Breath of Fresh Air Ch. 05byPanthem©
"So then he just walked away?"
Katie nodded at her friend, biting her lip and struggling not to cry.
"He didn't say anything else?"
"No, Sarah, I told you he just said, 'apparently I am' and walked out the door," she said, a little harsher than she intended, but the flash of irritation held back her tears.
Katie had been holed up in her apartment for the last week, had even called in sick to work the first few days to avoid having to see anyone. Then this morning Sarah had come banging her door down insisting she come eat breakfast with her and demanding to know what had happened. Mike wouldn't tell Caleb anything other than that they had split up and she insisted Katie provide the details over pancakes and coffee.
"You're such an idiot."
Katie's hand froze on the way to her mouth with her mug of coffee. "What?"
"I'm serious. You have this gorgeous, sweet, funny guy jumping through hoops for you, bending over backwards to try to be the man you need him to be and you don't want him."
"But I do want him."
"I guarantee that's not the impression he's getting."
"I know, but maybe that's for the best, you know? Maybe he's better off without me."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sarah looked sincerely shocked at her words.
"I don't know Sarah, I'm not the easiest person to be around. He's so...well, just like you said, gorgeous, sweet, funny. Sometimes I just think maybe I'm bringing him down, you know? Like he'd be happier with someone who can be happy with him."
Sarah just stared at her for a moment and then shook her head. "Look, I'm not stupid. I'm well aware that there's a huge part of yourself that you keep hidden from me-"
"I'm sorry," Katie murmured, her eyes filling with tears.
"No, I'm okay with that, I don't have to know everything about you to be your friend. I love the parts of you that you do share with me. Most of them, anyway," she added with a wry smile.
"But you need at least one person in your life that knows you and accepts you for everything that you are, the good and the bad. Hell, everybody needs that, it's just most people have it their whole lives so they take it for granted. You're so used to not having it that you think you don't deserve it. But you do, Katie. You deserve to have that. And Mike wants to be that person for you. He's trying so hard. Even though you keep pushing him away he keeps trying. Why would he do that?"
"I don't know," she said, transfixed by Sarah's out-of-character insights.
"Because he loves you, you idiot. If you'd let him in he'd be able to prove it to you."
"But what if I let him in and he realizes he doesn't love me after all."
"Then that would really suck. But what if you let him in and he realizes he loves you even more? Give him some credit. Don't make that decision for him. Don't pass up the chance to be happy, to make him happy, just because you're scared."
Katie sipped her coffee as she absorbed Sarah's words, turning them over and over in her mind as she slowly realized the truth in them. With that realization came the fear that it was already too late.
"I really messed up didn't I?"
"It sounds like you hurt him pretty bad. Caleb says he's been a total asshole at work."
Katie cringed at that. He must be in bad shape if he was acting like an asshole. It just wasn't in his nature.
"What do you think I should do?"
"You can start by telling him you aren't settling for him, which is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Seriously, where do guys get this shit? Their egos are so damn fragile. Start with fixing that. Then apologize and tell him that you love him, too. Once you have that down maybe you guys can figure out how to work out the rest."
Katie opened her mouth to say that she didn't love him, but the words stuck in her throat. She thought about how safe and calm he always made her feel, how her first thoughts in the morning and her last thoughts at night were about him, how she felt like part of her had been torn away since he'd left.
She needed him in a way that she'd never needed anyone else. Since her mother died there hadn't been a single person in her life that she had let herself feel this kind of connection to, and though her instinct was to sever that connection so she wouldn't be vulnerable to the pain it could bring her she was starting to realize that it was a risk she wanted to take. He was worth it.
"I do love him."
"Why am I paying a therapist when I can just talk to you for free?"
"You're in therapy?"
"Yeah. I'll tell you about it one day soon. There are a lot of things I think I need to tell you about."
"Well, I'm ready to listen whenever."
Katie reached across the table and took her friend's hand, squeezing hard. "I know. Thanks."
Katie felt like her heart was beating in her throat as she approached his door. She pulled at the hem of her sundress, feeling self-conscious about her choice of attire. As if wearing a dress was gonna make any difference, especially when she felt silly in it.
She stood there for several minutes staring at the numbers on his door and trying to get a hold of herself before finally deciding she just needed to do it and get it over with. It had already been three days since she talked to Sarah; she'd put it off long enough.
The urge to run overtook her before the knock stopped echoing in the hallway, but she dug her fingernails into her palms and forced herself to stay. Even when Mike opened the door wearing nothing but his jeans and the shocked look on his face told her she was the last person he expected to see.
"Hey," she said, lamely.
"Hey," he replied.
God, he looked good. After only a couple of weeks she'd forgotten how he could take her breath away even when he was all rumpled and messy...especially when he was all rumpled and messy.
"Are you alright? You look like you're about to throw up."
Katie shook her head no, but wasn't quite sure herself whether she meant no everything wasn't alright or no she wasn't about to throw up. She noted the half-empty glass of amber liquid in his hand and the way he swayed on his feet and realized he was drunk.
He hadn't invited her in, but rather than try to figure out whether it was a bad time and potentially have to come back and do this all over again she decided to just say what she needed to say and get it over with. Come what may.
"I wasn't settling for you," she blurted. "I know you're probably way past wanting to deal with me and all my bullshit after how I acted, but I couldn't let you walk away thinking that you weren't enough for me when it was the exact opposite. Ever since that night you came to me out on that overlook after I freaked out and busted your lip I thought you were too forgiving, too sweet, too good-looking..."
She trailed off for a moment letting her eyes drift from the stunned look on his face down to his bare chest. She shook herself and continued, "Too good for me. I felt like I didn't deserve you and I just knew that any minute you'd come to your senses and realize how messed up I really was. So I kept looking for reasons to think you weren't that great. I think maybe so it wouldn't hurt so much when you left. But it didn't work. It's still not working. And even though I realize it's probably too late I just needed you to know that I never felt like I was settling for you. And that I'm sorry I hurt you."
She took a deep breath before forcing herself to say the hardest part. "And that I love you, too."
Mike stepped toward her through the open door and opened his mouth to speak, but before he formed the words Katie heard a voice from behind him.
"What the hell is taking so long? Don't tell me they brought the wrong pizza again," a short blonde woman said as she walked out of the living room into the hallway. For a moment no one moved or spoke, as if they were all frozen staring at each other; Katie at the woman, Mike at Katie.
"Oh wow," Katie whispered, then glanced at Mike who was shaking his head and reaching for her as she backed away. "I'm so sorry." Then she bolted.
The elevator at the end of the hall got closer and closer, though she could barely see it through the tears. She banged on the button a couple of times before giving up and turning toward the door to the stairwell. Just as she made it she found her way blocked by a large bare chest.
"Katie, stop for a second and listen to me."
God, she didn't want to hear it; couldn't hear it. "Please Mike, just let me go. You don't owe me any explanations," she said, dodging around him and through the door trying not to let him see her tears.
"The fuck I don't," he said angrily, following her into the stairwell and blocking her way again with his hand on the wall next to her. "Stop selling me short, goddammit. You show up at my door not even two weeks after I tell you I'm in love with you and see another woman in my apartment and you say I don't owe you an explanation?"
He put his hands on her cheeks and tilted her face up so he could see her eyes. His sigh drifted over her face as he wiped the tears off her cheeks with his thumbs. "You think you don't deserve an explanation."
His body swayed toward her, his hands still on her face, the look in his blue eyes scorching her heart. She could smell the whiskey on his breath and her whole body ached to close the inches between them and kiss him, to wrap her arms around his neck and anchor herself to him. She shook her head at the futility of her desire.
And then he was kissing her, leaning against her, surrounding her and pressing her into the wall. For a few minutes she didn't think about anything else, just how wonderful it felt to have him here, his body against her, his lips on hers, his tongue diving into her mouth to taste her. At the moment she would take him any way she could get him, even with another woman waiting for him in his apartment.
That thought had her throwing her arms around him possessively, pulling him closer and kissing him back with all the pent up frustration and desire inside her. Mike groaned in response and grabbed her ass, lifting her and settling her against his hips. She wrapped her legs around him and held tight as he ground his erection against her.
"God, you drive me crazy," he muttered against her lips. "You're all I can think about. This whole fucking time I've been trying to get you out of my head and I can't."
Katie felt a thrill shoot through her at his words. Apparently the blonde bimbo didn't mean all that much to him if he'd been thinking of her all this time. She might not deserve him, but damn it he was hers and she didn't want anyone else to have him. And here he was with her right now while that bitch waited for the pizza guy back in his apartment.
The cinderblock wall at her back was cold, but his chest was so hot she could feel it through her dress and it ignited all her nerve endings until she felt like she was burning up from the inside out. She reached down between them to unsnap his pants and slide her hand inside, but he grabbed her wrists and pulled them away, pinning them against the wall above her head.
He held her in place with his body and she could feel every inch of his hard form molding her soft curves into place. Holding her wrists with one hand he ran the other down her side, brushing over her nipple with a quick flick of his thumb before continuing downward.
He was kissing her again and she could feel his fingers pushing her panties to the side, sliding inside her to tease her wet folds. He groaned into her mouth and then his fingers were gone, replaced by the blunt end of his dick.
"Jesus, you're so wet. Tell me you want me. Tell me you want this," he said, pressing against her just enough to slip a fraction of an inch inside.
"Yes," Katie gasped, wiggling her hips to try to get more of him inside her. She'd never wanted anything so badly in her entire life as she wanted him right now. She thought she might explode if he waited one more second. "I want you, Mike, please. I need you."
Their simultaneous cries echoed in the stairwell as he plunged deep inside her. Katie's eyes rolled back in ecstasy at the feeling of him once again filling her so completely; his powerful thrusts dragging involuntary grunts and moans of pleasure as he moved against her.
Katie had no control over the pace or intensity of his movements in this position; pinned against the wall with him between her legs. But there was no fear taking hold, no panic to suppress, only sheer pleasure and amazement that he could bring her to the brink so quickly and with so little effort.
"Oh, oh, oh," she gasped as the sensations overcame her. Her hands clenched into fists as he thrust harder, pushing her higher as an explosive orgasm washed over her. Just as she started to come down he shifted his legs and tilted her hips, sinking in even deeper than before.
She pressed her mouth against his and he opened to her, kissing her hard, both of them pouring all their unspoken words into the physical expression of need and desire. Katie's entire body shuddered with the impact of the emotion she felt from him and she pulled against his restraining hand, wanting nothing more than to fold herself around him and show him that his heart was safe with her.
He let go of her wrist and wrapped his hand around the back of her head, cushioning it from the wall as he slammed into her, grunting and gritting his teeth with the effort of holding back his own climax. He didn't have long to wait, Katie soon succumbed to the pleasure again, arching her back off the wall as her powerful muscles gripped him, pulling him along with her over the edge.
Before they had time to catch their breath they heard the unmistakable sound of the stairway door opening on a floor above them. With a glance upward Mike pulled out and rested her feet on the ground, her dress falling back into place while he hurriedly stuffed himself back in his pants and buttoned them up. He pushed the door open and let Katie step through it before following her into the hallway.
The whole episode had only lasted a few minutes, but to Katie it was monumental. Tears pricked her eyes as she turned to look at him to see if he'd recognized it as well, but he looked pissed as hell and wouldn't meet her eyes. She was confused for a moment until he spoke.
"Fuck. I'm so sorry, Katie."
"I can't believe I just did that to you."
"No! Mike, it's okay. You didn't hurt me," she stepped closer to him and put one hand on his arm to try to convince him.
He looked into her eyes, searching for the truth there. "You're sure?" he asked quietly, wiping the tears from her face.
"I'm positive," she said, smiling up at him. "Jesus, that was amazing."
"Well," he said, the beginnings of a grin touching his lips. "Give credit where credit's due. That wasn't Jesus in the stairwell just now."
Katie snorted. "I don't know, I think I might have seen God for a second."
"Oh yeah?" he said, moving in for another kiss.
This time they were interrupted by voices in the hallway. Katie looked up to see the blond woman and a tall red-haired man heading their way. He didn't look like a pizza guy.
"We're gonna head out, bud," he said to Mike as they approached.
"Alright, let me introduce you before you go. Katie, this is my dad, Sean, and his girlfriend Carla."
Katie flushed red realizing her mistake, but managed to stammer out a hello.
"It's nice to finally meet you Katie," Sean said. "I've heard a lot about you."
His boyish smile triggered instant recognition in her and she couldn't help but smile back. "Oh, well I hope at least some of it was good."
"Of course it was; this guy's crazy about you."
Katie glanced at Mike to gauge his reaction, but he was smiling too. "You guys don't have to go on my account. I didn't mean to interrupt your visit."
"No, it's alright. We just came by to make sure he had a shower and ate at least once this week. Now that you're here I don't think we need to worry about it. Besides, I'm sure you two have some catching up to do. Two weeks without sex is two weeks too long."
Katie wasn't sure how to respond, but must have looked shocked because Carla gave her a comforting look and laid a hand on her arm. "Don't mind him, he doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Everything comes down to sex with him."
"So that's where Mike gets it. I didn't realize it was hereditary."
Carla and Sean laughed while Mike pretended to be offended. When the elevator arrived they said their goodbyes and Katie and Mike retired to his apartment, finally alone. As soon as the door closed behind them he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in close, and she stood there for a few minutes just reveling in the feeling of his warm chest rising and falling against her.
"I missed you so much," she whispered.
He said nothing, just tightened his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, breathing deep.
"You tore me up, Katie."
"I'm sorry." Her throat constricted and she fought back tears at his words, suddenly struck with the realization that as scary as it was to give someone the power to hurt you, it was downright terrifying to have the power to hurt someone else. After a few more minutes he finally lifted his head and looked down into her eyes.
"Tell me again."
Katie swallowed, perfectly aware of what he wanted to hear, but the words stuck in her throat. His blue eyes bored into her, stripping away her defenses without a word, and she felt the tears sting her eyes as she forced herself to not look away.
"I love you," she finally said, staring directly into his eyes so he could see the truth.
It wasn't until he exhaled that she realized he'd been holding his breath. His uncertainty sent guilt and pain slicing through her and she brought her hands up to his face and said it again.
"I love you, Mike."
It was easier that time. Maybe it would get easier every time.
"I love you, too."
His mouth crushed against hers, hot and sweet with whiskey, while his arms locked around her and held her to him. Not that she was trying to get away.
She could feel the heady dizziness of surrender, not to him as much as whatever it was that connected her to him. The fear was still there, she could feel that too, lurking in the shadowed corners of her mind, but it was a conscious decision not to pay attention to it. Not to let it guide her decisions and rule her life any longer.
He said he loved her and she believed him. Whether it would last or whether he would feel differently one day didn't matter because she loved him right now and she was no longer willing to give that up for fear of what might happen one day.
She tore her lips away from his and looked into his eyes, a shaky laugh escaping her; the elation of being with him again rushing over her in waves. The corners of his mouth twitched up and he cocked his brow at her in a familiar expression of amusement.
"No, I was just wondering about your recovery time."
She let her gaze drift down over his body again and his expression of confusion cleared. His eyes narrowed and a smirk appeared as he took her hand and pressed it against the growing bulge in his pants.
"I'm ready when you are sweetheart."
"Oh, I'm always ready."
"I better make sure of that."
He dropped to his knees in front of her and slid his hands up the back of her thighs. The hard pinch he gave her ass cheeks made her jump and her hips jerked toward him.
"Take your dress off," he demanded as he slid her panties down her legs. She could feel the wetness from their earlier interlude in the stairwell starting to run out and had a brief moment of embarrassment as she pulled the dress up over her head and dropped it on the floor.