usher interview

10

The white fog creeps from the cold sea over the city,
Over the pale grey tumbled towers,—
And settles among the roofs, the pale grey walls.
Along damp sinuous streets it crawls,
Curls like a dream among the motionless trees
And seems to freeze.

The House Of Dust - Conrad Aiken

xo

Title: XO
Pairing: Sebastian/OFC (named)
Rating: Mature, very mature
Warnings: Smut, including bossy!Seb, lots of dirty talk and bit of a daddy kink.
A/N: I apologize for how painfully long this is; I’m sure it’s something like 4k but I tried to make it worthwhile for you guys since I haven’t posted in a couple days.

For visual assistance with this fic, refer to this post to get a better idea of what I was picturing during the writing of this one.

Requests are still open, I love getting new ideas and hearing what you guys have to say.

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Comic Con
Requested by anon.
Sebastian Stan X Reader
Fluff. I kinda changed it up from what was originally requested. I hope you like it! Please send in some more prompts!

It was officially here; San Diego Comic Con 2016. You’ve never been before and you’re super excited for several reasons. One, you get to meet lots of fans, two, it’s extra time to spend with your marvel friends, and three, you get to experience it with your amazing boyfriend Sebastian.

You sit in the SUV with Lizzie, Scarlett, Evans, Mackie, and of course Sebastian. You are somewhat nervous, as this is your first major film, and the first time you will be able to get face to face feedback from the fans about your character, Mockingbird. You hold Sebastian’s hand, and rest it on your bouncing knee. You hadn’t even noticed that you were doing so until Sebastian leans over and whispers in your ear. “Hey love, are you okay?” You stop moving and turn to look at him, smiling a soft smile while trying to hide your nervousness, but failing. Sebastian knows you better than you know yourself. “Mhm I’m alright.” You lie, but he sees right through you. “Babe it’s going to be fine. The fans love you.” As Sebastian is speaking to you, neither of you realized that all other conversations in the car had ceased. “Yo man, ain’t no body in this car wanna see y'all being all mushy. Get a room!” Mackie yells with the same amount of sass in his tone as usual. He knew that you were nervous and that Sebastian was just comforting you, so he was trying to make you laugh. Sebastian stops whispering to you, and looks up at Mackie. “Listen here Chocolachino, I understand that with Mrs. Mackie’s absence you’ve been a little "deprived” lately,“ Your boyfriend smirks at his friend, "but just because you don’t get any doesn’t mean I don’t.” You hear the others snicker at Sebastian’s comment. “Haha very funny” Mackie says sarcastically while sticking his tongue out.

A few minutes later you pull up to the venue at a back entrance. The valet opens the door, and everyone climbs out of the vehicle. As soon as your feet touch the ground Sebastian grabs your hand, pulling you inside.
The 6 of you are led into a break room and you are immediately given your schedules. Sebastian is ushered to an interview with Chris, but not before giving you a kiss and a reassuring smile. After he leaves, you start looking over your schedule again. “You ‘aight over there girl?” You know exactly who it is once you hear that New Orleans twang; it’s none other than Anthony Mackie. Spinning around you practically run into him. “Woah there yat! Give a girl her space.” Mackie chuckles. “Who you callin a yat? I could call you a coonass, but 'ay I ain’t goin’ there! He says matter of factly. "Yes this is very true, but you are in fact a New Orleans native which therefore makes you a yat.” You cross your arms and smirk at the man. Mackie was like a brother to you from the moment you met him. Both of you being Louisiana natives helped you bond instantly. You both loved to cook Cajun dishes, talk about football, go fishing, and have a good time. Where ever the two of you are, the party follows. “But seriously, are you alright? I know you’re nervous.” Mackie asks you. You look down at your shoes, taking a deep breath in, then looking back up at the man nodding. “I’ll be ok. Y'know, just a little bit of anxiety.” Anthony nods his head in understanding, putting his hand on your forearm. “You’ll be okay. All of us will be up there with you, and besides, lover boy will be sitting right next to you making sure you’re okay.” You giggle as he rolls his eyes playfully.

2 hours later and you’re standing behind a black curtain with the rest of the cast and the Russo’s getting ready for your panel. They start calling out your names, Anthony and Joe Russo being first, then Scarlett, Lizzie, Chris, Sebastian, you, and Mackie. You all take your seats, getting comfortable before looking at the interviewer. You take a moment to look out at the crowd of adoring fans. You wave and smile, your nerves finally starting to settle. The panel gets going, each of you answering a few questions, and having a good time. You look down when you feel Sebastian’s hand on your thigh. You don’t think twice about it, as it was something that he usually does. But, unfortunately for you Mackie notices and doesn’t hesitate to comment. He clears his throat loudly into the microphone before he begins his teasing. “Excuse me for a moment, I think Mr Stan is having some trouble keeping his hands to himself up here.” Mackie raises an eyebrow, and purses his lips. You hear catcalls and wolf whistles at the two of you, causing you both to blush. “Come on Mack attack,” Sebastian starts as he moves his hand from your thigh to around your shoulders, “don’t be so jealous. I can’t help it if I’m getting some action, when you aren’t.” You hear a few laughs. “Woah man, let’s not go there. I don’t want to know what you do in your spare time. I’m just saying, it’s getting a little intense with the touchy-touchy” As soon as he finishes his statement, you cover your face with your hands and lean forward, embarrassment taking over you. Everyone laughs at you, and Sebastian rubs your back laughing as well. The panel continues, and with each minute you begin to grow more comfortable. You start joining in on the jokes, especially between Mackie and Seb, making sure to be extra flirty. A few times you even make some daring comments, causing Sebastian to blush as you throw a wink or two, at the crowd of screaming fans. After an hour and 45 minutes the panel is over.

At the end of the day, you all climb back into the car. You’re exhausted as you lean your head on Sebastian’s shoulder, closing your eyes. Right as you’re about to fall asleep, you hear that same teasing voice from earlier. “Aww look how cute! Aren’t they just the cutest? C'mon man! Somebody get a camera!” Mackie begins making fun of you again. “Well,” Sebastian says, leaning down to whisper in your ear, “he’s not wrong about that.” You furrow your brows and tilt your head up to look at your handsome boyfriend. “Hm? What’s he right about, Seb?” A gentle smile takes over Sebastian’s face. “We are definitely the cutest.” You sigh and snuggle closer into him. “Yeah, I guess we are.”


So if you don’t know what a yat is, it’s a “nickname” for someone from New Orleans. Instead of saying “where are you at?” NOLA natives tend to say “where y'at?” And as for a coonass, it refers to a person of Cajun ethnicity. My dad is one so I don’t use it as an insult because I have family who are coonass’, but some Louisianians will take this as an insult so…. But It basically means a country person from out in the woods or the middle of no where. It’s used a lot in South Louisiana.

4

So here’s my theory about Janine: she was in on the whole “relationship” ruse. 

  • In “The Sign of Three,” there is this exchange: “Do you like solving crimes?” / “Is there a vacancy?” And Sherlock nods slightly while looking at John. I think this is where his plan started forming: he must have already found out about her connection to Magnussen during his extensive research of the bridal/groom party (he interviewed the usher and ringbearer, but since the wedding appears to be the first time Janine ever met him in person, he must have just researched her. Thoroughly)
  • So, when she asks if there is a vacancy in crimesolving, he considers recruiting her as a partner in this relationship ruse to get into Magnussen’s office. 
  • “I wish you weren’t…whatever it is you are.” It’s clear that Janine knows that Sherlock isn’t into her in that way. So it makes more sense that she was only acting to fulfill the relationship ruse.
  • “So we’re good then?” / “Yeah we’re good.” This sounds suspiciously like they had an arrangement. And it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: Sherlock gets his image tarnished a bit (to get Magnussen to underestimate him, and also to strengthen the drugs problem), and Janine gets rich from the tabloid tell-alls. Additionally, Janine also gets revenge against Magnussen, who once flicked her eye too. 
  • And she’s still affectionate with him: I don’t know what duped fiance would still be affectionate with the supposed beloved who just called her a tabloid whore. Another piece of evidence that this was all part of an arrangement (and they can still be sassy with each other).
  • Why have a play-act a relationship at all? Why doesn’t she just let Sherlock into Magnussen’s office without the pretend engagement? Because this gives her a cover story, in case she is ever implicated as an accomplice for Sherlock’s breaking and entering. 
  • So why was Janine angry with him? I think it probably has to do with his very real drug use and the fact that he lied about where he was and what he was doing. She cares for him like a friend, but the drug use was an act of betrayal (like Molly said). And I also think she did want to play the ruse out and sleep with him, just once, and was disappointed that she didn’t get to. 
These Games

Pairing: DracoXReader

Request:Draco x reader where the reader and Draco are in a secret relationship and the reader gets put in the tri-wizard tournament. The reader gets hurt and Draco goes down to the arena and every one is surprised that he’s crying? (Could you end it with fluff?)

A/N: I changed it up a little bit just to make it flow more easily. I Also aged everyone up to their 7th year to make things more realistic. Still hope you like it!

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Scenario #126: You go to the BRIT Awards with him

Liam: The boys had won the ‘British Video’ award and were being interviewed backstage in the winners’ conference room. You and Lou were standing to the side of the room, watching the boys thank the fans and answer questions from the press. “I dare you to steal the award from them” she nudges you, signalling at the award currently being held in Liam’s hand. “How?” you laugh, signalling at Paul who’s standing near the boys in an intimidating stance. “Just run by when they’re distracted with a question” she replies, egging you on, “I’ll do your hair and makeup everyday for a month.” “Deal” you tell her. Just as Louis answers a question, you run past them, quickly snatching the award from Liam’s hands. “HEY! That’s mine! (Y/N)!” you hear Liam call out after you as you run back towards Lou. “I guess she wanted to keep it safe for us before we break another award"Louis chuckles along with the rest of the boys.

Zayn: The crowd breaks out into cheers and loud applause as the boys walk on-stage to present an award. "It’s a great honour to be standing up here and presenting an award tonight…” Harry says into the microphone. Zayn stands a bit to the side, glancing in your general direction at times. You had made a poster to hold up for comic relief, as Zayn had previously told you that he was nervous about the award night. As you hold up your sign, Zayn looks at you and tries to hide his laughter while reading your sign, which says “YASSSSSSSSS ZAYN. OH MY GOD YASSSSSSSSS YOU LOOK SO HOT RIGHT NOW. YASSSSSSSSS”

Niall: You and Niall had this sort of on-going game where if he was bored during an interview or feeling a bit cheeky, he would turn to you and make a funny face (granted that you were present). The boys are backstage after having won the award for 'British Single’. The interviewers ask the usual questions, and the boys reply in high spirits, grateful for all the support from their family, friends and fans. “So do you boys have any plans for later tonight?” a reporter asks. “Yeah. We’ll probably just hang out or go to a bar.” Liam answers, looking at the other boys. “Tonight, anything could happen, really” Niall comments, before turning towards you, running his hand through his quiff and raising an eyebrow at you suggestively. 

Harry: “Oh my god. I love this song.” you comment, standing up with the rest of the crowd, as you hear Arctic Monkeys play the opening bass line. Harry chuckles, bopping his head and body to the beat. You and Harry start air guitaring while miming the lyrics to each other, as the other boys tease at how ridiculous you look. But soon enough they join in, and the camera captures the moment. “Thank you for coming with me” Harry whispers in your ear as the song ends. “Thank you for inviting me” you reply, grinning at him. 

Louis: Louis had invited you to attend the BRITs with him. “How do you do this?” you ask him, flabbergasted by the amount of celebrities and paparazzi at the venue. He chuckles, grabbing your hand and gently squeezing it. “(Y/N), you’ll be fine” “I’m going to trip.” you groan, as the limo stops in front of the red carpet. “You’re not going to” he reassures you, “come on! I’ll hold you hand!” You take his hand for support as he escorts you out of the limo and on to the red carpet. Louis and the rest of the boys are quickly ushered to an interviewer as you stay behind with the rest of the girls, not used to all the attention. Throughout the interviews, Louis glances at you to make sure you’re okay. Even blowing you a kiss and giving you a wink at times.

The Agreement: Part Two

Part One can be found here: http://burlesonspride.tumblr.com/post/67330422006/the-agreement-part-one

Part Two

The next few days are a whirlwind. We’re ushered from interview to interview, or we’re planted in the same spot for hours on end. I’m grateful that this year Josh and I are paired for majority of the interviews because after the other night, I feel a physical ache when he’s not within reach. We haven’t had the time to enjoy each other outside of these damn hotel rooms they have us locked in with a billion different people asking the same two questions over and over. Why did I cut my hair? And how has the Oscar changed my life. I reached my fill of those questions myself the first day of interviews, Josh finally had his fill yesterday when he stood up and played like he was walking out mid interview. I can’t blame him, I hate that every interview somehow goes back to those two questions. They have nothing to do with the promotion of this film.

I have found myself zoning out more than normal in the interviews. One, because I’m tired of answering the same shit every fifteen minutes, – isn’t that what we had the press conference for? – and two, I can’t stop myself from getting lost in watching Josh. I feel like I’m in high school all over again. I’m that doe-eyed girl with her chin on her hand and a contented sigh on her lips.

When Josh talks, it’s all I hear. When his hands move to exaggerate a point, my memory punctuates a moment from our night together. I find myself watching his lips in particular, the way they bend and curve while he strings together his thoughts and opinions as masterfully as he winds me around his finger. I haven’t kissed him since he left me that morning. With three days passing between our lips meeting, I am beginning to resent my lulled sleep state that morning for stealing his caress from my mind. I can almost hear the locking of bone when he gets frustrated by a question, his jaw juts forward and the notch at the joint bows under his irritation. My hands itch to reach out and caress his cheek, to calm him and being him back to the playful nature in which we’ve approached the interviews.

Sometimes my urges to reach out and feel him are too strong and my will power crumbles at my feet as my hands find anything of his to brush against. This has gotten us a few questioning looks from the reporters. One instance that seemed to gain momentum, so much so I heard about it this afternoon from London, was during our interview with Entertainment Tonight, I think it was.

Josh had been flicking my ear every time I turned to speak to someone all day. He’d be irritating if he wasn’t so cute after one of my scolding’s. We’d been waiting for the interview to start, met with the reporter and situated ourselves as the camera guy counted down. Just as the blinking on the camera illuminated, indicated they were rolling, Josh flicked my earlobe again. Without thinking I just turn my head and snap my teeth at him. He laughed and I lunged in. I can’t tell you what compelled me to do that, but by the time I was aware of what was happening I knew I had to make a decision. I either had to pull back and explain my odd behavior or I could just go with it, hoping it would come across as one of our little antics. So I went for it.

I let my lips bush his neck, then I dipped my head and playfully nipped at his shoulder, and finally dropping my face just over the right side of his chest, nipping through his shirt before he shrugged away laughing telling me not now. I pulled off and we managed to make it through the rest of the interview somewhat normally. While we were at dinner that night, I had received a call from Nick. He was subtle and approached the subject of the televised nip fest from earlier with a level head. He let me know that he missed me and that seeing the interviews pop up made him want to fly into LA even though I would see him in a day or so in London for the premier.

There was something about the last few days that just doesn’t sit right with me though. Josh has been more distant than ever. He has been reeled in lately and it’s only towards the end of the day when I am frustrated and tired that he comes back to me. But all throughout the day, he’s reserved. Some of the comments he makes are teasing, which is normal for us, but the way he’s says them is what stings. It’s almost as if he’s saying them on purpose. When he talks about our on screen kisses, he’s very adamant about how terrible it was to kiss me, and how bad I was, or how abrasive I am. This is just not like him. I, on the other hand, sound like a fucking idiot with hearts in my eyes and birds flying overhead.

I’m actually kind of hurt if I’m being honest. We’ve always had our playful nature, but these past few days have been borderline mean. Our routine is to either joke together or speak so highly of each other that the others in the room want to puke. This whole jab thing is kind of new for us. I wouldn’t sit on it so long if he had come to me and said, look, I was just making a joke. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t even acknowledge what he’s said. By the end of the day, I’m so over it I just agree so he’ll stop making remarks. I know I should be the one to say something, but he should be more aware of the fact he’s been an asshole. How we could go from eye-fucking each other from our respective chairs to Josh saying I’m a terrible kisser left my head spinning. After the night we had this week, then the ups and downs of the interviews, I’m just thrown for a loop and left confused and hurt.

He almost seemed to be back to his normal self yesterday afternoon. Liam, Josh and I were hanging out in Liam’s hotel room before leaving for our chartered flight to London, and I was digging in my purse for some gum. In my digging I was struck with the realization that I put my wallet back in this particular bag, but not my passport. When I mentioned this, the guys offered to go back to my room and get it before we left. It was when I told them that I hadn’t left it in my hotel room, but rather in Atlanta, that they laughed mercilessly. They gave me so much shit, but it finally felt like we were all back to normal. Like Josh was back to his usual self; compassionate joking if you will. I felt relief after that afternoon. I ended up leaving them and booking a ticket back to Atlanta on a commercial flight while the guys loaded up and flew to London on a private jet provided by Lionsgate.

I had about six hours in Atlanta before I boarded a nearly empty plane provided again by Lionsgate. My stylists and make-up team were aboard, tasked with prepping me in-flight for the red carpet. I would be arriving with an hour before I was to walk the carpet at our world premier so I really didn’t have a choice. I was allowed to sleep for about three hours before the prep started. During which I busied myself with talking to Nick via text and reading a book for a screenplay I just recently signed on for. It made the time go by. I was excited to see Nick as he was me. Even with all the confusion of the last week surrounding Josh and my feelings for Nick, I still missed him. I may not understand why I feel what I feel for both men, but I feel it none the less.

When I arrived at the premier, I was taken back at just how beautiful it was. Everything aside from the biting cold was perfect. I remember finally spotting Josh while doing interviews on the press line. He was talking animatedly and just looked like happiness to me. He looked so amazingly handsome in his suit.

My breath caught a little when his eyes met mine after I pelted a discarded Mentos from deep within my coat pockets at him. He had a look of shock and expectation etched on his features. I walked up to him laughing, but preparing to play modest while so exposed to the media. We shared a laugh and I could feel our all too familiar playfulness begin to build. When that happens, I all but lose my head and just want to regress into my 5 year old self who chases Josh around the carpet like two school kids with a crush. So we split up and I made my way down the carpet a ways to continue the interview walk. In a few moments I feel something hit me and I look down the line to see Josh and a reporter laughing at me; apparently he threw something at me. I caught my guard as he turned and shot the coldest stare I had ever seen directly at Josh. I couldn’t help the laugh that came from me when I saw Josh’s face pale and drop for a brief moment upon his silent scolding.

After a playful red carpet, we all joined inside the foyer. Nick and his family were coming but I had yet to find them. Josh and Liam had been sipping on a beer while I nursed a glass of wine before entering the theatre to introduce the film. We are all standing together and we’re enjoying the small break from the insanity outside when I felt arms wind around my waist and the soft purr of a hello. Nick had found his way to us and even without having to see him, I felt Josh retreating. After I gave Nick a chaste kiss hello, I peered over my shoulder with just enough time to watch Josh walk away with his hand in his pocket and the other lifting a quickly draining bottle high in the air. The pang of guilt that ran through me as I watched him meet back up with Andre was sharp.

I had tried calling him before leaving Atlanta to talk to him about how things might be tonight. Up until today, it’s just been he and I in our own little world. No one else really existed when we were together. But today would being a halt to that. We were back to the reality in which we are both in a relationship with other people. I texted him after my calls went to voicemail, but I never heard back from him. I needed to talk to him, if only to say that I still need to work some things out. That I don’t discount what happened Wednesday night. I needed to tell him that, yes, Nick will be here, and yes, Nick will be with me. But that I would rather have Josh on my arm and around my waist. But it’s kind of hard having a conversation with an empty screen and an automated mailbox. We had been playing on the red carpet, right? Things didn’t seem amiss there. I still hadn’t had the option to ask him why he didn’t return my texts or calls before he turned and walked away.

As Nick stands behind me chatting with Liam, I can’t help but shift in his arms in such a way that I am now idly turned toward Josh. I watch him talking to various people from across the room. I can see the hint of annoyance on his face. He hides things well, but he has his tells. When he’s frustrated or annoyed, he reaches up and rubs the corner of his forehead before locking his jaw and plastering on a fake smile. He can fool many, many people, but I am not one of them.

I begin to bristle as I watch him. Why he is even annoyed is beyond me. If he had answered any one of my calls or texts we could have spoken about tonight like adults. Hell, this wasn’t a secret. Nick being here was expected by all. I anticipate seeing Claudia on Monday. I don’t like it necessarily, but I expect it. And I will be civil and play nice as he introduces us. I will make idle conversation with her, because everything else aside, I know she’s important to him. What does Josh do? He walks off without a word.

We made an agreement. We didn’t agree that sleeping together would instantly fix everything and we’d live happily ever after. No, we agreed that if we ever felt the urge to have one another, we could, without complications. His avoidance is screaming complication. I’m not only blaming Josh, my roller coaster of emotions toward him and the situations we’re both in have complicated things as well. But until one of us makes a solid decision one way or another, it was an agreement for a night, nothing more. This is bullshit and if this is how we’ll end up after every time, we can’t do this again.

I straighten my back and run my hands over Nicks as they hold me to him. I’m not going to let this ruin my night. If Josh wants to act like this, where he’s playful then closed off, I’m going to do my own thing. I can’t deal with this. We agreed dammit. I tried calling him; I made the effort to talk to him about how this might affect us on the tour. But he refused the attempts. What exactly does he want me to do? What does he want me to say? Sex with you was great and I think I still love you, so I’m going to throw caution to the wind? What about him? He’s made no attempt to hide his calls and facetime chats with Claudia while we are around each other. Does he think I miss the ‘I love you’he tells her at the end of each call? Or how he tells her he misses her in the same low tone he tells me? We’ve both put ourselves in this position. We should have known better.

I should have known better.

The rest of the night is spent with forced smiles and empty banter. Josh and I pass each other during the after party but really don’t speak much. Nick is at my side, but he seems to be occupied elsewhere as he manages to talk to his phone majority or the night. Something about a negotiation for a role he auditioned for. I don’t really care by the end of the night. I just feel alone at this point. My boyfriend is here but not really, my, I don’t even know what to call Josh. He’s not really speaking to me, I manage to squeeze in some down time with Liam during the party; at least I can talk to someone who isn’t here just to shake my hand. As the party winds down, Nick and I decide we’re going to leave. When I look around for Josh to let him know I’m headed out, he’s nowhere to be found. Once we’re in the car I text him once more.

Jen: I’m headed to the flat. Hope you had a good night. Care to explain the cold shoulder?

Once I hit send, I slip my phone back into my clutch and Nick and I make our way back to his flat. It isn’t until I’m crawling into bed that I finally retrieve my phone. The screen is full of notifications, none of which are from Josh. There isn’t even a read notification on the message I sent him. At this point, I’m too tired to be angry. Now I’m just hurt. It’s three in the morning, I’m exhausted from nearly 12 hours of flying, a weeks’ worth of interviews, a red carpet walk and sitting through a film where I have to watch myself fall in love with a man I am already in way too deep with. Now that man is not speaking to me, and all I can gather is it’s because I am in London with my boyfriend and not dropping everything to be with him.

I plug the phone in and drop it on the hardwood of the nightstand. My head falls hard as I bury my face deep within the pillow and mentally tear myself apart for the hot tears that have begun falling from my eyes. This isn’t fair. We agreed that this wasn’t going to get complicated. We had fun, that’s all this should have been. I roll over and roughly wipe at my eyes, trying to rid myself of the emotion washing over them before Nick gets out of the shower. “This is bullshit” I mumble aloud. I hate that I’ve let myself feel for Josh again. I’ve created this fucked up world where I convince myself I can love him from afar and not let it affect me. But really, the jokes on me, I can’t live like that. I’ve never been good at following rules, let alone my own. I feel like I’m drowning in the mess we’ve both seemed to have created. I thought we could get through this. A few days ago I was ready to strike another agreement. Now, I don’t think I can. I can’t trade my sanity for a night of passion. I guess I should have come to this realization before I made the choice to peruse him and our deal.

I try and relax myself, tell myself that tomorrow will be a new day. My knees come up as far as I can pull them and I curl into myself just as Nick is crawling in behind me. I feel his hand roam up my thigh and under my shirt. There is a part of me that wants to turn around and get lost in his touch. A part of me that is begging him to love me so well that my mind will clear and all I will see is him. But there is also a part of me that transforms his touch into that of Josh. That same part of me replaces the smell of musk with the scent of sandalwood. It drops his purring voice an octave and replaces the eloquence of his British accent with the smooth, unassuming tone of a southern drawl.

I can’t take this anymore.

I roll quickly, draping my legs across Nick’s lap, straddling him and taking him by surprise. I reach for the hem of his t-shirt and hastily pull it up his long torso. As he lifts up to help remove the material I catch a flash of an anchor tattoo on the side of his ribcage.

I freeze.

My breathing ceases.

I blink, and it’s gone.

Unaware of my shock, he frees himself from the collar of the shirt and his lips dive hungrily to my neck. The feel of his breath on my skin brings me back in the moment and I shake my head lightly to clear it while running my nails up his back and into his short hair. Unconsciously, my fingers seek out the longer strands that belong to another. They splay across his scalp in search but come up empty against the nearly buzzed cut.

I lean my head down and capture his lips. As our tongues dance, he raises a hand and brushes my cheek with his knuckles. I sigh, waiting for the rough, raised line that scars Josh’s hand to drag across my skin.

It never comes.

I squeeze my eyes tighter, pleading with my mind to let him go. Not here, not now. I long for the ability to simply shut my mind off, to dim the lights and blacken the screen as it plays memories of him and me.

I cup Nick’s cheeks and pull him from my neck, reclaiming his lips fiercely. The kiss is frantic. So much so that it is as if I were to stop, the whole world would shatter around us. I refuse to shatter anymore as I sweep the top of his mouth, tracing the contours I have known for years. He seems a bit taken by my ferocity but goes along, smiling into the kiss as if it were a playful game.

I am not playing.

I feel his fingers making quick work of the button down sleep shirt I am wearing and as soon as it’s ripped from my shoulders my hands wrap tightly around his ears and I pull him away. His chest heaves against my now bare one, his eyes are borderline delirious. The deep blue of his irises pierce the dark as he searches for my reasoning. He licks his lips and my attention is held by the way the tip of his tongue moistens his lower lip before it is captured between in teeth in a seductive manner. My hand glides across his face and cups his chin. My thumb trails the path just forged on his lower lip. His breath is hot against the pad of my finger. His lips burn as he kisses the tip before opening his mouth and pulling my thumb inside. He sucks gently on my finger, his tongue washing over the skin. My head lays back as a release a shuddered moan into the room.

Without thought, my free hand finds his boxers and pulls him free. He grunts into the kiss as my fingers dance across his hardened state. He jerks under my touch as my hand recoils. I hook my finger in the soft cotton material of my underwear and pull them to the side, I’m not waiting. I break the kiss only long enough to lift up, meet his tip and sheath him completely. His cry dies as I claim his mouth once more. My hands find his shoulders and I begin to thrust down around him. Each thrust is stronger, more frantic then the last.

I need to forget. I need this to be enough.

I cry his name, and he responds in turn. I can feel the pressure building as he meets me thrust for thrust. His grunting becomes deeper, more primal as he loses his sense of romance and picks up on my need to be fucked. My nails dig into his shoulders and finally have to release him and grip the headboard behind us for leverage. When I do the room is filled with a steady pounding. I hold so tightly to the wooden headboard that my knuckles begin to hurt.

My world is incoherent. Everything is dark. I hear, I feel, I smell, but I don’t see anything. I feel the winding deep within myself. I know that I will snap soon. I’m so close. I begin to ride him with abandon, I need this release. I need it.

His hand cups my cheek roughly and I draw his thumb into my mouth, mimicking his actions earlier. I suck hard on his thumb, biting it, raking my tongue across the grooves I create with each clench of my jaw. I pull my mouth away and watch his hand fall in the soft moonlight.

There on his wrist, a tattoo. Dark. Bold.

A symbol. A sign. A meaning.

Shatter. Crash. A halt so violent it leaves me crying out into the darkness. A wail so full of despair that I swear the room shook.

I blink; it’s gone. Another mocking ghost of someone who is not here.

Nick is beneath me, left stunned by my inability to move. I begin to shake. The adrenaline high has escaped from me like sand through fingers. Leaving behind a soft tingle from where it was held. My breathing, heavy and broken, chases after the high and I am left choking for air as my lungs battle the sobs deep within my throat. Hot tears begin to carve familiar paths down my cheeks as my body slumps against his sweaty one. My head drops to his shoulder and my arms wrap around his neck. I hold him so tightly as I cry that he reaches behind me and loosens my grip a bit.

He eventually begins to rub my back and whisper soft nothings in my ear as I sob against him.

Finally he asks, “Jennifer, love, what’s wrong? What’s going on?” He waits and I am yet to calm myself enough to give him a coherent answer, “Jen, please talk to me. What’s going on? Please?”

“I can’t…” I mumble into the warm skin of his shoulder, “I just can’t…” I lift my hips and he slides from me with ease, “I can’t do this anymore.”

I drop onto the mattress beside him and drape my arm across my eyes as I try and formulate the words I need to say, “Nick… I… I thought I could do this. I thought I could make this work.”

My voice is soft and broken, I have no idea how I am going to lay this all down now that I’ve come to the realization that I can’t pretend any longer; that no matter how tightly I close my eyes, or how much I will myself to replace a feature, I will never be over Josh. He will haut my dreams, my waking moments. He will crawl across my skin when I hear his name. He will be behind every caress I am given. With each set of hands that hold my body, his touch will invade my senses and I will lose myself in the confusion.

This isn’t fair to Nick. This isn’t fair to me.

He scoots up the bed, tucking himself away, still in desperate need of release, “Wha.. what do you mean ‘make this work’? What am I missing here Jennifer?”

I roll out of the bed, naked and in search of something to put on, anything. I walk over to my bag, flung open with its contents scattered across the small loveseat nestled in the corner of the room. I feel around for my sweatpants, and every time I think I’ve found them, it’s a different article of clothing. I give up and sigh in frustration, “Nick, turn the light on please.”

As the room illuminates, my eyes squint in the harsh light. I turn back to my bag and retrieve my sweatpants, a tank top and a zip up hoodie.

As I dress, Nick excuses himself to the bathroom and a new wave of guilt washes over me. My body is still buzzing, in need of its own release but as my thoughts drift to just minutes ago: the flash of dark ink, and the sudden urge to be sick, my body begins to uncoil from deep within me. It unwinds so quickly that within seconds, the mere thought of sex, with anyone, right now would be an act I simply can’t fathom. In this moment, I don’t want one or the other; I just want to be alone.

Nick emerges from the bathroom a few minutes later and slips into a new pair of boxers. I watch him cross the room from my spot in the plush chair by the door. He finally stops before me and drops down on the balls of his feet, “Jennifer…”

I turn away from him, releasing a deep breath before I shatter the silence, “Nick. We need to talk.”

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

The hum of the plane has me in a state of broken consciousness. I drift in and out of dreams and wakefulness. Neither provides me with any relief. My eyes burn. My voice is ragged. My cheeks are splotchy. I can’t seem to stop needing to wipe my nose. Even in my sleep, tears fall. My cheeks are perpetually moist. I haven’t slept since the night before last. I feel myself drifting back into a blank consciousness when suddenly I jump at the feel and sound of a body dropping in the empty seat next to mine.

“So when are you going to tell me what that fuck happened last night?”

I lift my head lazily and watch as my publicist and friend Liz pulls the tab on a diet coke and takes a long sip. She reaches for the window shade and cracks it. As soon as the mid-morning sun hits my eyes I hiss, groan, and bury my head in the blanket I have wrapped around my shoulders.

“Damn Jennifer…” she tells me dropping the shade back down, “you look like shit.”

“Fuck you” I mumble into the fabric, sending her a gaze so full of distain she recoils before laughing and taking another drink of her coke.

“So… details. Why do you look like death today? Is there something I should be aware of?”

I take a deep breath, contemplating how to tell her and just where to begin. All I can think about is how disgusted I am with myself. I feel dirty. For what exactly, I don’t know. But I just feel as if I’m the worst person in the world and there is really nothing that can convince me otherwise.

I open my mouth to speak and a broken sob comes out instead, “I’m a h-h-orrible person.” The tears begin to flow freely once again as my shoulders begin to shake against the leather seat.

Liz’s face contorts into one full of sympathy and worry as she sets she coke down and pulls me to her in a tight hug. My face buries in her shoulder and I give into the body racking cries that I have held in since walking on the plane this morning. She runs her hand down the short locks of hair on the back of my head while whispering softy that she’s here and everything will be okay.

“No. No.” I repeat over and over into her shoulder, “It’ll never be ok. I’ve fucked up so badly Liz. So bad.”

“What are you talking about?” She asks pulling away to look at me.

I begin to tell Liz everything. I start at the beginning, where the agreement was made, my birthday, and I work my way from there. I explain what happened between Josh and me on Wednesday. I tell her about how during the interviews I was constantly lost. How Josh was loving and playful one minute and then throwing jabs at me the next. How the inconsistency of it all threw me for a loop. Then I told her about how I tried talking with him but he never returned my calls or texts. Finally, after an hour of tears, Kleenex and a glass of wine, I get to last night. I tell her that I grew tired of the game Josh and I had been playing last night, and how I told myself that it was all wrong. I told her that I convinced myself that I needed to make Nick and I work. When I told her we slept together, I caught a brief and fleeting glace at her face as it contorted in judgment. This only caused bile to well up on my throat, threatening to spill the contents of my wine all over the floor. I fought back the urge, she had every right to have that face, I was disgusted by myself as well. I used Nick to try and erase Josh; a lot of good that did. But when I told her how flashes of Josh continued to overtake my senses until I had to abruptly stop in the middle of sex, her face softened and took on the look of sympathy. At this point I’m not sure which emotion is worse.

I then told her that I had told Nick everything. It was then her face scrunched and she released a long and drawn out, “oh no.”

“Yeah, I know.” I continued on, telling her his reactions. I included the screaming match we had, the hurtful comments that were thrown my way. When Liz sat back in shock telling me no one had a right to speak to me that way I simply told her I deserved to hear those things. That I had hurt him and I understand him. She continued to tell me it wasn’t right until I asked her if I could finish or not. She nodded and I continued. I told her how he packed my things and asked me to leave. I told him that wasn’t being fair; it was four o’clock in the morning. But he didn’t care at that moment. So I called a car service and spent the next 4 hours in a coffee shop just outside of Heathrow Airport before boarding the plane.

“And now I’m here” I sigh heavily before reaching for another Kleenex.

Liz just drops back in her seat, as if exhausted from the story I just told her, and stares at me dumbfounded. I blow my nose and take a fresh sip of the small bottle of water I ordered. I give her a few minutes to process everything I’ve just said. Finally, as my knee starts bouncing and my ears start ringing from the silence between us, I crack. “So…” I press.

She closes her mouth and opens it again. Then she cocks her head and closes it once more, as if she’s not sure what to say, or knowing Liz, how to say it. She takes a deep breath and finally speak, “So what are you planning on doing now?”

I should have known this was the question coming. It’s the immediate reaction anyone has after being told a story like mine. Fuck if I know. I feel like absolute shit, I look the part and frankly I don’t give a shit right now.

“I don’t really know to tell you the truth.”

Liz leans forward and closes in, her face only inches from mine, “Have you talked to Josh?”

I roll my eyes and fall back in my seat with a huff, “Where in my story did you get the impression I’ve talked to Josh at all since the party?”

“Hey, I was just asking. It would explain why he didn’t get on the flight. I didn’t hear from Angie today.”

I waved my hand, “I overheard him and Liam talking yesterday before the party about him flying to Spain to see Claudia while we stayed overnight in London or something along those lines. I’m sure he’s there having a great fucking time with her.”

“Don’t sound bitter or anything” she mumbled.

I shoot her a warning glance and roll my eyes, “No, I’m not bitter at all. He’s off having a wonderful time with his girlfriend while my life’s falling apart because I can’t fuck my boyfriend without thinking about him. Nope, not bitter. Not me.”

Liz sighs as she raises her eyebrows, “Wow Jen, that’s even too dramatic for you.”

I purse my lips, knowing she’s right. I know I’m just being a bitch right now. It’s my dealing mechanism. It’s how I keep myself from falling apart. It’s just easier to project than it is to face the fucked up mess I’ve made.

My eyes drop and my voice quivers, “But what if he is Liz?”

My simple question hangs in the air between us. Liz reaches forward and takes my hand in both of hers, clasping it tightly before nodding, drawing my attention to her eyes, “Then he’s doing exactly what you did… and honestly Jen, you can’t be mad at him.”

I feel a tightening in my chest. The rims of my eyes begin to burn. My skin crawls and I can’t seem to catch my breath long enough to tell her she’s right. I’ve always counted on Liz to tell me the truth in an industry built on lies and empty promises. She has yet to fail me, today is no exception.

I simply nod my head as I wipe my nose on the sleeve of my shirt. Liz checks her watch and then rests a hand on my knee, “We’re landing in about thirty minutes. I think you should talk to Josh when we get to the hotel.”

“Do you think he’ll even be there? He normally stays with her.”

“Yeah; he’s got fittings for his suit scheduled at two. I know that much.”

As Liz gets up to use the bathroom I reach out and grab her hand in mine. With tears pricking the corners of my eyes I speak, “Thank you.”

She turns and leans down to hug me, “Jennifer, no matter what happens with all of this, you will be ok. You will make it through this and you will come out the other side better for whatever outcome is revealed. I promise.”

I hold her to me tightly, “Love you Liz.”

“I love you too. Now I gotta pee, so.”

I chuckle lightly as I release her and she scurries toward the back of the plane.

When we land, Liz and I are escorted to a black SUV and driven to our hotel for the day. Liz runs down the list for me of all the scheduled events. We have a press conference at noon, which is about 2 hours from now. Then we have a photo call, fittings for the premier, press interviews with local reporters, and finally the premier. Once we finish there, we don’t even have a chance to enjoy the after party. We’ll be swept up promptly and put back on the plane headed for a red-eye to Rome.

Upon checking into the hotel ─ for all of 12 hours ─ we make our way up to the suite where I am immediately drug into the bedroom and handed a blue and white skirt/shirt combo to wear for the press conference and photo call. Next I go and sit in the makeshift vanity in the main living room and wait. Mark wasn’t able to make this trip so I’m using a local makeup artist, who apparently, is running late.

As I sip my coffee, desperately trying to take in as much caffeine as humanly possible, I allow myself a few moments of weakness. My phone sits in my shaking palm before I let my fingers skim the screen.

Jen: Are you somewhere we can talk? I miss you.

I hesitate before frantically hitting the delete button and begin retyping.

Jen: I need to talk to you.

I quickly hit send before the emotional side of me can slip another ‘I miss you’ in the text. I message bubble lifts and reads delivered. A second later it reads Read 10:43 am.

I bring my hand to my lips and begin to worry my thumb nail as I wait for his response. A few minutes go by without a reply and I can feel my resolve quickly deflating. We need to talk before this tour gets any crazier. After today, it’s nonstop till LA. We won’t have a minute to ourselves. Not to mention the vacancy left in my heart by his sudden disappearance. I need to see him.

I lean back in my chair and see Liz sitting on a couch against the far wall of the suite, “Liz. Do you by chance know a certain room number?”

Liz just winks at me and lifts her phone to her ear. Soon she’s is mumbling into the receiver and walking over to the kitchenette counter in search of something. Her phone beeps and she secures it in her jeans pocket. She walks over to me, folding a small sheet of paper and placing it in my palm, “You have about twenty-five minutes before this makeup artist is supposed to show up.”

My fist closes around the small piece of paper and I smile up at her. I push up out of the chair and pad my way across the suite and out the door. The hallway is quiet and only the quiet hum of the elevators can be heard. I step just beside the door and my back meets the wall as I unfurl the paper.

Suite 1525

He’s just below me. I push off the wall and make my way down the empty hallway to the elevator foyer at the end of the hall. There are thee elevators before me and three behind. I reach out and hit the down button. As it illuminates I hear the ping and then the sound of the cables beginning to move. My bare toes wiggle against the soft burgundy rug as I wait. My eyes lift to the numbers above the doors and I notice the ones moving are on the far left elevator. I side step my way to the doors just as they open with a chime. They car is empty. I step inside, glancing down at the open space at the mouth of the elevator. I can see down into the elevator shaft and I swallow hard. I’m the person who instantly imagines cables snapping and me falling to my death in these things. Irrational, I know. But I’m the same with planes. I’m still here though. Yay.

With a deep breath I reach forward and hit the button for the fifteenth floor. Another chime and the doors close before I feel a sudden drop and I grip the hand rail behind me. The ride is all of a few seconds before the elevator bounces to a stop and the doors slide open. There is an elderly couple waiting and they smile gently at me before escorting one another inside. I peer over my shoulder as the doors begin to close and a small smile tugs at my lips as I watch their hands link.

I snort as I begin to walk, they didn’t have a clue who I was. No wonder Josh keeps running off to this place. I begin reading the door numbers as I walk, 1517, 1519, 1521, 1523

I stop in front of the large oak door reading 1525. I inhale a deep breath and raise my hand to knock. Just before my knuckles make contact I hear a giggling. I turn and look down the hall as a family emerges from a room, all smiles. The mother nods a greeting to me as they shuffle past me. I must look like an idiot out here. I’m barefoot, in a very brightly colored blue outfit, my hair is flat against my head due to lack of any styling product, and my face is void of any make up and puffy from the events of last night. Yeah, I must be quite a sight.

Another deep breath and I rap against the large door four times. I pull my hand back and focus my attention on the small piece of paper rolling between my palms. After a few seconds of nothing, my heart begins to race a little. Is he not here? I bite the inside of my cheek and decide to knock once more. One solid knock and the door pulls open, leaving my hand hanging in the air and my heart shattering to the floor.

Claudia stands halfway behind the door, one arm wrapped around the front, the other unseen. Her long black hair flows down around her shoulders and sways in the openness at her side. She is dressed in a red flannel button down that I know so very well. My eyes wander to the hem of the shirt and my breath catches when I see her bare legs disappear beneath the fabric. She is wearing nothing else. Our eyes meet and there is an unspoken knowing in each of our stares.

“Hi” she says coolly, opening the door a bit. “I’m Claudia. It’s good to meet you.”

I’m still looking for words to form as I extend my hand cautiously, “’Hi, I’m…”

“I know who you are.” Her tone is nice enough, but her face reads indifference. Perhaps there is even a hint of jealousy there.

“I was, uh… I was looking for…” Just as his name is about to come falling from my lips, I see him step out from the hallway in the suite. He has a white towel draped around his waist, his chest glistens in the streaming light from the patio, his hair is wet, and he trails a cloud of steam behind him.

“Baby, did you order the room ser…” His words end as his eyes lift to mine. A mixture of shock, longing, guilt, and regret flash across his features.

All I can hear in my head is Liz’s words, “…he’s doing exactly what you did, and honestly Jen, you can’t be mad at him.” Over and over I hear her, “…you can’t be mad at him.”

Claudia turns to Josh, “We’ve got comp…”

“You know what, I, this was, I’ll just…” I stop myself; breathe Jen, “I’ll just talk to him later.”

As I turn, I can feel my heart beating so frantically it hurts. My chest heaves as I walk further from the open door. I can hear Josh yell out “Wait! Jennifer Wait!” But I have no intention of sticking around. I make my way to the elevators again and I being pushing both the up and down button. Just get me out of there, I think. I can feel the painful burn welling up in my eyes again. Keep it together. Keep it together. My hands clench into tight fists as I wait. What feels like minutes is truly only seconds as I watch the numbers above the door ascend from 4.

A sob is choking me; I refuse to let it out. My skin is burning, I can feel the heat rising and paining my cheeks with a crimson shade. My jaw juts forward as I try and keep it from trembling. Stop it! This shouldn’t bother me. Wasn’t I just doing the same thing? No! No I wasn’t. I couldn’t enjoy my boyfriend. I couldn’t order room service with him; I couldn’t walk around in his clothes. I was ruining everything because I made a stupid decision.

I let out another exasperated groan as I begin punching the buttons over and over with my thumb. I grit my teeth and glance between the numbers and the back side of the hall, “Come on. Come on.”

“Jennifer!” I throw my attention down the hall and see Josh jogging down the hallway, his jeans hanging off his hips, his bare feet pounding the carpet and his white t-shirt falls around his torso as he pulls it on. “Wait!”

I can’t do this. This was wrong. I was so stupid. I turn to my left and see the door leading to the stairs. I lean forward and shove it open. It unlatches and I tumble into the dimly lit stairwell. Up? Down? My tears have already started to fall and all I want to do is get away. I can’t face him after that. I know I am not supposed to be hurt by this, but I am. I fucking hate the situation I have created. I hate me for doing this. I grip the railing and begin to descend the steps as quickly as possible without falling.

I’ve rounded the first turn when I hear the door fly open, “Jennifer! Dammit, Stop!”

I look up at him just long enough to see him leaping three steps at a time, “Stop Jen!”

I continue my pace until a loud slap behind me causes me to turn around. Josh leapt over the railing and his bare feet planted on the linoleum stair just two behind me. He reaches out and grabs my arm, turning me, “God dammit Jennifer, just fucking stop!” His breathing is heavy and his eyes dart between mine so fast that I need to look away.

“Josh, just let me go. I’m sorry.” I pull my arm from him but his grasp tightens and he whips me back around.

“What the fuck Jennifer?!”

I feel anger building deep within and I clench my teeth, “Let me go Josh.”

“No. What the fuck is going on?” His tone is firm and cold. He’s angry. The notch in his jaw bows and his features become dangerously angular. His eyes darken and his nostrils flair as he releases a deep breath.

Finally I pull my arm free in a swift motion and I shove his chest back, “Go back to your girlfriend Josh. Tell her to put on her own fucking clothes.”

He leans back as if my words slapped him, “Is that what this about? Claudia being here? Really Jen?” He scoffs at me before yelling into the vast corridor, “She’s my girlfriend!”

“I know!” My scream matches his and both seem to echo off the walls as they chase each other down. Tears fall from my eyes and my breathing becomes heavy, “I know Josh. I know! How can I forget?! She made it very clear she’s laid her claim when she opened the door in nothing but your fucking shirt!”

I turn and take a step down before whipping back around and pointing up at him furious, “Why couldn’t you have just fucking texted me back?! I wouldn’t have shown up like a god damn idiot!”

“What the fuck are you talking about?! I didn’t get a damn text?!”

I laugh sarcastically, “Oh bullshit! It said you read it! You know what…” I wave my hand in the air as he takes a step toward me, “No. Don’t. Save your shit Josh. You’ve ignored me for the last day and a half. So don’t fucking tell me you haven’t gotten anything.” I turn and begin to head down more steps as a mumble, “You’re so full of shit Josh. I’m so fucking done with this.”

He bounds down the steps and flings himself in front of me, preventing me from moving further, “Jennifer. You need to calm the fuck down and talk to me.”

Did he just seriously tell me to calm down? My brow furrows and I shove his shoulders hard. He stumbles back and down the last step before he comes to a stop against the far wall. I step down and storm to him, anger flashes across his features and before he can spit whatever venom he has building I reach up and slap him hard. His head lists to the side and when it snaps back around, his eyes are black and fury resonates in them. “Don’t you ever tell me to calm down. When I wanted to talk to you, you were nowhere to be found. Go back upstairs and fuck her Josh. Fuck her until you don’t remember my name.” I seethe.

His fists clench at his sides and his ears burn a bright red, “How is this being fair Jennifer? You went home with Nick last night. I didn’t get a say in that decision!” he yells.

“Trust me, my night didn’t end up the way you think it did.” I snap.

His face falls and he steps forward off the wall hesitantly, “What happened?” His voice is soft, a far cry from the rage that flowed through his lips a moment ago. If I didn’t know better I’d say he was worried.

I look at him and my breath catches. My heart is shattering, my world is crumbling. Part of me is dying in this moment but I will never let him see that. Right now, I need us to become strangers again.

His eyes begin to soften and I know that if I don’t end this now, he’ll break me if he gives in.

My anger leaves me in a heavy sigh. My eyes fall to the floor just beside him and I shake my head gently, I bite my lower lip and then release a shaky breath, ready to close this chapter of our story.

“This week was a mistake. You and I, we made a mistake. That night… Josh that night was the biggest mistake of them all.” I steel myself before continuing, “That can never happen again. We can never be that again. We should have never made this agreement. If I just want to fuck somebody, I’ll find someone I don’t have to see every day; someone who won’t invade my every thought.”

I stop to catch my breath. I don’t believe anything coming out of my mouth right now, but I need to convince him to walk away. This game we’ve been playing has only resulted in destroying relationships across the board. “Josh,” I pause, using the passing seconds to collect my thoughts, “Do you remember a few years ago? When all of this was fresh and new? Our friendship, how we said we’d never let anything come between us?” I swallow back a cry and my eyes search his, “Do you Josh; before this?” I motion between us before dropping my hand at my side.

“Of course” he replies quietly as he takes another cautious step towards me.

“We broke us Josh,” I whisper in the cool air of the stairwell, “We did this.”

The long florescent light mounted overhead flickers every few seconds and the loud hum it makes takes over my senses.

“We broke our own promise to never hurt each other.” I watch as he steps closer yet again, his face falls with each word that pours from me. His hazel eyes shine with sadness as he silently begs me to stop my speech. “Our friendship means more to me than anything and I hate us for finding a way to self-destruct.” I turn my face away from his and hastily wipe the tears that fall away, “I can’t lose you Josh. But,” I release a strangled sigh, “…I can’t have you either. We need to stop this. I need to stop being jealous of her and you need to stop resenting him. Josh… We need to get back there. We need to forget all of this. We need to pretend this never happened.”

I finally allow my eyes to land on his and it takes everything I have to not cave. His head drops and he looks up at me through hooded lids, watching me carefully.

“You don’t mean any of that” he whispers lowly. His hand lifts and wraps warmly around the back of my neck. His movements are still slow, as if he were walking into an unknown situation.

The feel of his hand causes a round of fresh sobs to bubble to the surface, causing me to sniffle and fight the tears as they continue to betray me, “But I do. I can’t do this anymore” I cry.

His free hand comes up and cradles my cheek, the pad of his thumb brushing the tears away. My gaze locks on his and I nearly collapse into his arms. I’ve tried to be so strong. I’m trying to repair the break with a fracture. But once his hands are on me, once I feel the warmth of his body near mine, I can’t hold on any longer. Like a chip in glass, the more he handles me, the more I crack. When he sucks in a breath and a stray tear falls from his eye, all my resolve crashes against him like a wave finding jagged rocks in a storm.

I fall to pieces as my arms wrap tightly around his solid shoulders and my face buries deep in the warmth of his neck. He pulls me against him so tightly I feel as if I’ll break. But fighting for air seems trivial compared to the fight I am currently waging. I’m fighting for us; for him and me.

One hand drops to the small of my back while the other runs across the soft hairs on the nape of my neck. His fingers splay across my scalp and he holds me there as if I were an infant. My sobs echo off the cold concrete walls and drown the humming of the light above us. My body shutters against his as I pour all the pent up emotion of the last few days into this embrace.

After a few minutes of him holding me as I cry, I feel his chest bounce lightly against mine before the vibration of his voice invades my ears, “You’re good Jen, but not that good.” His tone is lower; all the harshness from before is gone. There’s playfulness in the soft chuckle that follows.

I feel my lips curl ever so slightly against the pulsing vein in his neck, “Oh yeah, wanna tell that to my Oscar?” I mumble.

His laughter fills the dank space around us and I can’t help the mirrored sound coming from me.

His head tilts and his laughter stops. I feel his lips press into my hair as he whispers, “You almost had me. Almost.”

“Josh” I say is a wary tone as I pull away, “We can’t do that ever again.” I shake my head and speak before he has a chance to rebut, “I can’t pretend that one night with you will ever be enough.”

His hands come up to frame my face, his eyes alight with both the fear of letting go and understanding of why we need to, “So what do we do?”

I bring my hands up to run through the damp, stray hairs hanging loosely over his ears while my eyes trace every feature on his face. There’s a sudden tightening in my gut, as if everything in me is preparing to come undone with my next words, “Do you love her?”

He drops his gaze to the floor as he chews the inside of his cheek before meeting me head on, “I don’t know.”

My eyelids fall closed as I will myself not to shed anymore tears. I take a deep, cleansing breath and I find his stare once more, “Then we need to get back to the beginning; before sex, before all the confusion. We used to be so clear on where we stood with each other and now,” I watch his adams apple bob up and down as he swallows my words, “…now I don’t know if we’re even in the same room anymore.”

His hand slips from my back and now rests on my hip, “Jennifer, I love you.”

His words run through my veins like a poison; a sweet death, slowing my heart rate, shutting my instincts down one by one, leaving me just numb enough to feel the sting before it takes me.

“And I love you.” I grip the front of his t-shirt, balling it in my fists just below his sternum, “And that will never,” I nudge his torso with my hands, punctuating my point, “ever change, Josh. But the way we love each other needs to change.”

I watch his lip tremble as his hands tighten around my hip. His eyes drop to the spot where my hands grip his t-shirt for life, “I don’t know how to love you differently.” His tone is broken, dejected.

I pull him to me gently until my forehead rests against his, our broken breaths mingle and the tips of our noses brush the other.

“This is dangerous Josh.” It’s a quiet statement, meant only for him.

“What is?”

“Loving someone too much,” I swallow hard when I feel a new cry developing in the back of my throat, “It’s dangerous.” Our eyes meet in the inch between and I can see the flecks of green dance in the sea of browns churning behind a translucent wall of water. “We’re only fooling ourselves by saying we can stay here; in this in-between that we’ve created.”

Finally, a stray tear breaks free and I watch it roll across the contours of his face, stopping briefly at his chin before falling and shattering against my knuckles. His mouth opens, but no words escape. I release his shirt and I frame his face in my palms, “It’s time for me to go.”

He shakes his head, half-heartedly and lazily, “No” he begs.

I lean forward and brush my lips across his. They are moist, warm, and soft. Flashes of the first real kiss I stole from him assault my senses. Behind my closed lids I see him there, so handsome; asleep on the couch, the early morning light waltzing across his long eyelashes. That morning held so much promise for us both.

I linger only a moment before pulling away, licking my lips and tasting the salt left behind by our combined emotional release. I speak, our lips ghosting together, “I will never regret us.”

Another taste of his lips, “I will love you forever.”

My fingers begin to fall from his face at an agonizing pace. The pads of my fingers brush down across the light stubble on his jaw. They stop before completely falling away, running along the sharp angle until they rest in the pocket just below his lips.

“You will always be the one I was willing to break my heart for.”

My arms wrap tightly around his neck as I breathe him in. His face finds the crook in my neck and I feel his breathing on my skin, sending waves of loss through my body. I have to remind myself, this is for the best.

“Where does this leave us?” he finally asks against me.

My hand lifts and splays across the back of his head, threading my fingers in the damp strands, “As best friends.”

He laughs lightly against me, but the normal jovial undertone is gone, “Can we do that? Can we be that?”

My eyes dart up to the flickering light over head as I speak, “We were before.”

His fingers dig into my side as he pulls us closer in the embrace whispering to me, “I’m going to fix this.”

He’s so steadfast in his tone. It’s not an empty statement; he means it to be a promise.

I finally unwind myself from him and take a step back, “I gotta go. Hair and Make-up is waiting.” I try and maintain the strength I need to walk out of this stairwell and not turn and beg him to stay.

He nods, “Yeah, I uh… I should probably finish up.” His hand lifts and scratches at the back of his neck, a nervous habit of him.

“Hey” I say as I reach for his hand and pull it down, “We’re going to be ok. You and me… it’s going to take more to rock this friendship.” I watch as his face contorts ever so slightly at the word friendship, “I need my best friend back. You know, the guy who I can call at 3 am and talk about why Cheetos puffs are better than crunchy…”

“Crunchy is better, you know this” he cuts in.

I smile, “Yeah, yeah… well, I suppose we’ll just have to continue this conversation later.”

He nods, “Okay.”

“I love you Josh.”

He takes a deep breath and exhales before stepping back and rubbing his forearm, “Jen, I’m not trying to be a dick or anything, but, uh. I just, uh, I just can’t say that right now.”

His words cut me like knives. Every dropped syllable slices so deeply that my heart begins to ache so badly that I almost wish I had just walked away five minutes ago.

“I understand” I whisper as I watch my bare toes draw aimless circles on the linoleum floor.

“I’ll see you at the press conference, alright?”

I shake my head, biting my bottom lip in hopes that the slight pain I feel there will somehow cancel out the traumatic pain deep within my chest.

“I just need time” he whispers. “Can you give me that?”

I nod again in response, “Mmhmm.”

“Okay. I’ll see you out there.”

I watch him turn and climb the stairs. He trudges slowly and as he turns to climb out of sight, he turns and our eyes meet. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. His stare captures mine and I will all the unsaid words to pass through to him in this moment. All the ‘I love yous’, all the promises to love and cherish him forever. I want him to understand that I am pushing him in the direction he needs to go. He doesn’t know where he wants to land yet, and I need him to find that out. I need him to know that I stand here dying. I need him to know that in a perfect world, he would be my forever. I want him to know that had his answer to my question earlier been different, I would have made us both late. I would have claimed him as mine. But his answer wasn’t different. So I send my last message, my goodbye to that side of us. He will always be my best friend, and I will always love him. But we will never love one another quite the same as we have this past year. He breaks our stare and disappears up the stairs, with only the padding of his bare feet against the floor resounding around the space.

When I hear the door above me I wait. Then the loud crash of the latch as it closes echoes down around me. As it reverberates off the cold walls, I step back. Feeling the chill of the white painted wall against my skin, I sink down. The lower I go, the higher my knees rise until I am planted firmly on the cold ground. My arms wrap around my knees and my head drops out of sheer exhaustion. Tears finally break free, rolling off my face and into the material of my skirt. My shoulders shake as I keep my sobs silent.

My defenses have fallen and I sit here alone, stripped, and raw.

Did I make the right decision?

Was letting him go the right thing to do?

Through the silence of the space, his voice comes to me and echoes like a whisper on the wind.

“Do you want me to leave?”

“… I never want you to leave.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Authors Note: I know this chapter was hard, but stick with me. Part three is coming soon.

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August Alsina talks about his tour, inspiration, Nicki Minaj, Usher tour, and more. (Roman’s RapUp) ©fyeahiloveaugustalsina

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