When at last I had had my fill, drunk with satisfaction, he rolled to the side and cradled my head in his arms. I snuggled up and breathed the scent of him, the smell of sunshine that seeped from his skin. His breathing was already soft and slow, and I smiled, kissing the corner of his mouth. "Sleep well," I breathed, feeling my own slide into sleep dragging me inexorably down. Rocked by the bus's motions, I slept cradled in his arms all night, as safe as a baby.
It was the lack of motion that woke me.
The bus had stopped.
Sunlight peeked through a crack in the curtain, drilling right into my eyeballs. Tanner's eyes were screwed tightly closed in rebellion against being awake. But a crash and a muffled curse from Jimmy let us know we couldn't stay in bed forever.
"Good mornin'," he smiled, his eyes still closed.
"Morning," I said, pressing my lips tightly together. I hadn't brushed my teeth the night before. "Where the hell are we?"
Tanner chuckled. "Somewhere in the United States, I'd suspect."
"You don't know?"
"Nope." His eyes fluttered open. Those eyelashes were criminal. "I usually try to figure it out by the name of the venue. I'm getting pretty good at it."
A sardonic chuckle escaped my lips before I could catch it. He propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at me, tracing a finger along my jaw. 'You okay?"
I shook my head. "Sorry. Deja vu?"
He cocked his head. "I'm almost certain this has never happened before. I swear I would have remembered wakin' up next to a woman as beautiful as you." I smacked him in the arm and he grinned wider. "And as violent as you."
"That's not what I meant. I was talking about the waking up after driving all night and not knowing where you are."
His grin slammed shut. "Right. I remember you tellin' me your family moved a lot."
I was surprised. "You remember that?"
He bent down and kissed me sweetly. "I remember every single moment with you in the graveyard. The way the sun shone through the trees, the way you were acting all pissed so you wouldn't cry. How your eyes glittered when you told me 'no.' You're a shit liar, Monique."
He drowned out my protests, kissing me harder. By the time he pulled away, I found I didn't feel like arguing with him anymore.
Fitch was right, the middle of the set dragged. Even though it was the last thing I wanted to do, I called a rehearsal first thing in the morning.
"It's fine," Monique said. She was perched on the edge of my bunk, wearing these short little shorts that made her legs look a mile long. "I need to run some errands...get some toothpaste." she grimaced, making me laugh, "and check in with Gil."
"Gil?" I growled threateningly.
She smacked me. I loved provoking this girl. Any excuse to have her touch me, I'd take. "Gil's my boss and he's Jabba the Hut in human form. You don't have to get all possessive, cowboy."
I grabbed my hat from where it hung off my bunk and put it on my head expressly for the purpose of being able to tip it at her. "I don't take too kindly to other men steppin' in on my territory," I drawled.
"I'm your territory now?" Monique said testily.
"I think I've staked a pretty valid claim," I declared, sliding my hand between her legs. She squealed and smacked me again, squirming away. "Keep it warm for me, baby," I told her, kissing her again.
I could feel her eyes following me as I stepped off the bus. When I turned back, she was watching intently, but when I smiled at her, she didn't smile back. Instead she looked thoughtful...and then sad.
I was alone in a strange city, the only black face in a sea of lily-white.
In other words, everything was completely normal.
Loneliness should feel just as normal, but as I pulled my rental car into the pharmacy parking lot, a heaviness suffused my limbs. It felt like something was missing, something palpable and necessary, like a limb or possibly a portion of my heart.
I grabbed my back off the passenger seat and pulled up Chanel's number on my phone.
"Hey girl!" she sang out, office noise loud in the background. "I need to head to a meeting in a moment, but it's good to hear from you! How's the cowboy?"
"Hey girl," I said more softly. "Good to hear your voice. Have I missed anything?"
"Yeah, well," she lowered her voice slightly. "You probably want to know...I mean, I don't want to gossip and all, but Dayna's kind of pissed."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
Chanel snorted into the phone. "Seems like Dennis filled her ear with a few stories about you."
Dennis, the name rang a bell. I squeezed my eyes shut and wracked my brain before I finally remembered. "Finance Guy?"
"The date she set you up on?"
"Oh god," I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers. "I probably should have called her about that."
"Yeah well..." Chanel let her words hang in the air for a minute. "Might be a good idea, that. Listen, you didn't hear it from me, okay? I gotta run babe. Have fun with the cowboy."
She hung up before I could say goodbye.
Well hell, now I felt even worse. Reluctantly, I dialed Dayna's number.
"Oh hey," she answered icily. "I was wondering when I'd hear from you."
I swallowed hard. "Yeah, I'm so sorry, I've only just got this moment away from working."
"Mmmhmm." Dayna was in a coffee shop or a restaurant or something by the sound of it. Surrounded by people. Somehow that made me feel even lonelier. "So how did the date go?"
I started to answer but my tongue tripped up over the nice little lie I was planning to spin and suddenly I could only speak the truth. "Dayna, I owe you an apology."
She made a small noise of surprise. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"
I took a deep breath. "I should have been honest with you when you called me to confirm, but I was lying to myself, pretending I didn't feel how I felt. I should have called you and told you to cancel the date, but instead I went through with it and treated your friend badly and I'm sorry."
Dayna made several strange little squeaking sounds. I could tell this was the last thing she expected me to say. In fact, judging from my own shocked face staring back at me in the rearview mirror, I hadn't expected myself to say them either.
"I'm interested in someone else," I heard myself say. "And it wasn't fair for me to go out with Dennis when I feel this way."
Dayna let out a squeal and I instantly knew I was off the hook. "Interested in someone else?" she squeaked. I could practically hear her fluttering her eyelashes. "Oh my gosh, spill it, right now. Who's the lucky guy?"
Words bubbled up in my throat, demanding to be spoken out loud. This was dumb and foolish to even be admitting I felt this way, but the loneliness forced my hands. "Dayna, the cowboy and I...."
Dayna's voice la
unched itself into the stratosphere. I held the phone away from my ear as she shrieked and cackled like a madwoman. When I felt safe enough to hold the phone back up to my head, she was mid-sentence..."hottest guy I ever saw, those pictures you took of him, holy Christ you can see the sex in his eyes. How is he in bed? I bet he is completely amazing...."
"Wait, back up, the pictures I took of him?"
She humphed. "For the magazine? I could tell you know. As soon as I saw them, I figured out why Dennis said you were a crazy bitch...."