I see the driver, Rory first. Through the window of the simple black limo I am in, I watch as Rory holds Kaiden’s Luggage and Garment bag while walking towards the limo. Kaiden stands facing into the airport, waving to someone. I inhale. Until this moment, I’ve never felt such intensive peace or captivating terror. I blink and force myself to look past the front seat, out the windshield, away from Kaiden’s back.
This might go very badly.
I reach for my phone. I’d been sending direct messages to my friend, but had said goodbye when I heard Rory’s voice. Now as I struggle to wait out these tiny moments of time before Kaiden gets to this Limo, I want to message her again and just “eek” out.
“Eek” a sound I will be heard (or seen, if typed) making when I don’t/can’t extrapolate to words, the intense emotions I’m having internally. It isn’t the “eek” of fear. It’s an all encompassing, emotional “eek”. If you hear me say it, I need a moment. Or three. Maybe five – to process it.
The trunk is opened and I stop my fingers from opening my Twitter App. Any second the door beside me will open and Kaiden will enter this Limo. This is my last moment of utter freedom before decisions become consequences. My thumbs lightly stroke both sides of my huge phone, as I hear Kaiden’s voice, distant, polite, and spoken to others. I glance sideways enough to see him standing before an older couple who chat happily with him.
Kaiden wears an exquisite grey suit. Obviously well tailored, made from beautiful, summer weighted wool, it is striking on his long frame. At his wrist, I catch a glimpse of cuff links on the crisp green shirt he wears. His paint slopped timex watch is gone, exchanged for an onyx black, sleek, virile looking dress watch and as his hand slips under his suit coat, into his pocket the brilliant blue tie, tacked to his shirt, shimmers in the lighting.
There’s not a speckle of paint, not a scuff of dirt, not a crazy tuft of sleek black hair out of place. My heart cinches down in dislike. Kaiden is impeccably dressed, manicured, groomed and obviously a wealthy, influential man. House Painter no more, the man on the large sidewalk area, laughing easily at something the woman spoke, is the Chief Executive Officer of a Foundation of considerable stature.
He’s also some guy I agreed to marry, on Twitter.
I feel hot stinging tears wanting to appear when the door between Kaiden and I opens slightly. I startle as it is held, by our driver Rory, only an inch or so open. “Excuse Me Sir, but in order to make your last appointment I’m afraid we must depart.” Rory says.
All three people turn and Kaiden smiles and nods to Rory. “Thank you Rory.”
Then I watch and listen as Kaiden renders very sincere goodbye to the couple, kisses her cheek, shakes hands and promises to see them soon. With a spin, he takes five long strides and expertly slips into the limo as Rory opens the door, then quickly shuts it behind Kaiden.
Our eyes lock.
There is no air, no heat, no chill, no sound. Just Kaiden and I looking one another in the eye. We might have remained that way for any number of minutes, but Rory’s opening of his own door, stirs us both. Kaid sets down his briefcase slowly, staring only at me.
“Hi” He manages.
I make a beleaguered face. I can’t speak.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” Kaiden confesses as the limo pulls from it’s spot. I nod. Then I realize I am still caressing my phone, so I stuff it down into my computer bag.
“Hi,” I say as I look at my bag. “I’m here.”
Kaiden waits until I look back towards him and now he smiles the gentle smile I always knew. “I see that.”
Embarrassed, I force a smile. I force a breath and maybe a weak huff of a laugh.
Kaid slides, lifting one leg onto his seat, turning to face me. One of his arms instantly lay along the back of our seats. His free hand falls on his bent knee. He is watching every move I make and I want to punch him for it. I don’t know why. Instead of punching him I inspect the watch as it glints on his wrist. A single diamond solitaire marks the 12th hour. The rest is a stunningly crafted, black color with the rectangular watch face trimmed in tiny, diamonds. It’s very understated in design, yet carries a very potent statement.
Kaid follows my line of site and smiles. Lifting his wrist, he pulls back his sleeve cuffs. “My Grandmother gave it to me the day we incorporated and I became CEO.” He says while slipping it off; handing it to me. I turn the stunning timepiece and read a very familiar, very potent inscription from my favorite song; “Smile though your heart is breaking…”
Odd tears come instantly to my eyes as I can’t help but smile. Miss Junie Rose was a magnificent force of positivity. She lived in my Grandma Roses nursing home. They were friends, and I adored Miss Junie. She raised Kaiden in Michigan when the rest of Kaiden’s family returned to the Pacific Northwest and Kaiden didn’t want to leave her. Her death devastated Kaiden, and it was a huge loss to any who adored her.
With teary eyes and a trembling hand, I give Kaiden back his watch. I manage to say, “She so rocked my stripy socks. I miss her” in a little bleat. Kaiden grins at what I’ve said. “It’s beautiful Kaid.” I whisper. Feeling awkward.
Kaid looks down at the watch face, taps a fingernail directly over the diamond and nods. “I miss her too.”
As our silence gets awkward, Kaid reaches forward quickly, then hands me a tissue. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.” He apologizes as I accept it. Now I smile for real. “You didn’t.” I say wiping the corner of my eyes. “She did!”
Kaiden laughs. “You’re blaming my dead grandmother?”
“Damn right! She put that on it. Not me.” I defended, laughing too.
Kaid’s face brightens as we laugh. “Have I missed you Ria!” he suddenly blurts out.
I look down at my tissue as I try to grasp the sudden kink to my armor. My brain screams to say nothing. My lips betray me. “I’ve missed you too.” I say with a little glance. Our eyes lock again.
“You flew. For me!” he utters.
Every cell in my body screams at me to escape and evade NOW. I look at my tissue. “I did.” I hatefully admit.
Kaid shifts beside me. I struggle with the internal monolog that has me hating myself for admitting to the obvious. I did endure flying to come here to Seattle, for him. Obviously I did, because here I was in his, or the Foundations Limo. But admitting it to Kaiden, to anyone, gave this very monumental action an emotional ring. THAT I hated admitting to.
“Have you eaten?” He asks in a casual tone. Our friendship, and the fact that we’ve both managed the others life during health crisis’ has taught Kaid the signs of my emotional need to have space. His asking that, alerts me that for the moment, the pressure of “us” is off. I’m very grateful.
“Yes, I had a burger.”
“Did you eat it?” Kaid presses with a grin. I shoot him a dirty look, but laugh. “Most of it.”
“It wasn’t a slider sized one, was it? You’ve pulled that before.”
“Dude!” I scold him. “It was a burger sized burger and I ate some of it okay?”
Kaiden laughs. “Hey, I have good reason to ask.” he defends himself. I take one look at goofy Kaiden and laugh. He does have good reason, totally, and I can’t deny it. “I’m kind of hungry and I know you could eat something, so our options are we pick something up on the way, or I can make us grilled cheese at my place. You pick.” Kaiden offers.
“Grilled…” I pause. “Wait, you have a place?” I yelp.
Kaiden throws his head back and laughs. I swat him. “Dude you said you were at a hotel.”
“We call it ‘The Hotel’, but it isn’t a real hotel. Tad named it that because my brother’s a moron. He says my place isn’t a home, it’s a hotel I jet to and jet away from! Of course I have a place Ria!” Kaiden’s laughter trickles down. “It’s not anything fancy. It’s just a place. But I can make you grilled cheese.”
I stare. Shocked. I’d always thought this silly Foundation and Family stuff was nothing major. Now the man I knew, is in suits that had to cost a huge chunk of change, in a limo, taking me to his place. I barely manage a nod, and utter “okay” stupidly.
Kaiden moves, hits something then says “Rory can you take us to The Hotel please?” and suddenly Rory’s voice says “Certainly Sir”
I stare at Kaiden with my jaw hanging open.
Kaiden sees my face, and his smile fades. “What?”
“DUDE!” I hiss so Rory can’t hear me.
I wave back Kaiden’s hand that almost touched my shoulder. My body becomes animated, both first fingers pointing around at the limo, at Rory behind glass, at Kaiden. I sputter incoherently.
Kaiden instantly reaches across me, and begins looking in my only bag, my computer bag. “Let’s check your sugar Ria.” he says as he digs. I shove him and yank my bag back.
“My sugar is fine.” I squeak in frustration. “It’s THIS” I cry, flipping his tie, pointing around the limo. Kaiden is frozen. “You just told that man what to do!” I wail in whispers.
Kaiden blinks, holds out a hand. “Please, can I see your bag Ria? I really think we need to check your sug”
I slam my bag into his high dollar chest. “I DONT NEED MY SUGAR CHECKED” I yell. “This,” I say as Kaiden begins digging in my bag while watching me. “Is freaking me out!”
Kaiden stops digging and stares at me. “The Limo?”
my face looks like this: -_-
“No….well yes….. not a limo….limo’s dont freak me, YOU having a limo FREAKS ME.” I cry. Kaiden looks confused. I grab his tie. “What, four hundred bucks?” I ask, flipping it at him. I look at his cufflinks. “If that’s not platinum, I’m a fucking natural blond!” and I glance at his shoes. “JESUS!” I cry, hands up in a stop position. “I don’t even wanna KNOW what those cost Kaid!!!”
Kaiden starts looking again for my blood sugar monitor but I yank my bag back. “Dude, my meter and strips were in my luggage which is lost. Forget the sugar will ya, follow me Kaid.” I say as I toss my bag to the floor.
Kaiden inhales deeply. He reaches up, rubs his jaw, and stares at me. Finally, he nods.
Instantly, but with more control, my hand talking begins again.
“This…..is ……not……Kaid.” I cry looking around. “You’re a painter from Mid-Michigan. A place that can’t even have a Chipotle because their so damn rural – even if there are three cities.”
I take a deep breath. “You paint houses, buildings, businesses. You have a gnarly painter truck. You have stupid old lady doilies on your rural north-woods furniture with matching curtains!!! YOU wear boxers shorts with a Mr. Potato Head cartoon on them that say I’m a Spud!”
Kaid removes his hand and cocks his head. “I’m not following you Ria.”
“Do those sound like fancy smancy, chi chi poo poo rich man things? That big time CEO’s have or do?” I cry. “NO,” I answer for him. “They do not.”
He shows no reaction.
“Kaid, you’re my Kaid, from Mid Michigan. a painter. It’s awesome, It’s epic. You’re epic. But……THIS………. This isn’t…” I throw my hands out and flounce back against my seat. “this freaks me out.” I say softly. I cross my hands over my chest and stare straight ahead. silent.
“Ria,” Kaid begins very calmly. “You knew of all this, so I don’t understand.” Kaid looked at me and I turned and stared at his wrist. Unable to look him in the eye. Kaid accepted my compromise.
“Maybe I didn’t tell you about Rory, or my place being my place and not a hotel, but you knew about the Foundation, what I do. That I come here. You knew my grandmother left her estate to me. You haven’t ever acted like it’s a problem. What did you think of this then?”
I looked into his eyes. “Honestly?”
I bolted up and flung my hands towards Kaiden. “I thought you played dutiful son, flew out, stayed a week, shook hands, said “good job team” and came home! I thought you were a painter who moonlighted as a CEO of some cornball family foundation of little power. Hold a annual christmas party, 4th july BBQ, and give a few bucks out if you got it. That’s what I thought Kaid.”
Kaid’s lips twisted slightly. “And you thought a painter made enough money to afford the luxuries I chose in Michigan?”
“Well why not?” I cried. In Michigan, Kaid wasn’t broke by any means, but he was no where near rich in anything he purchased or how he lived, not in Michigan.
“And you never noticed I did not paint contracts during winter months, or that I was often not there or in and out?”
“Dude, back then, before this summer, you were a neighbor. I didn’t notice shit.” I admitted.
Kaid grinned. “Okay.” he said diplomatically. “For the record then,” he said, waiting for me to look back into his eyes. “I’ve done pretty well for myself. Using the start my Grandparents gave me years ago, I worked hard, learned immensely, and invested well. I’ve come into my own Ria. Obviously my Grandparents Estate elevated what I’ve already built for myself, but truthfully, I had all of this before my Grandmother died.”
My jaw dropped.
“You’ve asked what I do online if I don’t actually ‘use the internet’ as you called it. I watch the markets, financial news, I invest. You make words at home, I make money. We both paint.”
“So NOT the same thing.” I groaned.
“It is.” he rebutted. “And you know it.”
I fought the urge to yell at him. Swallowing it back. Kaid continued calmly.
“I did not realize that you were unaware of the depth and scope of my personal finances or my duties here. It explains a lot though.” He laughed. “But, there it is.” Kaiden stated very humbly. “Any immediate questions I didn’t resolve?”
I’d been quietly taking in his words and more importantly his demeanor. My question slipped out before I even thought. “So where’s home to you?”
Kaiden looked up and out the window beside me as me smiled. “For a long time it was with my Grandmother and I struggled as she grew older and could not travel, but you’re asking geographically.” He stated. I nodded. Kaiden turned smiling eyes to mine. “This is home Ria, and Michigan is away from home.”
I looked away from him, then out my window. Lights flickered past and I couldn’t help but smile. I wasn’t yet sure how I felt about this area being his “home” but he’d impressed me with his honesty in his replies to my rantings.
“I don’t expect and wouldn’t tolerate you giving up,” Kaid started to say, but I whipped my head around, and touched finger to his lips.
“You may not tell me what I can or can not give up based on my choices, just like I may not tell you. So no matter what I choose, you better learn tolerance Kaiden.” I growled in warning.
Kaiden smiled. I removed my fingers.
I turned to look back out the window, and felt Kaid snag my hand gently, interlacing his fingers silently with mine. “You didn’t have a clue, did you?” He asked from beside me.
I shook my head no and snorted. “Nope!” I huffed. I squeezed his hands as tears of stupidity tried to well up. We spent the rest of the ride silent, me staring out the window, Kaid presumably doing the same, our fingers locked so tightly we cut off our circulation by the time the gated community gates began rolling open before the Limo.
We pulled up to the circular drive of a tall building, and the Limo stopped, Rory exiting immediately as a doorman appeared. I stared at the five star level of decor and landscaping, and caught site of Kaiden watching me closely. He reached for my computer bag and I snatched it too. Kaiden stared at me. “Please?” he asked.
I fought every ounce of “I can do it myself” down and forced my hand to let go. “Thank you.” I whispered as the door opened beside Kaiden. With a fluidic expertise Kaid was gone through the doorway, and extending a hand to me to help me out.
As I stepped out of the Limo and took a few steps, Kaiden’s hand found the small of my back as he instructed Rory what to do with our bags, and I watched as Rory and a bellman each did their part to begin the process. Kaiden smiled like this was utterly normal, and escorted me to the doors.
“Welcome Home Sir. Good Evening Miss.” The Doorman said on queue. Kaiden paused and introduced me. I offered my hand as I said “Hi, nice to meet you” and caught the odd look in the doorman’s eyes. He shook my hand, said something about the weather, told Kaiden he’d bring the mail up, and we entered the building going past security to the elevators.
“They don’t shake hands here.” I whispered. Kaiden looked at me. “The staff?”
Kaiden grinned. “I’m sure it’s happened.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right.” I groaned. We stepped into the fancy elevator and the doors slid shut. “Dude, our definitions of Fancy differ, just sayin.” I quipped eyeing the marble floor.
“These are public spaces Ria, of course they’re all prettied. My place isn’t fancy.” he said as we got off on his floor. We walked down a long hall that only had three doors, Kaid’s being on the end, and he quickly unlocked it, and escorted me into the hall entry.
Instantly my eyes hit the window directly ahead. without even thinking I charged into Kaiden’s “place”. “Holy Fuctopian GOD” I cried as I stared out at the view. I stood before a huge wall of window that revealed a gorgeous view of the city. “This isn’t fancy?” I cried waving a hand at the view.
Kaiden came beside me and laughed. “The view is incredible,” he admitted, then he turned me around to look at the room I stood in. “But this isn’t fancy.”
Instantly, in one swift scan of the large open room that was obvious the living space, I fell in love and in shock. “WHAT THE FUCK DUDE” I screamed with delight as I eyed the room. “Where’s the kitsch, and the north-woods and the doilies.” I cried. Glee, ugly, rapturous and unwanted Glee reverberated through me looking at the very minimalist, modern, sexy furnishings. Abstract painting hung on one wall, slick tables accented a stunning sofa and chair grouping, sleek, dark hardwood floors shined. The table was like something out of the Jettson’s and the colors were amazing.
I squeeed out loud as I spun around, stunned. “Are YOU kidding me…….?”
Kaid threw his coat down on the sofa and shook his head. “You don’t like it.”
I spun around again. “Kaiden……this place is nothing like I imagined.” I admitted with a huge laugh. “Oh my God did you shop at Ikea?”
“Amongst other places, yes, why?”
Kaid grabbed my hand, led me past the table area and opened a door, flipping on it’s light. “You can use the desk on the left if you need to.” he said as I literally walked in, tucked my hands between my thighs and spun around in another round of “Oh My God”…….
“Where’s the cinder block propped desk” I cried as he laughed and left the office room.
“This way Ria” he cried. I raced out of the ultra modern, black furnished, office and spied him at another door. “Go on in.” he waved his hand.
I peeked. Stunned, I went silent.
Kicking off my sketchers, I stepped instantly onto the thick, plush, ultra white carpet. My hands flew to cover my mouth. As I spied the deep, dark, red hues of the solid cherry wood, modern, platform bed and furnishings, tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t breath.
I think Kaiden called my name, but I walked in and slowly turned. There it was, the long, triple dresser. And on the other wall, the tallboy. The end tables, the luxurious white duvet with the deep, dark, forest green, jacquard foot quilt lying across the foot of the bed. Soft billowy sheers hung over matching cherry wood blinds. Twin, beside table lamps bestowed the only light for the room and nary a screen in site.
Everything inside of me crumpled down, falling in an incomprehensible heap as I struggled to figure out how Kaiden had created a perfect, modern version of a bedroom I once owned. I hurt to see the silver picture frames, one on each end of the dresser. The colors, the carpet, the bed linens, all of it was here in this room, despite the fact that nearly 15 years ago, the very room I’d created for my sanctuary had burnt to the ground.
I spun to where I knew the bathroom would be, and it was. I turned and spied the closet just where it belonged, and then I sank down to the floor, finally realizing the thing tapping at me was Kaiden.
“Hey, hey, look at me. Do you need some juice Ria?” Kaid asked as he squatted beside me. Instantly he saw my tears. “HEY! Talk to me.” Kaiden said. I stared, unable to even think. Kaid stood, snatched tissues from the bedside and handed them to me as he squatted back down. In a daze, I accepted.
For a very long time I shook my head, and looked around. I’d spy another thing, different, yet the same, perhaps a more modern bowl for change then what I’d had, but a bowl nonetheless, right where I had once set mine. Almost everything in the room was exactly the same – yet different. Kaiden went for water, and after I drank some, without ever looking to him, I brokenly told him of my once upon a time bedroom sanctuary and how it was so similar to his.
When I was finally able to turn stunned eyes to Kaiden, I saw he’d sat down beside me now and was looking around his room. “I liked the colors, how they set each other off.” He said as way of explanation. I stared at him. One arm propped on an upward knee. the other hand supporting him as he sat casually, relaxed. “There’s wood under the carpet, like the rest of the place, but….” Kaid shook his head.
“The wood and the green show off brilliantly for the white, and are bland without it?” I offered. Kaiden’s eyes snapped to mine. “yes!”
I looked around. “This,” I said softly. “Is really freakie.”
“We can change it.”
I locked my eyes on his. “No don’t. Not until you want to. It killed me to lose my sanctuary Kaid. Which is stupid, it’s just stuff. But no room has ever been right since then, so trust me. Don’t.” I plead in a whisper.
Suddenly a warm hand rubs my back. It hurts in such an excruciating manner as reality slams into me, shaking me beyond words. Feeling as though this was going to consume and extinguish my soul, I looked directly into Kaid’s eyes imploring him to save me.
Despite his back pain, he springs up, a tired grin on his face as he holds out one hand. “Come on, let’s get that grilled cheese.”
So we did.