No Yahya, get ahold of yourself.
I lift my chin and cross my arms, mustering all the professional gravitas I can manage while still being in the nude. "Could you send for the pilot please? I'd like to go home now."
"But you haven't even had breakfast," he protests lazily. "I make a mean poached egg."
The thought of Carter Easton making me breakfast nearly breaks my resolve. My traitorous brain leaps right to the image of cooking in his gleaming chef's kitchen...shirtless of course...maybe serving me strawberries dipped in cream.
Stop it, Yahya.
"I'm not hungry," I tell him loftily. Then my stomach growls loudly, immediately making me a liar.
Carter blinks at my tone, then raises his eyebrows coldly. His face shows a million different emotions before it finally settles on vast, aching disappointment. But before I can realize what I've seen, it is gone, replaced by the coldly polite mask he wore on the tarmac back on the mainland. The other Carter Easton, not the one I got to know so intimately last night.
The light in his eyes is gone and with it, something that had just started to awaken inside of me.
I didn't expect this to be so damn hard. I didn't expect him to be bothered so much. "Listen, it's no big deal," I say hurriedly. I can salvage this, I swear I can. "I had a great time last night, but this isn't going to work." I'm spewing lies as fast as I can come up with them. "You're a businessman right? Sometimes things just don't work out the way you planned, you know that. It doesn’t mean anyone did anything wrong...it's just...bad timing...." my words trail away as I watch Carter's face change. It's like a mask is sliding over his skin, freezing it into a pompous grimace. I clutch my arms around myself rather than reach out to snatch the words I had just spoken out of the air and start over again. But it is too late.
"Well then, Sanniyah," he says softly, so softly I have to strain to hear him. "I'm sorry to hear that. I'll call Benson right now."
He turns away from me. I am about to apologize, to beg him to rewind to five minutes ago, but he is already walking towards the bedroom door. He never once looks back to see me standing there watching him.
Without his eyes on my skin, I feel suddenly cold. Swallowing down the lump in my throat, I turn and shake out my clothes from where they lay in a heap on the floor. "This is for the best," I tell myself firmly. "This isn't part of the plan." I pause to look around the incredible bedroom, the great expanse of wooden floor, gleaming and polished and warmed by the rays of the morning sun that's only just risen over the horizon. The waves are lapping their continuous melody outside of the opened windows and the air smells like flowers and the sea.
I hear Carter somewhere in the vastness of his house. His words are muffled, but his tone is angry and cold. I think back to the switch he made last night, the two Carters. The coldly polite and distant one seems to have returned with a vengeance.
This is what I need in order to be able to leave right now. I need to believe that Carter is unstable, unsuitable, not the right man for me.
The only way I can walk away is if I can convince myself of that.
For the second time in as many days, I am watching the helicopter take Sanniyah Jones back to the mainland. Except this time I am not angry at myself. I am angry at her.
I don't want to be. I want to be civil, to be understanding. She got cold feet, sure, these things happen. I realize my circumstances aren't exactly normal, and I try to be accommodating of that fact. But my mind, the broken part of me that tries to always build defenses around myself won't stop with the nagging, intrusive thoughts. The conclusions my nightmare jumped to.
She works for the tabloids.
She had a secret camera.
She's going right to them. She'll tell them everything you told her because you were stupid enough to open your heart again. When you know better, Carter. You know better.
I resist the urge to shout obscenities, and instead I strip down to my boxers and pull on a pair of running shorts. A punishing run in the sand will soothe the paranoia, but there's not much I can do about the ache that has settled into my heart.
Because I liked her. I fucking liked her a lot. I liked her body, and her laugh and her brain. I liked her smile and her toes and the way she went from prim and proper professional to wildcat in the bedroom. I liked the way she tasted and I liked the way her moans sounded as she moved underneath me.
I liked her enough that I couldn't help but wonder if I might be ready to try being normal again.
And then she fucking left. Again.
So much for normalcy.
Anger wells up in me again the minute I step back into my bedroom. I am sweaty and dripping, and in desperate need of a shower, but there's something that needs to be done first.
"Carter?" Cammy sounds surprised to hear from me out of the blue on a Sunday morning. She sounds like she has just woken up. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah everything's fine," I say in my big brother reflex, then pause. "Actually, no, it's not."
"Can I help?"
I sigh when I hear Cammy's concern. My sweet baby sister, I can picture her expression exactly. She is leaning over the edge of her bed, cupping the phone with both hands, ready to jump through the lines if necessary to help me however she can. I feel a rush of love fight with the annoyance. "Actually, yeah, you can."
"Fire Sanniyah Jones as your wedding planner."
Cammy is silent for a long while. The longer she waits, the angrier I get. At Cammy for hiring Sanniyah in the first place, at myself for sounding like a vindictive asshole. And at Sanniyah for...well, I wasn't actually sure about that. For leaving, I guess. For leaving when I really fucking wanted her to stay. "Carter?" she finally says, her soft voice reproachful. "Carter, what did you do?"
"I didn't do anything."
I can hear the ugly petulance in my voice, and so can Cammy. "Carter..." she presses, sounding for all the world like our mother.
I sigh. "I might have really fucked up, Cam."
She's silent, waiting. My sister won't judge me. I'm doing enough of that myself. "Sanniyah came over for dinner last night," I tell her.
"Really?" I can hear the thud and know that Cammy has just jumped to her feet. "Carter, that's huge, oh my god! How long has it been?"
"Since I invited a woman to Annika? Never, Cammy. I've never invited a woman, invited anyone to come here. Besides you and Greg, of course."
Cammy exhales softly. "Wow." The bulk of what she means is what she isn't saying. Does that mean you're getting better?
"No," I answer her unasked question. "Not wow. Because she left in a hurry this morning and now I can't stop the thoughts, Cam."
"Oh Carter, you should go see Dr. Kaplan. Call him, I'm sure he can squeeze you in."
"It's Sunday, Cam."
She sounds confused. "Oh, I guess it is. Greg just came back from Australia and he's got me thinking it's Monday already. Are you sure he wouldn't see you on a weekend? Don't you pay him enough?"
I laugh bitterly. "Yeah I think I probably do. But," my words feel like they are stuck in my throat....
Cammy understands at once. "But you can't come here."
I hear the phone rustling, hurried conversation, and I groan inwardly. Then Cammy's voice returns. "Send Benson. We'll be at the airport in a half an hour."
"You don't have to..."
"Shut up," she says, so sweetly I have to smile. "You haven't seen Greg in forever anyway. He was just saying how he's dying for a swim. We're coming out to be with you. And no one is firing anyone until you look me in the eye and say that's what you want. Got it?"
She sounds so much like my mother that I can only nod, the naughty little boy being disciplined. "Got it," I echo, hanging up the phone. Then I turn and hurl it as hard as I can into the bed. But the anger isn't there anymore. The paranoia has receded and in its wake it leaves only heavy sa
"Why are the table cloths yellow?!" The bride is shrieking louder than her uncle's bad band.
Inwardly I am dying of shame, but outwardly I smile, poised and reassuring. "I'll take care of it right away," I tell her, mentally chastising myself for allowing the venue to put out the ecru table settings instead of the white ones. I am distracted, my mind still insisting on going back to Carter's house, Carter's eyes, Carter's bed. Carter's face as he watches me walk to the helicopter. It seemed like I was walking for miles.
Shaking my head, at myself, I head back to the kitchen to raise hell with the waiters.
Once the table cloth emergency is fixed, I fade to the background. I have to force myself to drag my mind back to where I am every three or four minutes. The disappointment and coldness in Carter's eyes has done something strange to me. I feel the need to talk about it bubble to my lips.