Rachel had driven her to Tim's, where Melissa had climbed into her Tahoe, the bag she had packed after leaving the Mullen's party sitting in the back seat. From Tim's house, it was just a short drive across the neighborhood, around a sprawling park with a winding jogging trial, to her own carefully tended home.
Once there, Melissa had ignored Art's command to rest, her nerves too frayed leaving her unable to relax, and had thrown herself into cleaning her home. Her house spotless, Melissa had walked straight into her office, dragging paint and charcoal out, and sat on a giant pillow with a large canvas in front of her. From her bag she tugged her sketchbook, so carefully guarded these past few days, and tore several sketches out, spreading them around the canvas, and studying them for several minutes. Finally, she moved, picking up a charcoal and tracing it over the canvas, leaning back occasionally to look at the canvas, and look over her sketches.
Despite her focus, her will power failed her, and every few minutes, her bright cerulean gaze darted to her phone, willing it to ring, chirp with a text, an email, anything from Tim. The longer she went without hearing from him, the more fidgety she got, and she channeled that into work on the canvas for as long as she could. When the sun dropped behind the trees, the light disappeared from her window, and she heaved a sigh, leaning back on charcoal stained hands to study the canvas, satisfied with it. Once more she looked at her phone, and seeing it dark, she heaved a sigh, and stood up, stretching before tucking all her supplies back into place, and then leaving the office.
As she pulls a shirt on over leggings, she walks back down the hallway, to her office, and peeks in, studying the canvas one more time. Tim is stretched out in bed on the white canvas, on his stomach, a book spread out before him, looking up from the pages towards her; she had captured the bump in his nose, the lift of his eyebrows, the curve of muscle that made up his shoulders. Sighing once more, flicks the lights off, and walks out of her house, stretching in the front yard, easing the kinks from her back, before tying her running shoes on, heading for the park in the last of the evening light. She tugged her long hair into a ponytail as she ran, finding a rhythm that neither pushed her to her limits, or was too slow, and let her thoughts wander.
The too soon feel of everything, that she had leapt off a cliff, blindfolded, came rushing at her again. It was easy, with him around; to push those thoughts away, to simply be in the moment and be with him, but alone, those doubts quickly rose to the surface. She had never rushed into a relationship, been so open about it; she had always played carefully, insisting on a certain number of dates before anything serious happened, a certain amount of time before he could stay the night, a certain way things had to play out. It was safe, it worked. It had worked, until a trauma surgeon in Austin blew her carefully planned out dating rules to hell and back. She had followed the rules, had done everything she was supposed to, as a good girl, and it had ended with her on a witness stand, detailing what had happened between her and a married doctor, with her heart shattered. The whole ugly affair had sent her running to Kentucky, picking the first place with an opening for her job.
It had also put her on a collision course with Tim, their jobs putting them in each other's orbits, and after so long waiting, watching him, being watched, her self-control, her adherence to the rules, had snapped. She had been telling herself that she stayed because of the threat from Craig Duncan, but in all reality, walking away from him Sunday evening would have taken all of her will power. Tim seemed to have a way with getting past her defenses, maybe because he had so many of his own.
Without realizing it, her feet had carried her through the park, running along the brightly lit jogging trail, and to Tim's side of their neighborhood. Winded, she pauses in the trail, bending over to stretch her back out while she breathes deeply a few times. The sound of heavy footfalls coming up the path breaks her out of her thoughts, and she looks up, to see a familiar form, wearing a faded gray shirt with ARMY on the front in reflective paint, jogging up the path to her.
Before Tim could take Melissa home, see that she was safely tucked back into her home, he had been called away by work, and reluctantly let Rachel do it. As soon as he stepped in the door of his house, he had started pouring bourbon in a glass before his gun and badge were off.
Melissa was all over his house. She had packed up her things this morning, her pastels and sketchpad were no longer in the window seat, and her clothes weren't hanging over the back of the chair in his bedroom. But he could smell her perfume in the air, the extra pillow on the bed was crumpled from her sleeping on top of it, the food they had bought was sitting in his pantry. The blankets he had drug out onto the lawn to watch the stars with her sat folded on the dryer, and her painting, his family there on canvas as they put things to rights, was leaning against a wall, ready to be hung.
He had two choices, drown his sorrows in bourbon, get so drunk he would pass out, and face tomorrow hung over, or find something else to do. The idea of walking into the office, so hung over he was still partly drunk, while something he had done before, was not something he wanted to do tomorrow. He was out of his work clothes, into shorts and t-shirt and running shoes, letting his mind wander while he ran, before he had much time to think about it.
Melissa was breaking all of his rules, breaking all of his defenses. He was so sure, now in the cool of evening as he ran, that she would take one look at him, the real him, turn tail and run, that his feet faltered and he nearly tripped. With each passing minute, she was getting further under his skin, she had slipped past his defenses, and there were moments when she saw into the darkest parts of him, where he kept the deepest, most painful secrets. No woman had ever seen the shattered pieces of him, and stayed; if she had stayed, she had tried to fix him, tried to patch him up and put him back together. Melissa had simply offered a shoulder to lean on, given him room to breathe when he needed it, and quietly worked her magic on him.
Somehow, she had slipped into his life, settled there, and gotten under his skin. It was too soon, they were rushing into this… thing, heedless of what might happen, and suddenly the sensation like drowning was on him again, and he paused, his legs slowing down. When she was with him, he had such confidence in himself, in her; there was no room for doubt, no room for anything else but simply her. But when she was gone, every doubt he had came back at him, gnawing at his hopes and dreams.
The figure, bent in half, stretching towards the ground, was familiar to him, even in the soft light of twilight. A long, dark ponytail dangled towards the jogging path, a glimmer of silver caught the light from a thin wrist, where a watch sat, his watch. And he knew those pink running shoes, he had seen them several times over the course of the past almost week.
"Melissa?" her name came out just as she tipped her head up, her blue eyes piercing into his, arrowing through the portions of him still aching over his childhood, still beaten to a pulp by the war.
"Yeah, I couldn't relax. I'm too jumpy, left over nerves from today I guess", she lifted one slim shoulder in a shrug.
"Same here. Decided drinking myself to sleep wasn't the best idea." His chest heaved as he came to a stop in front of her, his shirt sweaty in places, he had kept up a punishing pace.
"And neither is Amazon right now." She grins, remembering when he had confessed his late-night shopping habits to her.
"You realize you're on the path that heads to my house right?" with one hand he waved back towards his house, down the path behind him.
"Yeah. And you realize that you were heading towards mine?" grinning, she straightened fully and waved a hand back towards her own home.
"I do now." Tim couldn't fight the flush that heats his cheeks when he realizes she was right, this jogging path ran through the side of the park closest to her house.
Melissa stands still, her cheeks flushed from her run, her heart hammering painfully against her ribs, unsure of what to do now. What she wanted to do was fling her arms around his neck, bury her face in his shoulder, and let him tell her everything would be fine; to let him soothe her unraveled nerves. She held still, staring at him with wide, brilliant blue eyes.
"You know we're rushing into things", despite his words, he was walking towards her with a purposeful stride, taking the last few steps towards her.
"We are. This is crazy." She nods at him, her ponytail sliding back over her slim shoulders and dangling down her back as she moves.
"It is." He matches her nod, one hand, and then the other reaching out for her, curling around her shoulders and pulling her to him.
"I couldn't…." she pauses on the rest of the words, which are somehow stuck in her throat as she leans against him, wrapping her arms around his chest, headless of his sweaty t-shirt.
"stay away." He finishes, heaving a sigh, "I tried Melissa. I want to do this right. I tried to do this how I'm supposed to. I just can't stay away."
"Then stay. Stay with me Melissa", he sighs, resting his chin on her head. Being this open, his feelings exposed, was a new sensation for him, and it was unsettling, almost painful. The only cure for it was the same as the cause, more of her.