie in Alec's arms. It takes all the strength I have to suppress a groan.
Maybe if I keep my eyes closed I can just pretend this was all a dream…an incredibly hot and sensual and – No! – an incredibly horrible dream.
I need to dream like that more often.
Fuck! How can I think that? This is Alec. Alec! This time tomorrow, I'll be Max Cale for Christ's sake!
Max Cale -- wow, I never really thought about that before. It sounds kinda…funky.
What the hell am I thinking?
Alec shifts slightly beneath me and I tense up. I'll just keep my eyes closed and pretend I'm sleeping because I don't think I can handle this right now.
How the hell did I get myself into this situation. How could I've slept with Max? Well, I know how I could have…but the night before her wedding to Logan?
I open my eyes a sliver. Rays of light are just beginning to filter into my bedroom and they fall onto Max's skin, making it look like gold.
Max's skin. Max's very naked skin…skin which is still pressed up against my equally naked body. My lower body tightens automatically in response.
FUCK FUCK FUCK!
Um, no pun intended on that last part.
How can I even joke at a time like this?
I repress a sigh. What now? I have no clue. Did last night change anything between us? Of course it did. But in what way? No matter what happens next, it's bound to be awkward. My stomach is in knots and my hands are shaking slightly. That bothers me. After all, it was just sex.
Who the hell am I trying to kid? I might be able to convince myself with someone else, but this was sex with Max. The woman I've been in love with for the past year and a half.
The woman who loves someone else. The woman who is marrying someone else. Today.
It was a mistake. A big mistake. The worst mistake of my life.
A mistake that, no matter how much it cost me, I wouldn't take back.
I've probably lost the best friend I've ever had -- hell, in many ways, the only friend I've ever had. My throat tightens as a painful lump settles in it. No, I still wouldn't take it back, because for just one night, Max was mine. For one night, I could pretend that Max loved me.
I gotta get out of here. Now. I can't take this. She's happy with Logan. She's in love with Logan. I can't ruin things for her. I've already cost her so much. The virus thing was entirely my fault, no matter how much I hate to admit it.
Logan is who she wants. Logan is who she needs. He can take care of her much better than I could. She's safe with him. I only bring pain and suffering to those I care about. How many times has she already had to save my ass? How many times have I put her in danger? Too many to count.
Last night doesn't matter. For her sake, I can't let it.
When Max wakes up, I know what she'll say. She'll say that she loves Logan and she's marrying him today. Last night changes nothing. We had too many drinks to make any rational decisions. She'll beg me not to say anything.
And she'll pity me. I don't want her pity.
I open my eyes and look at her still form. Her breathing is deep and even. In the early light of morning she looks innocent and vulnerable. There's nothing more I want to do than to take her in my arms again. Instead, I slowly disentangle my limbs and try not to wake her.
I know what I have to do, no matter how much it hurts. For once, I'm going to do the right thing.
So I rise up off the bed and quickly shrug into the shirt and jeans I wore yesterday. With one last glance at Max, I grab my keys and leave.
Gone. Buh-bye. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 hundred dollars. See ya.
Maybe he just went to the store or something and he'll be back in a few minutes.
Riiiight. He's gone. Gone. And I don't think he's coming back.
Why didn't I stop him? Why did I just pretend to be asleep? Because I was scared.
His leaving is for the best, though. I know that. Last night changed nothing. It never should've happened. It was pre-wedding jitters or something. Marriage is a big step, especially for someone like me who hates to be tied down.
Where the hell did these tears come from? I sit up, clutching the sheet to my chest, and angrily swipe at my eyes. These tears aren't for Alec. They're for Logan. I cheated on him. He trusted me and I cheated on him.
They're not because I want Alec to come back..
They're not, goddamn it!
They're not. They just can't be.
"Boo, you look like hell."
"Thanks, OC. Always nice to know I can count on you to lift my spirits." That came out harsher than I wanted.
She lifts an eyebrow but lets the comment pass. "What's wrong with my girl? You look like you've been crying."
"No!" My voice is scratchy from all my sobbing.
"Uh huh." It's obvious Cindy doesn't believe me and I want to cry some more. She looks at me for a moment, searching my face for answers to unspoken questions. Then, she wraps me in a gentle hug, taking me by surprise. That's it. I can't help but lose it. "Shh," she whispers soothingly as she strokes my hair. After a moment, I calm down a bit. My breath is still hitching in my chest but the tears are slowing. I pull back from Cindy and give her a small smile of gratitude.
"You wanna talk about it?" she asks, gently probing. I don't. I don't even want to think about it.
"No." I whisper softly, embracing her again. The girl has to be confused. She's not the only one. I have no idea what I should do next. Should I call Logan? Should I tell him what happened? I can't hurt him like that. He'd be crushed. No, the best thing to do is just pretend last night never happened. I can do that. I can ignore the nauseous feeling in my stomach. I can ignore the feelings of guilt weighing down my lungs, suffocating me.
Can I ignore the memories of last night? The images of Alec I know will haunt me for the rest of my life -- the way his lips felt moving softly over mine… His heady taste that left me dizzy…What about the way his hands roamed over my body, bringing it pleasure I never knew existed?
Or how he made me feel so cherished and beautiful, while making love to me, as if I were the only person in the world?
No! It wasn't making love! It was sex! Just sex.
I was nothing but another notch on Alec's belt.
Okay, that's not true.
Somehow, I know it was more for Alec.
It was more for me.
Fuck! I can't let it mean anything at all! I'm marrying Logan in less than five hours. That hasn't changed. Alec's gone. Not just gone for the day, but he's gone from my life. It's for the best. I love Logan. I do.
Original Cindy interrupts my reverie. "My boo having pre-weddin' jitters?"
I nod my head numbly. "Yeah." Original Cindy says nothing and waits for me to continue. After a moment, I do. " Yeah, just cold feet. That's normal…right?" She stares at me, long enough to make me squirm. She's not buying it. But her face relaxes and she decides to let it drop.
"Yeah, boo. It's normal. But if you decide you don't want to do this, Max-"
"No!" I say more vehemently than I meant to. I lower my voice. "No. That's not it at all. It's just… I've never done this kinda thing before. Y'know?" I plaster a nervous smile on my face – trying to convince myself and Cindy that jitters was all it was.
She chuckles. "Yeah, I know." Another pregnant pause. "Come on. Let's go get you prettied up. You got a wedding to attend in a few hours. God knows I'm going to need to do some work on that face of yours. It'll take me forever to get the puffiness down!" She grabs my hand and starts pulling me toward the dressing room of the chapel.
I laugh lightly and for the first time this morning I'm sure of one thing. "Cindy." She stops and turns around. "I love you. You're truly my sister and I'm glad you're my Maid of Honor." My eyes well up with tears again and my lips tremble. She looks shocked – such admissions aren't common coming from me, after all – but she squeezes my hand.
"I love you, too, boo. No matter what you do, I'll support you." She sniffles and swipes her at her cheeks. "Damn. Now Original Cindy's gotta redo her make-up," she says. That elicits a laugh from both of us and we continue on to the dressing room.
I drove around the city for a while this morning trying to keep my mind blank. It didn't really work. After leaving my apartment -- leaving Max -- I wanted nothing more than to crawl in a hole and lick my wounds. This explains why I'm now at Crash and downing yet another warm scotch. The last of it burns the back of my throat and my lungs as it slides down. My eyes burn briefly at the liquid but I'm still as sober as I was when I entered. For once, I really wish I was a norm. I need to drink myself into a drunken stupor. Yet again, my genetically engineered body proves to be both a blessing and a curse.
"Barkeep!" I say and set my empty glass down on the table. He fills it up immediately -- I'm a great tipper.
Okay, so I'm feeling sorry for myself. What's wrong with that? I hardly ever mope about my lot in life. I'm not Max. I don't create situations for myself and then brood about them when they blow up in my face. That's not my style.
Excluding today, of course.
The bartender gives me a quick glance. I'm sure he thinks I'm some nutjob – after all, it's noon on a Saturday and I'm drinking like there's no tomorrow. Which, I guess in a way is true. I won't be in Seattle this time tomorrow. I'm gone. Driving south. Need to get away for a while, live my own life. With the Familiars gone and everything pretty calm, there's no need for me to stay around.
Yep, by this time tomorrow, I'll be in L.A. …and Max Guevera will be 'Max Cale'.
What kind of god-awful name is that? It should be a red-flag for their marriage from the beginning. It just doesn't fit. Max…Cale?
But Max loves Logan -- and if I'm honest with myself, that's what really hurts.
I quickly brush aside the thought and give the bar one last sweeping glance; in many ways, it was my second home. My chest tightens painfully on the thought and I grab a wad of bills from my wallet.
With a final swallow from my glass, I'm gone.
"So, whadd'ya think, boo?" Original Cindy asks excitedly as she spins me around to face the mirror. What I see makes me gasp. I'm beautiful.
"OC, this is wonderful." I turn and hug her. When we break apart and I feel my eyes tearing up yet again.
"Now don't you go start you're crying when it took Original Cindy over an hour to get the puffiness down." Her eyes watered, betraying her advice to me. "Can't believe my girl is getting married."
"Yeah, I can't either." My smile fades slightly but I quickly recover.
"By the way, sorry about last night. That little blonde was too hot for Original Cindy to ignore. Did Alec get you home alright?"
The mention of Alec catches me off guard. The lump that forms in my throat has to be guilt; it can't be concern for him. "Uh, yeah…I, uh, we left together, but I went to the Needle and he went home." The lie doesn't come easily. Images flash in my mind: Alec's full lips sliding down my throat onto my collarbone… Alec's hands caressing my breasts… the salty taste of his skin on my tongue…my fingers gripping, then clawing, desperately at his slick back --
Stop it!! What the hell is wrong with me?
I need air. Pushing my way past Cindy, I mutter a rushed explanation. "I 'm gonna step outside. I'll be right back." Confusion is etched on her face but I can't be around her right now. She'll read me like a book and I really, really don't feel like discussing the events of last night with her.
I rush out of the room and up the narrow stairs, carefully keeping an eye out for Logan. There's no sign of the groom's party and I'm extremely thankful. Pushing through glass double doors, I find myself out on the chapel's small balcony. A cool breeze rushes against my warm cheeks, doing its best to cool them.
It's not helping.
I can't stop thinking about him. No matter how hard I try or how guilty I feel, it's him my thoughts keep circling back.
I'm sad. And sick. Nausea claws at my stomach as I suck in the crisp air in a desperate attempt to calm it.
That doesn't work, either.
I feel guilty as hell about last night and for betraying Logan.
But I feel guiltier about Alec – and that's fucked up. After all, it's not him I'm about to marry.
It's not him I cheated on.
It doesn't matter how much I try to think about something or someone else. I can lie to everyone else, but I can't lie to myself, no matter how much I want to.
In one night, I screwed up three lives -- Alec's, Logan's and mine.
Then there's the 'you never know what you have until it's gone' cliche. I never realized how true it was until this moment. I lost a good friend last night – a loyal, caring man. I always thought I'd be happy without Alec in my life. No more saving his ass, no more unwanted sidekick, no more mistakes to clean up after. Hell, I've repeatedly told him how unwelcome his presence is.
I was wrong and I hate myself for it.
Have I made a terrible mistake?
I think I have. I really think I have.
The wind blows through my hair as I drive south. The silence deafens me. Usually, I wouldn't even think of driving without the stereo blaring, but right now I have no desire to listen to music.
Because Max is getting married.
In less than two ours.
To Logan Cale.
I love her. Badly. Desperately. Painfully.
I love her in a way that I've never loved anyone else. God help me, I didn't even love Rachel this deeply.
But she's better off without me and better off with Logan. He can take care of her. He'll give her everything she needs. He can be everything I'm not…stable, dependable, steady, old, boring…
Hmm. That last part snuck in from out of the blue. It's true, though. He'll bore poor Max to death eventually. I like the guy, sorta, but Max needs adventure and excitement. She thrives on it… craves it, though she would never admit it. She thinks she wants to be normal, but she can't live with status quo. Max and Logan will never last.
It doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do about it. I don't want to do anything about it. It's not my decision to make. It's Max's. I can't interfere. A little sex --okay, a lot of sex -- doesn't give me extra privileges where she's concerned.
No rights whatsoever.
So I really can't explain why I'm turning this car around and heading back to Seattle to try and stop the wedding.
In thirty minutes, I walk down that aisle and become Mrs. Cale. Mrs. Logan Cale. Mrs. Max Cale. Mrs. Max Guevera-Cale.
Maybe I should've just stuck with Mrs. Max Guevera.
Ugh, why do I feel so nauseous? Nerves. It's completely okay to be nervous on your wedding day. After all, I'm about to walk down the aisle in front of hundreds of people -- mostly Logan's relatives -- and say I do to the man I'm supposed to love.
Damn, I never should have agreed when Logan said he wanted so many guests.
I feel trapped, cornered. It's cold feet...just cold feet.
That's a lie.
I know what it really is -- or should I say who it really is...
How do I allow myself to get into these situations?
"Hey, boo," Original Cindy interrupts my silent reverie. "It's almost showtime. You ready?" Original Cindy peeks her head through the door. I plaster a fake grin on my face and nod.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I say. OC looks as if she wants to say something but doesn't. After an awkward moment I can't explain, she smiles sadly and leaves the room.
I follow. Like always, I just follow.
"Goddamnit!" A train! A fucking train! It would figure. I look down at my watch. I have less than an hour to get to the church -- less than an hour to try to stop the girl of my dreams from making the mistake of her life….the mistake of my life.
I scream and pound my fist on the steering wheel, careful to pull my punch at the last second. A car that can't drive is not the most affective mode of transportation, after all.
I look down to see if I can see the end of the train in site.
I barely check the urge to hit the wheel again. Instead, I force myself to sit back and watch as the train passes; desperately trying to convince myself I won't be too late.
The music starts. Original Cindy, absolutely stunning in her light blue dress, leads the way. I watch her as she takes her place as matron of honor. She's alone up there and waiting for me.
I grip my small bouquet of lilies tighter in my shaking hands.
I'm actually going through with this. Oh my God, I'm actually going through with this.
I can do it. Can't I?
Yes. Yes, I can…I must!
It's my cue. I take my first step onto the red carpet and down the aisle.
My heart lurches in my chest.
I haul ass around a bend on the deserted road. What kind of idiot wants a wedding out in the country?
Damn it. DAMN IT!
I look at my watch and my heart speeds up. I'm never going to make it. The ceremony is starting now.
No! I can't think this way. I need to get there. I have to.
I can't let myself think otherwise…
If I don't make it, I'll never be able to forgive myself.
"Do you, Logan Cale, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife…" The preacher goes on, having Logan repeat the words as we begin the exchange of vows. My head screams 'No!' but my lips and voice refuses to cooperate.
I'm scared. More scared of anything or anyone in my entire life.
I can't stop it. I'm trapped in a horrible nightmare where I can do nothing but watch as things progress.
"Maxine Guevera," the preacher begins, "do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, 'till death do you part?
I can't speak. The words stick in my throat. I look up and see Logan's smile falter slightly. After a few more seconds, people in the church begin to murmur.
So I say it. I seal my fate.
I pull up into the driveway of the church and don't bother to turn the car off. I'm sprint toward the large double-doors of the chapel. My stomach is roils with apprehension. As I grab the handle, I pause.
This is a moment that will change my life forever. It's a fork in my road. This is something which will determine the paths I take from here on out. This will shape me, define me.
It's time I was re-defined anyways.
All the stuff I was telling myself about Max being better off with Logan and doing the right thing was bullshit. No matter the consequences, I've got to try.
I'm not a coward – I never have been.
I sure as hell won't start being one now.
So, with my heart in my throat, I open the door.
The priest rambles on, finishing the vows and saying some other things I'm not paying attention to. I'm too busy trying not to vomit. This is wrong. This is so very, very wrong.
"If anyone can show why these two may not be lawfully wed, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."
I want to scream and yell that I object, but I don't. The priest pauses a moment, allowing time for anyone to voice their opinion.
No one does.
He gives a smile to the audience and once again turns to his attention back to me and Logan…
Then doors burst open.
The audience mumbles in surprise as they turn to look at the unwelcome disruption. I follow their lead and what I see makes my heart leap.
I know every eye in the room is on me. Hell, the look on Logan's face is so comical that at any other time, I'd be rolling in laughter.
But I don't care about him -- I don't care about anyone else but Max.
My eyes catch hers. They're filled with shock and…something unrecognizable. I can't move. Apparently, she can't either. We hold each other's gazes for what seems like an eternity.
And with bated breath, I wait.
"Alec," I whisper again, awe filling my voice.
He's looking at me expectantly. I see the question in his eyes…and the terror.
Alec. Always Alec.
Always screwing up my plans. Always messing things up. Always interrupting something important. How could I not expect him to pull something like this at my wedding?
Deep down, I think I did. Deep down I knew he'd do this, that he'd come back for me.
Came back for me – like so many times before, he came back to save me, yet again...
Typically, wonderfully Alec.
As I look into his anxious eyes, everything suddenly becomes clear. I know what I'm going to do.
For the first time in my life, I feel like my cage is opening.
I feel free.
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