And anger at myself for believing it.
By the end of the second encore I had had enough. The last chords were still ringing out in the stadium, but I couldn't stand to see him that way for one minute longer. There was no place I could go besides the bus. So the bus was where I headed.
But it was locked up tight with no sign of Gus or Leo anywhere.
I flattened my hands against the metal sides and took a deep breath. This was craziness, being at his mercy this way. This wasn't my style.
"Call Clara first thing in the morning," I told myself. "Get a plane ticket back, then go grovel at Gil's feet. You'll probably get fired over this, but you can find a new job. Fuck, you can move again. Start over again...."
"Who are you talking to, babe?"
I whirled on Tanner in fright and he caught my wrist just before I clocked him in the jaw. "Hey, steady now," he said in that tone he might have used for a frightened horse. "I'm gettin' real sick of being your punching bag."
"Why are you following me?" I lashed out.
His eyes blazed in the dark. "Oh I'm followin' you, am I? Just because I was looking for the girl I'm into at the end of my set? Only to find out she ran off before it even ended?"
"I didn't run off," I shouted. "You're really fucking arrogant if you expect me to just sit there all impressed with your little rock show...."
My back slammed into the bus. Before I could cry out, Tanner's big hands were on my shoulders, pinning me between the bus and his chest. I wasn't sure which was harder.
"Monique," he growled, his tone dark and dangerous. "You have been pissed at me all day. Care to stop slingin' these accusations and actually tell me what the fuck I did wrong?"
"Tanner this is ridiculous!" I shouted.
His face was crashing down in disappointment and I hated myself as I spewed the angry, hurtful words, but I couldn't stop. "You and me, this whole "thing" we've got going on. It won't work!"
She scrambled away from me, that familiar fire in her eyes, like she was trying to smite me dead with her eyeballs. "You're deluded if you think this can work!" she shrieked, stomping her foot like an angry child.
"Tell me something right now," I demanded, shutting the bus door behind me. It was close and quiet in here and I tried like hell to lower my voice, stop antagonizing her. I was being rough, angry, holding her too tight. Her dark eyes blazed at me, but I was too far gone. "You tell me after all of this that you still want to go and I will get you on a plane right now and you never have to see me again. But you have to tell me, right now. No more kissing me and then ripping my heart out, over and over again."
"Ripping your heart out?"
"What do you think of me, Monique Williams? Have you really convinced yourself so completely that this means nothing to you? To me? Fuck that, I'm not the delusional one," I ran my thumb over her lips. "You are."
Her eyes blazed at me, her shoulders huffing up and down. She was hot to the touch, scalding really. I held my thumb right there on her mouth, waiting. "Are you going to bite me again?"
She didn't answer. Stretching her lips forward, she drew my thumb into her mouth. I sucked in my teeth to feel her lips wrapped around something of mine and she smiled an evil smile and closed her teeth against my skin,
I had her by the neck, but she had me in her teeth. A dangerous dance of trust. I could choke her. She could bite down at any second. It all depended on which one of us yielded first.
"Fuck this standoff shit," I growled. "Bite me and be done with it."
Her eyes flashed in triumph and she pulled back her lips, baring her pearly teeth. I sucked in my breath and waited for her to hurt me physically. Make me feel the pain that my confused heart was already hurting.
She bit down slowly, inexorably, leaving her mark on me. I grimaced.
And then the strangest thing happened. All the wind went out of her sails and she collapsed in a dejected heap on the bus floor. "Tanner..." she moaned, burying her head in her hands.
I immediately sank to her side and cradled her head. Her shoulders hitched a little as she quieted herself in my neck.
I was prepared to stay like this as long as she needed. My thigh was cramping and my thumb was throbbing, but I didn't give a damn about either one of them. I wanted to know why the hell Monique was crying. She seemed finally ready to tell me.
"Mmmhmmpfh," she mumbled into my neck.
"Didn't quite catch that, darlin'" I muttered into her hair.
She pulled back and wiped her eyes. "You must think I'm crazy," she said, more clearly now.
I cocked my head. "Yeah, but that's what I like about you," I grinned.
She half-laughed, half grimaced, then clasped her hands tightly in her lap. Her fingers twisted over and over again and I held my tongue, waiting for her to have her say.
"Tanner, what are we doing here?" she finally sighed.
There was a little-girl-pleading quality to her voice that I had never heard before. It made me sit right up at attention. "Well, honey, right now, we're sitting on the dirty ass floor of my tour bus. You're crying and I'm trying to figure out what I did to make you cry."
She looked stricken. "You didn't do anything. You're wonderful. Incredible. And that's the whole fucking problem."
"Oh? Gotta say darlin', I've never heard that particular complaint."
"Be serious a sec."
"I am deadly serious." I cupped her chin in my hand, forcing her to stop looking at the ground and look at me. "What is the problem?"
She looked around, wildly, like a trapped animal. "The problem is that it can't happen. You and me. You're leaving for Europe. I'm going home. It's ending in a week. You're talking like this is something that's going to last but Tanner...." Her breath caught in her throat and the rest of her words were forced out around the sound of her sobs. "Nothing ever lasts!"
She collapsed into my chest and I caught her up in my arms, kissing and murmuring sweet words that made no sense except they felt right to say, but all the while I tried to piece together her fears. The afternoon in the graveyard, the sun filtering through the trees as she settled her fingers on my granddad's tombstone and told me about how she had never had a place to call her own. How her family had to keep moving, and even when they thought they had a place to settle down, they ended up moving on from there too.
There was pain there, deep hurt she didn't want to relive. But everything about me seemed to set off that pain reflex again, no matter how hard both of us tried to get away from it.
"Darlin'," I ventured, quietly. Her sobs had settled and she had my shirt bunched up in her fist still, but her knuckles were no longer white. The glorious color was returning and I knew she had calmed enough to hear me when I said. "I gotta ask you a question and I need you to know it's not meant to hurt you." I chuckled a little as my thumb throbbed. "And I need to know that you're not gonna hurt me for asking it."
"Gee, that inspires a hell of a lot of confidence," she snarked into my chest.
I laughed a little, glad to have her fire back. It warmed me. "Maybe I'm gonna want your teeth a bit away from my flesh, here," I said lightly.
She sniffled and pulled back fixing me with her laser eyes. "Okay, cowboy. Ask away."
I placed my hand lightly on her leg. "You were a kid. You had no choice in your daddy moving you all the time. Nothing lasted then, but it wasn't your fault. But I gotta wonder why you still believe it now that you're grown."
She made an angry sound, but I pressed my finger on her lips to quiet her. Centimeters from her teeth. What can I say? I like living dangerously. "You say nothing lasts, but have you ever actually worked to make it last?"
Her eyes widened and she parted her lips. I snatched my finger away and replaced it with my lips, pressing
in a deep, long kiss that said most of what I was trying to say. When I finally pulled back, her eyes were glittering again, but I'll be damned if those didn't look like happy tears.
"Because I'm a real hard worker, Monique. I've never been one to shy away from something just 'cos it's hard. I'm going to Europe, you're going home, but that's only for a little while. I'm willing to make the effort to make this..." I touched her lips again and this time she kissed my finger fervently..."something that lasts."