© Still by Rae Lamar — A Serial Short
“I’m not staying long.”
Kiva forced those words from her mouth in a rush. Not so much for Dylan but for herself. Because this whole closure thing was a cover and she needed to remind herself that this momentary indulgence still came with boundaries…even if she couldn’t really remember exactly what they were as he stared at her as if their past had been rewritten and repurposed as a Luther love song.
“Then I guess we better make the most of this,” Dylan said. “Before you leave me.”
Though his last four words triggered her teeth to clench, Kiva smiled with closed lips and wary eyes. Dylan moved to stand in front of her, the scent of his cologne doing dangerous things to her common sense. Her sassy stilettos erased the five-inch deficit she usually experienced in his presence, giving her a favorable vantage point. She squared her shoulders and met his intense gaze with one of her own in a perfectly legit stare-down.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Ki.”
“Who’s fighting?” She pivoted and made her way to the sofa, her tread unsteady, her emotions at odds with her purpose. Because her purpose was bullshit and she was quickly losing control of the situation as she always did with him.
Nothing changes if nothing changes…
Lowering herself to the trendy sofa, Kiva sat her even trendier bag in the empty space beside her. “I’m just here to say hello in person.”
A small smile teased the corner of his lips. “That’s all?”
Her mind instantly flashed back to their last interaction a few years ago when Dylan was in between girlfriends and she was hell bent on doing the same thing then that she was still failing to do in this very moment. That time, Kiva’s heels were in the air in less than fifteen minutes, a passionate reunion that initiated another fruitless fantasy for seven months only for them to end up at odds and giving up on each other once again.
Still, she thought fondly as her eyes closed. Those seven, glorious months…
Kiva bit her lip, realizing that she was doing it again. Fantasizing about what she knew would never work…because they’d tried, too many times, resulting in too much confusion and too much hurt. At some point, she had to accept the truth. That just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be together.
“This time will be different,” she said with finality as she opened her eyes and stared up at him. “I’m engaged now.”
“Congratulations.” Still standing, Dylan’s face remained expressionless as he stuck his hands in the pockets of his tailored pant. “So…what? You’re here now to do the before-you-get-married-get-closure thing?”
Kiva shrugged. “Don’t we all have a script that we want played out?”
After a brief pause, Dylan nodded his concession. “Are you going to feed me my lines or do I get to freestyle?”
“Improvisation would be my preference…that way we can make the most of this as you said before.” Shrugging out of her jacket, she tossed it on top of her bag and made herself more comfortable. “The floor is yours.”
He raised a brow. “Me first?”
“When I’m alone in my room, sometimes I stare at the wall…”
Kiva’s hand shot up as she shook her head.
“You said I get to freestyle, Ki. What’s the problem?”
“Plagiarism.” Crossing her arms, she pinned him with a steely stare. “Try again. The truth this time.”
Dylan grinned at his words being tossed back at him. “I have missed you so much.”
Kiva’s heart swiftly soaked up his sentiment, but she remained resolved. “I have been trying to keep my distance.”
He moved toward her, eliminating the remaining space between them as he shifted her bag to the end table and sat way too close. “Guess this means you failed.”
“Self-sabotage,” she said, crossing her legs. “I’m into it.”
“First, you say I’m a bad decision and now seeing me is self-sabotage.” His eyes danced. That ever-ready smile front and center. “As great as that all sounds, could we just skip to the part where we say we’re still in love with each other?”
“Some things are better left unspoken.”
Shaking his head, he stood and walked away. “You need a drink. I’ll be right back.”
While he poured their drinks in the kitchenette, Kiva looked down at her twisted her hands and took several deep breaths. It wasn’t long before Dylan’s stylish shoes appeared in her line of sight and she lifted her head to see him extending a small goblet of wine. She reached out and happily accepted it.
“I’m ditching the script.” She took a long sip. And another. Then, she finished it off. “It’s dumb. I’m never going to have closure with you so…let’s just agree that this is the end of us. That we stop right here, right now.”
“We’re not finished.”
“That may be true, but it doesn’t matter anymore.” Suddenly restless, Kiva stood and rushed to the kitchenette for more wine. The bottle was on the counter, so she snatched it and returned to the sofa. Soon, her glass was full but it never made it to her lips as she paused. “I have a chance to be happy with someone who wants what I want,” she finally said. “Todd is a good man and I don’t need this…situationship that you and I are stuck in to fuck up my happily-ever-after.”
“Then, if it’s real…I want that for you.”
She blinked at that. His words were too even, his speech too controlled from years of practice.
“I would never get in the way of your happiness, Ki.” Dylan stared at her, his eyes blank. “You know that.”
Kiva blinked again. Remembering when she’d said the exact same thing to him…
She hadn’t meant it either.
Kiva looked away, twisting her hands. “How is she?”
“The same.” Dylan’s eyes never wavered. “Who is he?”
Guilt snatched her breath as thoughts of Todd’s wonderful attributes, accomplishments and his limitless ambition filled her mind. Flashes of how he wooed her from their first date and was always teaching her something new. How much fun they have traveling together and how he surprises her with a full tank of gas, sends flowers for no reason and doesn’t mind doing Netflix and no chill. How he trusts her and includes her in his future. There was so much to brag about and all of it was right there on the tip of her tongue…but when she opened her mouth, the words wouldn’t come. Because for everything Todd was, he still…wasn’t.
Dropping her head, Kiva released a humorless laugh. “Not you.”
Her words hung in the air, unanswered. Unanswerable.
“Thanks for the drinks.” She lifted the glass of wine to her lips again and consumed every drop. “I should go.”
“You don’t have to leave.”
“I know, but I should.” She placed the goblet on the coffee table. “When are you going back home?”
“I am home.”
Her lips twitched. “Back to Leslie…back to Philly?”
A smile teased her lips as she stood. “Valentine’s Day.”
“Valentine’s Day.” Dylan stood as well, closing the distance to grab her jacket and hold it open for her. She slipped her arms inside before turning to face him. He lifted his hand, ran the pad of his thumb across her lips. “You have plans?”
Kiva stared at him, her heart instantly melting at the eternal craving in his eyes. She leaned forward and nuzzled his neck before lifting her head and letting her lips trail his jaw. It would be so easy to say yes to the question behind his question, to make him stay until Monday…to connect just one more time.
Nothing changes if nothing changes…
“I have plans,” she finally whispered.
Dylan’s eyes searched hers. “We’re not finished.”
“Damn.” He shut his eyes tightly, frustrated. “Why can’t we ever get this right, Ki?”
“We will. One day.” Stepping closer, Kiva pressed her body against his as her mouth teased his ear. “May-be we’ll be but-ter-fliiieesss…that sounds so di-viiinnneee…”
Dylan wrapped his arms around her and held her close as she continued singing off-key, the weight of reality crashing down around them. Kiva pulled away first and avoided his gaze, not wanting to give him a chance to change her mind. Her heels clicked against the hardwood floor as she increased the distance between them, her legs a little stronger than they’d been when she arrived. When he met her at the door, his hand lingered on the handle. Waiting. She simply nodded for him to open it, not trusting her words to align with what she had to do…what needed to happen.
He pressed down on the handle and slowly pulled it open.
Her heart was screaming, her mind ready to justify everything that could happen next if she would simply stay.
Nothing changes if nothing changes…
She stepped through the doorway and into the hall before turning to face him. “Goodbye, Dylan.”
“Goodbye for now, Kiva…I love you.”
“I love you too.” Her eyes sparkled as she smiled and walked away. “Still.”