Unstitched(10)

By: Jacquie Underdown



He smiled and I had to steady myself.

‘I had a fun night. So thank you, too.’

I opened my mouth, but made no sound. I shook my head and looked away, cheeks blotched with warmth.

‘What’s the matter?’ he asked

I laughed, hiding my mouth with my palm. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know why, but I feel like I know you.’ I stared at my feet, unable to hold his eye contact and certain he must be thinking I was cracking on to him. Am I cracking on to him? My collarbones tingled; no doubt they were flushed with colour. ‘I’m sorry, that’s the oldest pick-up line in the book. I didn’t mean it like that…’

He grinned, flashing those dimples again. ‘I know how you meant it. Please, you have no reason to be embarrassed around me.’

He was completely genuine. ‘Thank you.’

‘So I seem familiar to you?’ he asked.

I nodded. ‘Strangely familiar.’ But how best to explain that his familiarity had nothing to do with his physicality? I’d never laid eyes on him before last week. I’d surely remember someone like him. But there was something memorable about him. My eyes wandered over his strong square jaw lined with dark coarse stubble, his wide arched brows, the tangle of dragons and lotus’s inked onto his arms. His familiarity was none of those things. His familiarity was something intangible, emanating from him, through him and about him. But how the hell did I explain that to someone I barely knew, without appearing bat-shit crazy?

‘I think it’s your smile,’ I said.

‘Really?’

‘It’s so strange. Your smile, it belongs to a new face, yet I feel like it belongs to an old friend.’ I shrugged. ‘Perhaps you remind me of someone.’

‘That could be possible. Hopefully someone well liked?’

I laughed. ‘That smile of yours is what made me introduce myself, and, of course, my unfailing business savvy. I know a good thing when I see it.’ I lowered my eyes to my feet. ‘I promise that wasn’t intended to be a pick-up line.’

‘That’s a shame, because if it were a pick-up line, it would definitely work.’

Did he seriously just say that? I met his eyes again. He was smiling with half his mouth, cheeky. I drew a deep breath and tried to calm my racing mind, my thundering heart. This guy destroyed me — in the best possible way.

‘Anthea, I was just about to head off. Did you need me to drive you anywhere?’

Every warning and comment made about getting into cars with strangers flooded my brain, trying to impart good judgement.

‘Perhaps I could wait for a cab with you?’ he suggested.

My apartment was less than a couple of blocks from here, however, I’d never walk it alone at this time of night and especially not in these fabulous, yet ankle-swelling, pain-inflicting heels. But Saturday, at this hour, could have me lined up at a cab rank for hours.

My mother is going to kill me. ‘I would really appreciate a lift home.’

I waited for my body to respond, for my heart to start aching; telling me I was making a mistake, reminding me of those unstitched threads no man could ever heal. I waited, but it only felt like I was floating on gentle ripples in the ocean with the sun warming my skin, and I had nowhere to go and no one to be.

I sucked in a deep breath and threw my hands to my chest. Not because of the familiar ache that has plagued me since I was little girl, but because it wasn’t there, at all.

Lucas took a hold of my shoulders. ‘Is everything okay?’

I stared wide-eyed at him as a blush crept over my cheeks and made my ears hot. He couldn’t possibly understand what was going on. He wouldn’t understand my issues. I slowly dropped my arms to my side and painted a polite smile on my face. ‘I’m sorry. I-I forgot about something I was meant to do, but it’s no big deal.’

Lucas’s jaw was tight, his lips drawn into a long line.

‘I’m fine, really,’ I said.

He held my elbow the entire way to his car. I didn’t protest. It felt so right and protective. On the brief drive home he asked me a hundred times if I was feeling okay, and each time my answer was the same — fine.

How inadequate that description was. What I felt was superlative to fine. But understanding what part Lucas played in producing that feeling I was unsure of. I was attracted to him physically — evident in the way my body prickled and flushed as he spoke. But I barely knew him. Surely this life-long yearning wouldn’t be anointed by superficial appearance alone? I wracked my brain back to last Sunday night when I met him at the Cloud Bar. Did I notice then how he made me feel? Christ, I couldn’t remember shit from that night. I shook my head and sighed. Perhaps this was all merely a pleasurable coincidence.

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