WINNER TAKES ALL
Patty leaned over and kissed Sean's cheek then let her eyes drift to where she thought she'd seen Justin standing a few minutes before. She'd caught sight of him when he'd come in the door and while she and the girls had been dancing he'd had his eye on her. Somehow, to keep herself away from him she'd found Sean by the door and had asked him to come and sit with her at the bar while he was on his break.
Now, when she stopped and stared after she didn't see Justin right off Sean noticed and gave out a huge cough.
"So who's winning at this little game of yours?"
"He's gone," Sean pointed half-heartedly over her shoulder towards where the back of Justin's head was visible as he left the club.
"Huh? What?" She looked back at Sean and tried to cover for her inattention to her date.
Sean smiled at her then pointed towards where she'd been staring. "He's gone."
Taking a sip of beer he took a breath. "Justin was there until you first hugged me. He gave me--actually I should say that he gave you-- the evil eye then left. I think Loni left with him."
She sighed, but was confused at why she let out her breath like that. She couldn't tell if she was glad that he was gone or that she was worried that she might not see him again. Everything was so strange to her now and she wasn't sure how to handle it all.
"You should be careful with that one," Sean said leaning close. "That guy really loves you."
Patty shook her head as the words were pushed at her. She'd been able to escape the truth for a while now, but she couldn't evade Sean's persistent tone. "No he doesn't."
Sean sipped his drink. "Yes he does. It's completely obvious."
Patty held her breath for a moment until she knew that Sean wasn't going to leave this alone. It was like Loni and Justin trying to play off each other. Neither of them liked to give up and either one of them would turn blue in the face if they held their breaths until the other gave in. "Oh what do you know about it?"
"I know that you didn't come over to me tonight because you wanted to hang out. I mean sure, we haven't seen each other in about a year, but really you aren't very good company. You knew he was going to be here and you knew that you wanted to hurt him a little."
"What are you talking about?"
"I know you too well Patty. You only started to hang on me like you used to when you saw him looking."
She hung her head in shame. She felt like a complete jerk and completely stupid at the same time.
"You're trying to push him away, like you did with me, but you want it to look like he's pushing you away."
"It's easier that way," Sean said taking her hand. He rubbed her knuckles with the pad of his thumb and looked into her eyes. "Just the way it was easy for you to just drop me off to the wayside when you realized that you and I weren't supposed to be together."
"What?" She took a breath and ran her hand through her hair. "God! I sound like a parrot."
"Honey, you love that guy too much to mess it up. And if you ask me, it's a shame to waste something like that."
"You don't know anything about this. I can't be with him Sean." She got up to leave.
"Hey wait a minute," he said following her out of the club.
They were on the curb and halfway down the block, walking at a swift pace before she stopped. "What do you want?" she asked. "You found me out. Now I think I should go home before I embarrass myself anymore."
"Patty, honey. You have to deal with this. It's not going to go away if you run away from him."
"I know that!" she said as tears sprung to her eyes. "Don't you think I know that?"
"Well at least you can admit it," he said.
"Sean I don't know what I'm doing. I never have. I just know that it scares me to death that this guy, this great guy loves me and…"
"And what?" Sean said pulling her into a hug as she began to shiver. He pulled his jacket around her. "And that you love him back more than you loved anyone before."
She nodded against him as she cried. Finally, when she thought she looked ridiculous enough she sighed. "How'd you know?"
"Because you never looked at me, or any other guy I've seen you with, the way that you look at him. Your eyes light up like a Christmas tree when you even know that he's around. You can't hide that from him for long."
The morning light shone through her eyelids causing her to flinch. She felt sore. Her hip hurt and her neck ached and if she didn't know any better she would have guessed that she'd been run over by some sort of fast moving vehicle. She hadn't expected that dancing at a club could take so much out of a person.
She knew that whatever had gone on the night before, most of which she sure she couldn't remember because she didn't know how she ended up in bed, she was now in the middle of a huge hang over, which didn't help matters any. This definitely not the way she thought she should be waking up on a weekend morning, especially one that she knew she didn't have to work on.
When there was a movement next to her in bed she held her breath. She hadn't really remembered getting home the night before. She prayed that she was home and not somewhere strange. She didn't know what she'd do if she had to call someone to come and pick her up from where ever she'd ended up the night before. She'd done that a few times during college and had found that it wasn't fun trying to explain herself out of a room that she had just shared intimately with complete stranger.
Opening her eyes she felt a stab of pain above her right eye and shut her eyes again. She felt the bed or where ever she was sleeping move again. She held her breath then heard a mumble as if someone was talking in their sleep. She couldn't place the voice exactly so she opened her eyes.
It all came flooding back to her in a dreamlike projection. She'd gone back into the club thinking that she'd find Leah and go home, but when she couldn't find her in the club she'd sat at the bar and had a few more drinks before she'd found someone else instead…
"Honey, where are you going?"
"Don't "honey" me," she said finding her head a little heavier than usual. She couldn't remember what she'd had to drink that night, but it wasn't helping her already clumsy state. She couldn't see him very well in the dimly lit room, but the effects of the alcohol on her state of vision and balance were reeking havoc not only with her head, but her stomach.
"Cli," he said, "You're too drunk to go home by yourself. I'll drive you."
"You aren't too hot yourself. I'd rather take my chances with a stranger rather than end up with you."
Justin made a face at her. Pulling her close he gritted his teeth and his whole demeaner seemed to change before her eyes. He then spoke to her roughly. It was a tone she'd never heard from him before. He spoke to her in a half angry-half seductive voice, "You don't know what you're saying. You know how much you want it."
"Want what?" she asked as he pressed her close again. She could tell exactly what he'd meant, but she was in no position to be fighting his roaming hands. They felt too good on her and although it'd had only been a few weeks, she missed him terribly.
"You want to be the one that I wake up with in the morning."
"Whatever." She stared at him. "More like you want to be with me, but I guess Bambi or Britney or whoever you DO is taking your mind off that."
He gave her a shocked look then recovered quickly. "I'm so sure about you wanting me," he said leaning to speak into her ear, "That I bet…" He moved his hand in between them and put it in the waistband of her pants rubbing her stomach in circles. "I bet you wouldn't say no right now if I offered."
He pressed his lips to her neck and had kissed his way along her chin before crashing down onto her mouth with a hungry kiss that had left her so dizzy that when he'd pulled her out of the club and had taken her into his car she hadn't refused.
"Oh no," she said aloud as she realized that she was naked.
Some people would have thought that she was stupid for not realizing her nakedness but she'd been so concerned with the pain in her head that she didn't even notice how sore was throughout her body until that moment when the reality of the night before came crashing down. She'd been with Justin the whole night and she remembered most of the lovemaking they'd done, not because it had been that memorable, but because it had been angry sex, which she knew wasn't the kind to be having.
Justin had practically cursed at her the whole time they were together, but their physically need for each other was a higher addiction than their spite for each other could hold off. They'd come crashing together last night and the aftermath was worse than a wreck at the Indianapolis 500.
Patty cursed the pain in her head, but thanked God above that she had actually ended up in her own apartment the night before. At least the recovering and rebuilding would be easier on her home turf.
Seeing that Justin wasn't going to get up anytime soon she pushed herself up and out of bed and made her way to the bathroom to take a shower. She felt like she was going to throw up on her way there, but knew that if she did puke she'd probably wake up Justin, which was something she didn't want to deal with until after a long hot shower.
As she closed the bathroom door she looked out into the room and saw Justin lying on his stomach, dead to the world, snoring lightly as if he belonged there. She wished for an instant that she could just take back what she'd said to him the last time he'd been home, but it was clearly a situation she couldn't wish away. She'd made her decision to leave love behind for the chance of a lifetime and she knew that she couldn't have regrets now. It was so soon to regret living out a dream when it hadn't really even started yet.
Justin rolled over and stared up at the ceiling for a moment praying that he could go back to sleep. He'd been having the best dream about being with Patty again, but somehow had been woken up. Somewhere in the background noise of the room Justin heard the shower going. He took his eyes off the ceiling and shot up into a sitting position when he realized that it wasn't his mother or his stepfather or brothers in the shower. He was at Patty's. He was in Patty's bed and he didn't remember exactly how he'd ended up there.
Swearing under his breath Justin looked around and tried to find his clothes. The guys would have called him stupid for wanting to leave her bed in a rush, but at the moment he didn't know what had happened the evening before and he wasn't sure that he wanted to find out.
He vaguely remembered seeing her in the club. He'd been drunker than anything after the bartender had hooked him up with some shots and had been feeling a little woosy when they'd hit into each other. She'd been on her way out of the club for the second time. He'd caught her by the arm to stop her then in a drunken slur had hit on her. He remembered that much, but after the initial conversation he knew that they'd left the club.
He tried to think back to remember if Loni had driven them to Patty's or not. He guessed that he must have because there was no way that Justin would have been able to drive a car. Actually, as he remembered, he didn't have a car with him the night before, which meant that Loni must have driven them.
He groaned as he pushed himself off the mattress. He found his pants and pulled them on as he made his exit from the bedroom. He noticed that some of Patty's things were packed up. There were boxes in the living room and it seemed as if all her books had been taken off the shelves. He thought he saw some pictures from the walls missing, but when he heard the shower go off and the door to the bathroom open he rushed to the front door and let himself out.
He dug for his cellphone in his jacket pocket, which he'd found on the back of a chair in the living room, and dialed up Loni to see if he could get a ride. He didn't have a watch on, but he figured he'd walk down the street a ways and see if someone was awake enough to come and get him.
"Come on Loni. Come on," Justin mumbled as he slid his jacket on. He squinted at the sun and swore under his breath. He didn't have a hat and he knew that he was a completely visible target seeing that a few people actually had found out where Patty's house was and had followed him there before. He hoped no one saw him like that.
"Loni speaking," the guy answered the phone calmly.
"Loni man, come and get me."
"Yes!" he said.
"Man I thought you and Patty made up. Can't she give you a ride home?"
"We didn't make up," Justin said suddenly feeling nausious.
"What about last night?" Loni asked, "You two looked all hot and heavy for each other."
"We were, but we were drunk so it doesn't really count."
"You didn't do anything crazy did you?"
"We slept together, but I'm sure that it wasn't…"
Justin leaned over into a bush and puked. Just the thought of something like that happening between them made his stomach churn.
"Justin? You there?"
"I puked!" Justin yelled and spit a few times to get the taste out of his mouth. "Come and get me man!"
"I'm on my way."
"I'll be down the street at Oakmont park."
"Fine," Loni said, "Keep out of sight. Seeing you puking in the bushes isn't something I want to see on the cover of PEOPLE MAGAZINE."
"I'll be fine. Just come and get me."
Patty slid out of the shower, and somehow even before she went back into her bedroom she knew that he'd be gone. Whether it be that he didn't remember what had happened or that he really had something to do, she hadn't expected him to stick around and find out the truth about the night before. She didn't mind. It got her off the hook of having to talk to him about it.
Walking into the room she glanced at the bed and found that he'd disappeared like she'd expected. She walked over and grabbed up her clothes for the day. She changed into jeans and a t-shirt and began her last day of packing. She'd be leaving in the morning for her meeting and only planned to come back for a short visit before permanently moving out. She almost hoped that they might set her up in a hotel in San Francisco and make it so she could come back and get her things when she returned for the wedding. Her lease wasn't up yet with the apartment and she'd planned to keep paying rent on the place until after Leah's wedding so that she'd have a place to stay when she returned to Orlando.
The phone rang and Patty went to pick up the line while she pulled her jeans up. She prayed to God that it wasn't Justin calling her to make up some lame excuse about disappearing. Hearing nothing from him was easier than trying to stomach an excuse.
"What are you up to girl?"
"Ugh! Don't yell girl. I have a hang-over."
"Oh well you must have left with some hottie last night because I never saw you after you chatted with Sean. He said that you came back to find us, but I guess you found someone better."
"I found someone better alright."
"That doesn't sound like excitement."
"So who's the lucky guy?"
"It was Justin, alright?" she said, "he and I got drunk and screwed around and when I woke up he was in bed with me, but when I got out of the shower he disappeared."
"Oh no," Leah said with a sigh. "What'd you do?"
"What'd I do?" she asked, "He and I were both drunker than skunks and we got on each other."
"Are you sure?"
"Am I sure about what?"
"That it was…"
"Leah, don't worry. He didn't rape me or anything. I knew what was going on most of the night and I never told him no or anything. How could I?"
"So you still love him?"
"Of course I do," Patty admitted, "But I can't be with him and you know it. So don't try to convince me."
"I'm not going to try to force you, but you know that you can be with him and be happy, it would be harder than hell, but you know that you could be."
"I know," Patty sighed and began to pull the covers off the bed. One last laundry trip and she'd be ready to hit the road in the morning.
Justin slammed the car into gear and raced passed a few cars on the freeway before sliding over two lanes so he could make the exit to the airport. He cut two people off and saw them give him the finger. He laughed wishing that he could give them one back, but he could already hear the tabloid telling of his drive to the airport and didn't want to add injury to insult.
"Hey Now! Hey!" The huge man held an arm out to brace himself against the dashboard. He took up his side of the car and more, but at the moment looked as scared as Jonathan did when Justin would drive a little too fast, which for Jonathan was around seventy. They were going about ninty. "Slow down man! I know you don't want to miss her, but DA-AM! You're gonna get us killed."
"Shut up Loni," Justin said not taking his eyes off the road. He pressed on the break as they took the turning off ramp a little too fast. He quickly switched gears and a low rumbling sound came from the engine then there was a grinding sound that made Justin's teeth chatter.
"You're gonna drop your transmission," Loni warned.
"SHUT. UP. LONI. You're not here for advice. You just keep the crazies away. Okay?" Justin's nostrils flared. If he missed her at the airport he thought that he was going to die. He'd messed up big in the past with girls, but this time he wanted to do the right thing and letting her get on that plane and fly out to California was definitely the wrong thing.
"Well someone should keep your two personalities away from each other because right now I know there is this whole Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on here. Your crazy ass is going to kill your curly side."
"Whatever." Justin slowed down and the car rested slightly at a stoplight. Justin rolled the car back and forth in neutral.
"What time is the flight leaving?" Loni asked.
Justin glared at him then looked at his watch. He was definitely cutting this close, but it wasn't his fault that she'd only decided to tell him that she was leaving two hours before her flight took off. He'd had to cut out of the studio early and had been caught in downtown traffic for almost a half hour. "A half hour. By the time we get a parking spot and get to the gate I think we'll miss her."
"Look," Loni said, "If you want my advice--"
"I don't so shut it!" Justin yelled then leaned out the window. "The light's green. It don't get no greener!"
Loni let out a chuckle.
"What's with the laughing?" Justin spat out at him. Loni knew that he didn't like to be made fun of, not that any sane person did, but having that reaction come from Loni really cut at his already frayed nerves.
"You're hilarious J," Loni said. "You really must love this girl."
"You think?" he said sarcastically.
"Smart ass!" Loni yelled with wide eyes then braced himself as they took a right turn.
"Don't look at me like that." Justin sneered at Loni.
"Like what?" Loni asked.
"I know that look." Justin took a hand off the steering wheel and pointed at his security guard. "You tell my mom about this Loni and you're fired!" He gripped the wheel hoping that they didn't get into an accident because he knew that if an accident didn't kill him, his mother would when she heard about his driving performance that afternoon.
Loni laughed. "Your mom would kill me if she knew I let you drive like this." He settled back a little as the traffic got thicker. "So you want to hear my advice or not?"
"Well I'm going to say it anyway." He took a breath as they raced down the street. Airport signs had begun to show up and Loni pointed out where Justin should drive. "You should jump out of the car and leave it at the curb."
"I'm not leaving the Boxster at the curb."
"Leave it with me," Loni said, "You know it's completely stupid for you to go in there alone, but if you want to catch her there isn't time to park."
The sign for the parking garage and the terminal was ahead. Justin looked at Loni with a stressed look. "You promise not to hurt her?"
"Justin you just shot the hell out of the transmission for the last twenty miles and you want me to be careful."
"Bite me!" Justin said and pulled up to the correct door. Leaving the keys in the car he ran around the side of the car as Loni got out. "It's the United flight out to SFO at five. Come in after you park."
Loni waved for Justin to go into the airport as he stepped into the sports car then settled himself in and drove off.
Justin prayed for a moment as he went through the automatic sliding glass doors of the airport that he'd gotten there on time. He could just see himself making it to the gate just as she got onto the plane. It was one of those Lifetime Network movie endings. He smiled at the thought of how Patty had forced him to watch those stupid things when it was her turn to pick the movie they watch…
"This is completely ridiculous."
"It's not stupid Justin," she'd argued when he mumbled and reached for the remote to change the channel.
"It is." He pouted. "Boy meets girl, they fight, they get back together, the end."
"That's not it at all," she said throwing her arms up in frustration with him. "True, this isn't a plot driven story." She motioned at the television screen as the staring couple kissed. "It's character based and if you'd pay attention you'd see how details make this movie worth while. I'm sorry if your Mission Impossible loving butt doesn't like romance, but you and I made a deal and it's my night to pick. You picked last time."
"Fine," he said. He'd hated to compromise, but he knew he couldn't back out now. They'd made a deal and he knew that he had to keep his word to her.
And what a deal it had been.
"Is. It is a good deal," he mumbled.
Rubbing his arm as he made his way to the terminal's schedule television he remembered how she'd cried at the end of that movie. He'd curled her into his arms and had held her close as the credits had rolled. He'd joked a crying fit of his own she'd looked at him with a stunned look. He had pretended to wipe his eyes and had exclaimed at how he was so glad that the movie was over that he was crying. She'd hit him in the arm hard and he'd had a bruise there for a day or two.
Justin's eyes scanned the screen for a moment and when he found that her flight was boarding he rushed through the whole security process. He swore under his breath a few times as he got held up a little because he'd chosen to wear steel toed boots that day, but basically he started to calm down a little as he ran down towards the gate.
"Our flight to San Francisco is now boarding at Gate 25. Please have your tickets ready to board."
As Patty swore under her breath about actually having the flight departing on time she grabbed for her backpack. She wasn't expecting anyone to see her off, but she thought that at least a late flight would give anyone who might think about coming after her a little more time to stop her.
She'd called Justin last minute and had left a message for him. She planned to stay in San Francisco and write a little before she came back for the wedding and to get the rest of her things.
Looking around she didn't see any familiar faces so she lifted the bag onto her shoulder then slid her laptop computer case onto her shoulder. The tears that had been falling all morning had long stopped and her eyes felt a little puffy as she rubbed them a little trying to wake up a little before she got on the plane. She had work to do on her flight out.
Work had officially started that morning and she was already behind. No matter how upset she was, she had a deadline to keep if this book was going to be finished. The initial draft of the first chapter of the book had been edited and sent back to her from her editor. She had to make a few corrections and begin the second chapter if she was going to have it done by their first face to face meeting two days from her arrival in California.
She turned when she thought she heard her name. She brushed a hand over her face knowing that she was imagining things. Nicole and Leah were probably at the restaurant and Justin was in the studio. No one was there to see her off and she felt, after hearing Justin's reaction to her news of leaving, that no one was going to be there to stop her.
When she heard her name again she turned and found Justin running towards her. For a moment she really thought that she was seeing things, but when he came to a stop in front of her she knew that this was real and this was the moment that was going to determine her whole future.
"Where are you going?" he asked putting out a hand, he held onto her arm. She wasn't sure if it was because the crowd was moving forward towards the gate jostling them around, or if he wanted to make sure that she didn't run away from him.
"I told you on the phone. I'm going to San Francisco," she said lowering her eyes from his stare.
"I know that," he panted a little. "Why?"
"Because I have to." She looked around and saw that a few people were looking at them. She wasn't sure if it was because they recognized him or if it was just because of the scene that they were causing.
He put his hands on his hips and stared at her hard. "Why?"
"What? Are you a three year old now?" she asked shooting a look at him that would cause her more pain than the pain she saw in his eyes staring back at her. He took a few breaths as if he'd been hit in the stomach by her words. She tipped her head and looked at him. Maybe he was trying to curb his anger. She noticed him drop his hands to his sides. He squeezed his hand into a fist a few times as he breathed. She could almost hear a calming mantra echoing in his head.
She knew that the whole age thing was his weak point. He never got over the fact that they had a huge age difference between them. She'd gotten used to the idea, but he'd made a point of reminding her of the five year gap at every chance. Usually she shot back at him with a good come back, but there this time there was no comeback. She'd started it and it seemed as if she was going to finish it.
"I got a job," she said simply.
"In San Francisco?" he asked, "Why would you want to move out there?"
The flight attendant announced her row making her heart rate shoot through the roof. She was almost out of time.
"I got an offer I couldn't refuse and I had to relocate." You wouldn’t' understand, she said over and over again to herself. You just wouldn't.
"An offer? Relocate?" he asked, "You didn't even tell me you were looking for a new job."
She frowned and looked away to avoid the stare that she knew he was giving her. "There's a lot I don't tell you Justin."
"What?" he said with a shocked tone that couldn't at all be hidden.
"Don't make this into a movie of the week thing," she said firmly and tried to brush past him.
"Wait a minute." He took a step sideways to cut her off and she slammed into his chest.
She lifted a hand to his chest and held it there against his heart for a moment, pausing only to look into his eyes for an instant, before she removed her hand and stuck it into her pocket. "Don't do this Justin," she said and pushed away from him. "If you really love me, you won't ask me to stay."
"This is crazy."
She turned back and looked at him with sad eyes. "Justin, there's a saying. If you let something go and it comes back it's meant to be."
"Don't quote stupid things at me!" he pouted.
"Just leave it alone J," she said.
"But Cli," he whined.
She gave him a look of warning.
"So I've lost," he said.
"You haven't lost Curly. This was never meant to be a competition."
"Yes it was."
"Well if it was, it was because you made it into one."
She stepped back in front of him and put her arms around him. He was still breathing hard. She wasn't sure if it was from his trip to the gate or if it was because he was trying not to cry. She'd seen him like this before, when he was with Jonathan and Bubba before he left town. "Curly. I'd never stop you from doing something that you needed to do. You have to return that favor."
She watched his eyes tear up and felt her own getting a little misty again. She blinked a few times and hoped that she wouldn't cry. She put a hand against his cheek and looking into his eyes. "I love you Curly, I do, but I have to do this." She pressed closer to him and kissed him square on the mouth. "I'll call you in a few weeks."
She broke away from him and went to get on the plane chanting in her head to not turn around. If she was going to do this she was definitely not going to be able to handle the look on his face as she left. When she handed her ticket to the attendant she turned and saw that he was still in the place that she'd left him. He looked crushed and she knew that she was going to crumble herself the next time she was alone. It would be too much to break down and cry in front of the other passengers on the plane, so she mentally penciled in a crying appointment for when she got to San Francisco.
For someone who was about to start a whole new life, something that she'd looked forward to doing for most of her life, she sure didn't feel that lucky. Maybe Justin had been right and they'd both lost whatever game they'd been playing with each other. Maybe the ride for them was now over.
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