If You Stay

Chapter Ten


I've never seen anything as beautiful as Mila looks walking toward me across the dining room. It's not just because she's gorgeous. It's because she's walking toward me. To be with me. Even if it's only for tonight or for now.

I gulp and grin at her.

She smiles back and everything seems right with the world, a strange and unusual feeling for me.

When Mila is halfway to me, Tony says quietly, "Don't hurt that girl or you will answer to me."

I glance at him and he's got a gruff, rigid look on his face, very different from the congenial bartender he was a second ago. But I understand it. He's protecting Mila and I've got to respect that. I nod.

"I'll try not to."

Tony nods back as he towels off a glass. "Do that."

Mila slides up next to me, breaking the sudden tension.

"Hi," she murmurs and she places her slender hand on my shoulder. I fight the urge to lift it into mine and kiss it. It's a strange inclination for me. But she seems to bring out strange things in me.

"Hi," I answer. "You ready for our date?"

She grins again. "Absolutely. Why don't we put our food orders in before the kitchen closes and then we'll open a bottle of wine. I'll show you the best table in the house."

She grabs my hand and leads me through the quiet dining room to an even quieter table for two by the windows. The entire back of the restaurant faces the lake which is easily visible through the windows. To the left, I see an Italian-style patio, which I must assume is used for dining in the summer months. It's too chilly to eat out there now.

"Will this be all right, monsieur?" Mila asks with a smile and an exaggerated accent. I grin back.

"French? I thought this was some fancy Italian joint."

She giggles, handing me a menu as I sit. I catch a hint of her perfume as she moves and I inhale it. She smells like heaven, just the way her mouth tastes.

"We're not aiming to be fancy. We're aiming to be an authentic Italian place. We just did a bunch of renovations this past summer to improve the ambiance and make it feel like you're in Italy."

I look around at the rough stucco walls, the Italian art, the rustic charm. It does seem like we're sitting in an old-world kitchen. So I tell her that and she beams. Apparently, that's exactly the look they were going for.

"I'll have the lasagna," I tell her. "Is it good here?"

She gives me a look. "Everything's good here. Make sure to tell all your friends."

I laugh. "I don't have that many. But I'll try and pimp your restaurant for you anyway. How do you feel about the rougher type of crowd?"

She gives me a dry look and darts away, presumably to turn our food order in. She's back within a minute with a bottle of wine and she settles into the chair across from me. The candlelight flickering on our table casts a soft light onto her face.

"Wine?" she asks as she pours me a glass of red. I nod, which is good, because she's already pouring.

"Thank you," I tell her. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?"

I glance out the windows, at the lake that is calm and dark in the night. Mila follows my gaze.

"I love the lake," she tells me quietly. "I know that most of us do that live here, but I really love it. It's so comforting. It's always the same no matter what else changes in my life."

I have to stare at her, because I feel exactly the same way. It's one of the reasons that I choose to live here, perched on the very edge of it. The lake symbolizes continuity to me. And it is comforting.

Mila stares at me, her gaze pensive. I notice now that her eyes are the softest shade of green, almost like jade.

"Tell me about yourself," she instructs softly as she sips from her wine. Her fingers almost stroke the wine glass and I find that I am jealous of it. I also notice that she's wearing a deep red ring on her middle finger that is the exact shade of the wine. I take a breath.

"Well, my name is Pax Alexander Tate. You know where I live now, but you probably don't know that I grew up in Connecticut and we moved to Chicago when I was seven. My father is still there. He's an attorney downtown. But I moved here a few years back. I love the lake, just like you. I love the peace and quiet and the solitude. I'm not the most social person, and I knew that people in lake towns are used to leaving other people alone. Locals know that sometimes people come here for exactly that reason - to be alone, away from the noise of the city. That's why I chose to move to Angel Bay."

Mila smiles encouragingly, as if she knows how hard it is for me to talk about myself. And honestly, I don't know why it is. What I'm doing right now is just rattling off facts. It's not like I'm getting into anything deeply personal.

"What about your mom?" she asks curiously. "Are your parents divorced? Is that why you moved to Chicago?"

And now we're in deeply personal territory. I inhale again and realize that my hand is clenched tightly against my thigh. I relax my fingers. This is just a conversation. No big deal.

"My mom died years ago. When I was seven. My dad and I moved to Chicago to get away from the memories."

Mila freezes, her gorgeous green eyes glued to mine.

"I'm...I... I didn't know that," she finally stammers. "I'm really sorry. You didn't say anything earlier at the hospital when I told you about my parents."

I stare at her. "I know. I don't usually talk about it."

"Was she sick?" Mila asks. "Did you have a chance to say goodbye? I think that was the worst thing about my parents' deaths. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. It was so sudden. So shocking. The shock of it was the worst."

I try to think back to when my mom died, and like always, I draw a big blank. The only thing I ever see when I try to think on it is a bunch of vague whiteness. No memories.

"Do you ever remember things by colors?" I ask her off-handedly. "See, because I was so young, I apparently blocked all the memories of my mother's death. She died suddenly, also in a car crash, like your parents. But I can't remember anything about it. When I think about it, all I see is a big whiteness, like a blank screen, almost."

Mila seems shocked. "I do that too," she whispers. "I associate colors with pretty much everything. I think it's because I'm an artist. I paint for a living, so I naturally see things in paint. I don't know how to explain you, though."

I smile. "No one knows how to explain me," I tell her wryly.

"So, you were a little boy when your mom died," Mila says slowly. "That must have been horrible for you. No wonder you suppressed the memories. How did your dad handle it? Do you have any other family?"

Normally, I would be put off by someone probing into my personal life. But I know that Mila doesn't mean any harm. I think she's just trying to figure me out, to see what makes me tick. I almost laugh, because that's pretty impossible to do, I think.

"I was a little boy," I confirm. "And I think it probably was horrible. But like I said, I pretty much don't have any memories of it at all. I don't remember much until I turned nine or so. My old therapist, the one I had when I was a kid, said that it was my brain's way of protecting itself from the trauma. My dad didn't handle it well, either. It's one of the reasons that we moved away. He's never been the same. My mom took a little piece of him when she died. And no. I don't have any family other than him. My grandfather, my mother's father, is still alive. But he was pretty pissed when we moved and stopped talking to me. He runs an oil company, which is how I make my living. I inherited my mother's shares."

And just like that, I've shared more with Mila than I've shared with anyone in a long time. I guess I really hadn't realized how secluded I've become until this moment. It's pretty sad. I've never really had a use for anyone else. Until now.

I stare at Mila.

"So, now you have my life's story. What about you? I know your parents died. What else is there to know about you?"

I reach for the bottle of wine and fill our glasses up again. I have a feeling that we'll both need it by the time the evening is out. I glance around and find that the restaurant has pretty much cleared out, except for some clattering in the kitchen.

"Well, I'm still fascinated by the fact that we have more in common that I had thought," Mila admits, her cheeks flushed from the wine.

"Yeah, we belong to an elite club," I roll my eyes. "We know what it's like to lose a parent at a young age. Lucky us."

"You were much younger than me," she tells me seriously. "I was grown and in college. I can't imagine what that would do to a little boy- to grow up without his mama. Was your grandma alive for a while at least? Did you have any kind of female influence at all?"

I shake my head. "No. My grandma died before I was born. And no, I didn't have any kind of female influence, other than teachers as I was growing up."

And right there, with one breath, Mila touched on something that I'd never thought about. Had the fact that I didn't have a mother (or any other female) affect me more than I had known? Is that why I'm not good at relating to women?

From the look on Mila's face, I think she's wondering the same thing. But she doesn't say anything. There's a bit of sympathy in her eyes though and I hate that.

"Don't feel sorry for me," I tell her. "There are millions of people who have had their mother die. You did, as well. I'm not so unique. We all get through it as best we can."

She stares at me again, her face pensive. "So you don't cut yourself any slack at all that you grew up without a mother?"

I roll my eyes. "Are you trying to find some sort of reason that I've become such an asshole? The reason is...I'm an asshole. There are some things in life that can't be explained. Period. Assholes are assholes. Rainbows are pretty. Kittens are cute. Chick flicks are sad. It's the way of things, no explanations."

And now she rolls her eyes.

"Things are the way they are, but everything has a reason. Kittens are cute because they're tiny fur-balls with smushed faces. Rainbows are pretty because they have every color in the world in them and they're made from refracted light. Chick flicks are sad because chicks sometimes just need a good cry. And assholes are always assholes for a reason."

She stares at me again, her eyes full of determination, and I can see that she truly wants to pick me apart and see what makes me tick. I suddenly feel naked beneath her gaze. But as luck would have it, our food arrives at this most perfect of times, and I almost sigh with relief.

Her sister Madison sets our plates down in front of us. Lasagna for me, penne for Mila. A basket of bread between us.

"You should be all set," she tells us, but she's looking at Mila, not me. "If you just want to put your dishes in the kitchen and lock up when you're done, that would be great. Everyone else will be leaving soon. Are you good here?"

She raises an eyebrow at her sister and I know she's really asking Mila, Are you okay here with him?

I fight the need to glare at her. She's the one who left her little sister alone and drunk with an asshole last night. I didn't.

Mila nods and smiles. "We're good, Maddy. I'll see you tomorrow."

Madison nods and leaves without looking at me again. I look at Mila.

"Your sister's an ice bitch," I point out politely.

Mila throws her head back and laughs. "Why don't you tell me how you really feel, Pax?" She giggles again, then adds, "Maddy's just protective. She's all I have now and she takes that role pretty seriously."

I raise an eyebrow. "She didn't last night when she left you alone with Jared the asshole."

Mila shakes her head. "She feels badly about that. She can't handle her liquor very well either and she made a mistake."

I shake my head, but let it go as we dive into our food.

"This is very good," I tell her. "It's no wonder this place is swamped in tourist season."

She smiles. "Thank you. It was my parents' dream. And Madison is keeping it alive for them."

We continue eating by the candlelight, the silence surprisingly comfortable. I've never been with someone before when I didn't feel the need to fill the awkward silence. With Mila, nothing seems awkward. She's got an easy way about her that puts me at ease.

When we're finished, we carry our plates to the kitchen and Mila turns to me, her slender hand on my chest. I glance down at her in surprise.

"I'm not ready to say goodnight yet," she tells me softly. "Would you like to go for a walk on the beach?"

I nod. "Of course. Let's get our jackets though."

I help her shrug into hers and then I follow her outdoors, over the worn trail leading down to the water.

Mila grabs my hand as we walk and holds it, and it feels really intimate.

"I used to play here on this beach when I was a kid," she tells me as she gazes around at the frozen wild-grass and gray water. "Maddy and I used to run up and down this stretch of sand while our parents worked in the restaurant. It was a great childhood. Where did you play?"

I think on that as I guide her around a piece of driftwood.

"I don't really remember," I tell her. "I have bits of memories from my grandfather's estate. I think my mother maybe took me there from time to time. And I remember a few Christmases. But nothing more than that."

She looks at me sympathetically again, but doesn't say anything. I have a feeling she knows that I wouldn't like it.

"Do you think there's a God?" she asks, changing the subject. And it seems so out of the blue. I stare at her.

"What kind of question is that? It's so random."

I smile and we continue to walk and I feel the moisture of the wet sand permeating my dress shoes. I wish that I would have worn my boots, but they would have looked out of place with slacks.

Mila sighs.

"I don't know. It's not really random. I just wonder from time to time. Don't you? I never really thought about it until my parents died, but now it crosses my mind sometimes. I can't help it. And we were talking about other deep things tonight, so I just thought I'd ask. I'm trying to get to know you."

She smiles and squeezes my hand and my heart softens a bit. There's something about this girl. I know that she could ask anything, and I'd probably answer.

"I don't know," I tell her. "I don't know about God. I'm sure he's there somewhere. Out there. Probably looking down on all of us and wondering why we're so fucked up. And if he's there, I'm sure he forgot about me a long time ago."

Mila's breath catches in her throat, I can hear it. And she stops, turning to me, her hand on my arm. She looks up at me, her eyes filled with something that I can't identify.

"Why would you say that?" she asks quietly.

I shake my head. "I don't know. There's something missing in me, Mila. It's just not there and I'm not sure if it ever was. And I'm pretty sure that God doesn't mess around with someone like that."

For some reason, there's a lump in my throat and I have no idea why. I swallow it and stare down at the delicate, beautiful girl on the beach beside me. Anyone else might have tucked tail and run. But not her. Her feet are planted and her eyes are wide.

She reaches up and touches my chest, then my face.

"You're wrong," she tells me softly. "About everything. You don't see yourself the way I see you. But if you did, you would know that there's nothing missing in you at all. I think that you've always used drugs to block out questions that you've had about yourself, or doubt or fear. I'm not sure what all your reasons were. But I know that you've got things you've never dealt with or thought about, and that's probably why you feel a void now. But once you discover what it is that you need to deal with, you'll feel whole again. No more holes, no more voids. That's what I think."

My eyes burn as I stare down at this incredibly perceptive woman. I do have a lot of shit that I've never bothered to think about. In fact, I went way out of my way to avoid thinking about it. And maybe that was what was most to my detriment - not doing crazy shit, like I thought.

"I think you know me better than you should," I tell her gruffly. She smiles her delicate smile.

"I don't know you nearly as well as I'd like to," she answers, wrapping her arms around my neck. "But I'm going to remedy that."

And then she kisses me. As she does, everything seems right in the world, like it always does when she's in my arms. It's like holding a ray of sunshine. I kiss her until we can't breathe and when we finally pull away, we take a breath and kiss again.

The stars twinkle overhead, the lake is soundless and calm to our left and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel like I'm home.

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.