24 Hours -- Seventeen

I sit in the extra chair in the room to eat and when the boys turn on a pay per view of some cartoon movie, Doug or something like that, I go back to the bedroom and pick up the cards.  Vivian watches me as I go.  I don't see her actually doing it, but I can feel her eyes on me as I move around the room.

Why do I suddenly feel nervous around her?  Shouldn't I be angry because she's leaving or upset that she didn't trust me enough to tell me that she wasn't liking her job?  I love how screwed up I am.  I get nervous like she's staring at my ass or something.  I only get that way when I'm out and about during the day.  On stage a million people could watch me and I wouldn't care, but the act of watching me walk around my hotel room puts me on edge.

Finally I figure I should sit down or something.  I start to deal out a game of solitaire on the bed and watch the movie over the back of the couch.  My brain is kicking into overdrive now and I'm getting tired.  Maybe I should ask Vivian about my schedule for the next day.  It's a non threatening subject that would get us talking, but at the moment I think she's having too much fun with the boys.  She's got them both camped out on the couch to watch with a blanket over each of them that she produces of course from thin air, like the magician I know that she is.

Its sick to think how much I depend on her and how much my days will go to hell if I let her quit.

"Justin--"

I look up and Vivian is standing there in front of me.  The lights are off in the living room and I look down at my hands.  I'm shuffling the cards over and over again, but not dealing another game out.

"You've been sitting there like that for a while now."  She tips her head to the side, "Are you ok? Do you want me to go?"

"No," I say, "Let's go down to the bar and get a drink."

"I'm not dressed," she says.

I push up from where I'm sitting and walk across the room.  I never noticed how tall she is.  She comes up to my chin without heels on.  That's saying something considering how small Britney is.  "Grab some shoes or something and we'll go."

"Are you sure we should leave the boys here?"

"They're almost asleep anyway," I say.  "I'll ask Tiny to come down and sit with them while we--"

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah," I say, "We're not done with the conversation we were having earlier."

"What conversation?"

"The one about how you want to leave--"  I almost say ME, but cut myself off.  This isn't a relationship and I need to stop thinking about it that way.

She goes and grabs shoes and Tiny comes to sit with the boys telling us to be careful.  I show him that I have my phone with me and we start off down the hall together.  We walk slowly and Vivian stays along the opposite wall instead of talking to me the whole way.

In the elevator we stand apart.  She leans against one wall with a slight smile on her face.

"What?"

"I'm not wearing a bra Justin," she says and crosses her arms across her chest.

"It's not the first time," I say with a laugh.

"What?"

"I'm with you like twenty four seven.  I'm sure that there are a million times that we've been hanging out together when you haven't been wearing a bra."  I stand up straighter as the elevator slows.  "Just don't think about it and no one will notice either."

"We're about to walk into a bar together looking like we just got out of bed."

"Worried about your reputation?"

She stands up and gets angry.  I can see it in her eyes again.  "Aren't you worried about yours?"

"No," I say.  "I've been seen with you before.  It's not like anyone is going to think this is strange."  I smile at her and try to ease the tension.  "Let's go get a drink."

"I want desert," she says.

"Then have a desert," I say as we find seats at the bar a moment later.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asks.

Vivian leans against the bar.  "I feel like having desert not a drink."  She looks over the bar, "Do you have a desert menu?"

"Get a mudslide," I suggest noticing the way that our bar stools are very close.

"Sounds good," she says softly.

"I'll have a Balblair," I say as I slide into the seat at the bar.

"Balblair?" she asks.

"Single Malt Whiskey," I explain leaning my arms against the bar.

"When did you start drinking that?" she asks.  "You're normally a beer drinker aren't you?"

"I thought I'd start something new," I say, "Now that I can actually drink legally I can order the good stuff instead of trying to sneak beers from other people."

"So why are we drinking?" she asks.

I shrug.  "Seems like the right thing to do when you need to talk."

She reaches for a napkin and starts to fold it in halves.  "You need to talk?"

"Today has been--"

"Long," she says with a sigh.

"That too," I say.

"Justin you've never been one to act like you can't say what's on your mind--"  She turns in her chair towards me.  "You proved that one earlier."

"Me?" I ask, "What about you?  You're the one who finally came out and told me that you hate working for me."

"I don't hate working for you," she says, "I'm freaking in--"

"In what?"

"Here ya go," the bartender says putting our glasses in front of us.

I nod my head and remind myself to charge the drinks to the room, but to leave a tip for the guy.  "Thanks."

I swirl the glass around and stare at it for a minute.

Vivian takes the straw out of her drink so that she can tip back the glass to drink.

"I'm in love with you," she says breathlessly as she puts her glass down.  about a fourth of it seems to be gone now and I have to smile because there is whipped cream on her lip.

"Great," she says, "I confess my love for you and you laugh at me."

"Viv," I say quickly and reach for her hand, "Wait."

"What?" she says.

I reach a hand out and cup her cheek with my hand.  She reaches and grabs my wrist and looks at me in the eyes.  "Vivian," I say, "You've got whipped cream--"  I run my thumb across her upper lip to get the mustache away.

Her hand holds onto my wrist still and as I pull away she stops my hand and licks the whipped cream off my thumb.  At the end she looks at me with a very innocent look.  "Thanks."

"We should go back up--" I say.

She motions towards our drinks.  "Your drink.  You should finish it first."

I turn myself away from her again and rock my foot a little nervously.  I don't want to talk about what she's just told me.  It's a good thing really, but as for what it means to me and her--there isn't a good explanation of what that would do to us, to my career, to a lot of things.

"Justin," she says, "I don't expect an answer or something--"  She sighs, "I know it'll complicate--"

I slide my hand over to where hers is on the bar and I look at her with lowered lids.  "Not here," I say softly to her.

She swallows and then looks around.  "Ok."

It's then that my phone rings and I see that it's Tiny.

Vivian starts to stand up.  "Your brothers?"

"Yeah?" I ask picking up the phone.

"Steven woke up and won't go to bed without you."

"Tell him I'll be back up there in about five minutes," I say then sigh when I hear him in the background.  "Actually, put him on the phone."

Vivian walks down the bar and talks to the bartender for a moment.  I'm praying that she's telling him to send the bill to my room so that I can leave.

"Where are you?" Steven asks.

"I went to go get desert," I say knowing that I shouldn't say that I went to get a drink with Vivian so that I could get drunk off my butt and talk to her and that he's interrupting that talk because he can't sleep.

"Come back," he says.

"Buddy, what's wrong?" I ask.

"I want Momma," he says and starts to cry.

She nods to me and I push my drink away from me and walk across the bar.

"Awee Stevie," I say, "I'll be up there in a minute ok?"

"Can I call her?" he says.

"Yeah," I say.

She meets up with me at the door and we find our way to the elevator.

She presses the button then scoots over to me and puts her hand into mine.

"Are you coming?"

"Yes," I say and sigh, "I'm waiting for the elevator."

It finally arrives and we both step inside.  I lean against the wall, finally feeling the day catching up with me.  Vivian stands next to me leaning against the back wall with her hand still in mine.

"I wanna call Momma," he whines again.

"Do you want Vivian to talk to you instead?" I say.

"Yes," he says.

I hand the phone to Vivian and she takes it.  "He's homesick so I thought talking to you would--"

She nods and gets on the phone.  "Hi Steven."

I let go of Vivian's hand and cover my face.  I can't believe that this day has been so long and that things have been so twisted.

"Steven," she says with a very adult voice.  "Did you have a nightmare?"

I want to tell her not to ask him that.  It's just going to make him feel worse, but somehow it doesn't.

"It's ok Steven," she says, "Justin's gonna be there in just a minute and we'll make sure that the nightlight gets up on and maybe your brother can sing you to sleep like when you were little."

I tip my head to the side.  it's been years since I've sung to him and the only time that I remember singing to him with someone else in the room was when he was still teething.

"We'll be right there sweetie.  Go find your pillow and go crawl up in Justin's bed and we'll come and tuck you in.  Ok?"

She hangs up the phone and looks at me for only a moment before she hugs me.  "He'll be ok.  He just got scared because you weren't there."

"I hate this."

She moved away.

"No," I say, "not you.  Not this."  I pull her against me and look into her eyes.  "This is what keeps me sane."

"I don't mean to complicate things."

"You're not Vivian.  I just can't think about--"  I stand up straighter.  "My mind has to be on my brothers and work right now."

"I know," she says and steps away.

"I don't mean to hurt your feelings."

"You're not," she says, "We have a professional relationship and I need to remember that."

I sigh and look at her.  I've totally hurt her feelings now.  "Vivian."

"We can talk about this more later if you want, but you should go talk to your brother and I should go to bed."

"Come with me," I say.  "Steven isn't going to go to sleep until you're there."

"Fine," she sighs.

When we get to the room Steven is in bed and Jonathan is now covered up by a blanket.

"I'm gonna go," Tiny says.

"Thanks Tiny," I say as he leaves and I kick off my shoes, take Vivian's hand and pull her towards the bed.  I don't have a clue what I'm doing, but I know Steven isn't going to go to bed soon.

"Are you ok big guy?" I ask as he sits up.

"I wanna call Momma," he says crawling up towards me.  I settled myself against some pillows and hold him against me like I've seen Daddy do and even Lisa do with him.

"Steven do you want some water?"

He nods.

"You don't have to Vivian," I say.

"I'll be right back," she says.  I'm not sure if she's talking to me or him.

When she comes back with the glass of water she hands it to Steven.  She takes a tentative seat next to us and moves a pillow behind my back and props me up.

"Better?" she asks.  Again I'm not sure that she's talking to me or to Steven or to us both.

"Yes," Steven says.

"Do you think you can go back to sleep now?" I ask as Vivian leans against me so that she can see Steven's face where he's leaned his cheek against my chest.

"Yes," Steven says.

"I should go," Vivian says.

"No," Steven says.

I don't want her to go either, but I can't ask her to stay the way I want to.

"Fine," she says and looks at me.  "I'll stay for a little while," she says, "You need to really try to go to sleep though because you need to get on the plane tomorrow."

Steven looks at her with that pitiful face that I taught him to make when he wants something.  Usually I would totally encourage the face, but this time I need to tell him to stop.  He shouldn't use this with Vivian.

"Kid," I say with a laugh, "Stop the pout."

"But I don't want to go home."

"I don't want you to go home either," Vivian and I say in unison.

"I don't want to, you don't want me to go, then why can't I stay?"

"Sweetie," Vivian says, "You have to go home and go to school just like Justin did when he was little."

"But."

"No buts buddy," I say, "Let's stick in a movie and you and me and Vivian can try and get some sleep.  You can come and visit me any time, but right now you need sleep and I need sleep and Vivian needs sleep too."

"Fine," he says.

Vivian gets up and moves the TV across the room so we can see it and puts the TV on Nick at Nite.  She comes to sit next to us again.  "You want a blanket?"

"I'm good," I say, "But you should get one.  It gets a little cold in here at night despite all things."

I close my eyes and listen to her move around the room and when I feel her curl against my arm I smile without opening my eyes again.

^V^V^V^V^V^

My eyes are closed when I feel the bed move.  For a minute I think it’s Steven so I pull him a little closer, but realize that it’s not him that is moving around.  Vivian is still there will us.

My eyes open and I see her sitting up in bed next to us running her hands through her hair.  “You leaving?” I say with a rough voice moving so that Steven can have his own pillow.

“I should go,” she says.

I push myself up and find that my whole body is aching from the activities of the day.  “What time is it?”

She turns her back to me and I find myself looking to where the gap of her sweatshirt and her pants are letting some of her skin show.  “Almost four in the morning.”

“Just come back and go to sleep,” I say and reach out to pull her back so that she’s laying next to me.  “It’s dumb for you—“ My eyes close as I feel her snuggle against me.  “It’s dumb for you to walk all the way down the hall just to come back here in about an hour to get me.”

“You get to sleep in a bit this morning,” she says against my chest.  “Your first interview isn’t until six thirty and it’s going to be in my hotel suite so you can sleep in.”

“I thought you said that I had an earlier morning because the boys were here.”

She moves away from me and hits me slightly going back to the business-voiced Vivian that wakes me up in the morning.  “If I had told you that you could sleep in you would have gone out last night and would have been hung over this morning.”

“Whatever,” I say and pull her close.  “Just lay down for a little while longer before I have to get up.”

She nods against my chest and I close my eyes wondering what the next twenty-four hours will bring.

^V^V^V^V^V^

The thing I hated most about New York City yesterday wasn't the traffic or the cold weather or even the blunt attitudes of the people that live there.  The worst part of New York City had been the fact that my damn fifty-dollar travel alarm clock never works within the city limits.  In all the five boroughs, I would have sworn that in the seven years that I've been working, my alarm hadn’t gone off maybe once on it's own, and that didn't count because I'd accidentally set it for five pm instead of five am.

It wasn’t any kind of extra-terrestrial encounter and I wasn’t crazy thinking that there were fairies that are turning it off in the morning before I did.

This morning I can’t remember feeling her leave the bed to go and change, but I know it must have probably been a while before I woke up because Steven too is gone now and the sun actually is starting to peak through the window.  Before she even enters the room to wake me up with a shake to my right shoulder--she knows that my left arm is always tucked underneath me--I hear her silky voice break the silence in the room, "Morning Justin."


[ THE END ]

Look for Vivian's 24 Hours coming soon.

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