Luka reluctantly goes after Jaime.
|Notes/Warnings: Mentions of past drug use.
Summary: Written for the prompt: Your couple is out at the bar and on the dance floor. Choose the music, slow, quick dance, traditional, it’s up to you. Only use the point of view of character""B". Bring me into the scene with them. Show me the bar, what character "B" sees, hears, feels next to character "A". Are they going to get hot and heavy on the dance floor? Will it be a sultry dance that has them rushing to get out of there and to a more intimate place? These choices are yours to make. Maximum 1000 words.
"What did you do?” Sabrina whapped me on the arm just hard enough to sting. I winced, but didn’t take my eyes off the arched entryway through which Jaime had just walked.
“I didn’t do anything,” I said absently, and yes, a bit guiltily. “You were here. He just—got up and left.”
“Because of what you said!” Sabrina whapped me again. “Go fix it!”
“What? Me? How?” I demanded, finally looking at her. Her dark eyes were . . . pretty pissed.
“Well, you could apologize for cutting his work to ribbons before the group even started!”
“But I didn’t—”
“You did,” Sabrina insisted, pinching my arm savagely. I yelped, and yanked my wounded—soon to be bruised, no doubt—arm away from her and scooted a little ways down the loveseat. Not that there was far to scoot. “Go after him and apologize.”
“For what?” And why should I be the one to go after him? went without saying.
“For being an asshole, yet again.” Sabrina crossed her arms and glared at me. “If you’d ever read the message board on MeetUs, you’d know that Jaime’s very sensitive about his writing.”
“Aren’t we all?” I huffed. “And I read the message board!”
Sabrina snorted. “Only to comb it for links to people’s work so you can critique the shit out of it.”
“I’m helping them,” I protested.
“Your critiques are too harsh, Luka. I’ve told you a thousand times, and you’ve gotten better recently, but you’re still pushing people away. It’s not what you say that drives them away, it’s how you say it.” She sighed when I continued to stare at her blankly. “Luka, Jaime’s not the first person you’ve driven out of the group, though he’s the first you’ve driven out so soon. You have to learn to be a kinder, more diplomatic critic or—” Sabrina glanced around at the others, and leaned closed to me to whisper: “Or . . . Freda might ask you to leave the group.”
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. “You’re . . . you’re not serious?” Fell from my suddenly numb lips. Sabrina’s eyebrows lifted and her mouth pursed. She was as serious as I’d ever seen her, none of the normally ever-present laughter to be seen in her eyes.
She and Freda were like peas in a pod. If Sabrina said Freda was considering kicking me out, then it was straight from the horse’s mouth.
“All I’ll say,” she went on with unusual dourness, “is, you’d better get Jaime Soto back here before Freda finds out he’s gone.”
A second later I was hurrying through the same entryway Jaime had, my heart in my throat.
I’d expected to find him sitting in his car, getting ready to peel out of Freda’s long, car-packed driveway. I was literally running down said driveway, past the cars and my truck, hoping to see him in one of the other cars. Hoping he hadn’t already driven off.
I hadn’t heard an engine start from the house, and so, I was optimistic.
But I got to the end of the driveway and all the usual cars I’d usually seen for group members. Not one unfamiliar car and no Jaime.
“Fuck,” I muttered, running a hand through my hair and looking around—up and down the street. It was when I glanced to my right that I spotted a lone figure, small and moving rather quickly away from the house.
With a huff of relief, I broke into a run.
“Leave me alone,” Jaime said when I caught up to him. He was walking with his shoulders hunched and his head down. Still moving at a good clip, but nothing I couldn’t keep up with. I had the better part of a foot on him, and most of that was legs.
“So, Sabrina said I was an asshole, and . . . she may have been right,” I began, humbling myself mightily. But Jaime still wouldn’t slow down . . . still wouldn’t look at me. So I kept looking at him: the messy, ink-dark hair, spiking every which way; the fine-featured, almost elfin profile; the grace inherent in his every motion. . . .
He’s fucking gorgeous, I thought almost desperately, and not for the first time.
“I’m sorry,” I said, without planning to say it so baldly. And when I did, Jaime glanced at me, his face all large, dark distrustful eyes and serious, frowning mouth.
He must be, I knew suddenly, absolutely stunning when he smiles.
“Are you?” he asked quietly, disbelievingly. “And what is it you’re you sorry for?”
I opened my mouth to answer, then closed it, as I realized I didn’t exactly know. “Well,” I temporized. “Sabrina said—”
“I didn’t ask you what Sabrina said, I asked why you’re sorry.” Jaime glanced at me again, his gaze suddenly penetrating. “Are you saying you’re sorry with no real regret, just to soothe your conscience? Or are you just being condescending and insincere, like always?”
Now, I was frowning. “’Like always’? What does that mean? Have we met before?” I asked again, struck once more by the sense that I had met him somewhere. Even his name was vaguely familiar.
Jaime’s profile acquired a rueful smile—not the kind that I’d imagined would look so stunning on him.
“Actually, we have. Not that you’d remember.”
“I doubt I’d forget you if I’d ever met you before,” I said before I could think better of it, and Jaime looked up at me, frowning again. I turned red and looked away. “That is, you’re, uh, pretty intense. I don’t think I’d forget you.”
Despite the fact that I obviously had.
Jaime sighed and picked up his pace. I adjusted mine to keep up. “Oh, I’m certain you wouldn’t remember me. Not in the course of your day. I’m certain you’ve rejected thousands of me, maybe tens of thousands, in your years as an editor.”
It took a moment for me to switch gears, but when I did, the bottom dropped out of my stomach and I went cold.
For suddenly, I understood why Jaime’s name, but not his face seemed familiar. Why his writing had a ring of familiarity to it.
“When, ah . . . when did you submit to Tertius?” I asked softly. Jaime didn’t answer for nearly a minute, and when he did, his voice was tight with supressed emotion.
“Almost five years ago. To the day.”
I didn’t even blush. I just hung my head in shame and consternation.
“What did you submit?”
Jaime shrugged jerkily. “A few short stories. Nothing great. Strictly amateur hour. I didn’t expect them to be published, really.”
His tone said otherwise.
“I’m sorry,” I said again, and this time, I meant it. And maybe Jaime sensed that, because he looked up at me warily.
“Why? For not publishing my shitty little attempts at short fiction?”
I shook my head quickly. “No—no. For the rejection email I sent,” I said, and now the blush definitely became hot and painful. “I know I can be . . . harsh, atimes. And back when Karen Renna and I started Tertius, I . . . thought I knew everything about writing and editing. I was an arrogant, thoughtless, cruel despot when it came to Tertius. Even Karen couldn’t set me straight, and . . . it got bad. Five years ago I was at the apex of my asshole-ishness. If you submitted then and got rejected, you would’ve gotten the worst and sharpest side of my pen. For that I’m sorry. Sorry I added insult to injury, and hurt you so badly that even five years later, you still feel it so keenly.”
Jaime blinked, his dark eyes suspiciously shiny, and looked down at his feet.
“Do, uh . . . do you still send out those personalized rejections?”
Not what I’d been expecting him to say, but I answered anyway. “Sometimes. When a story shows promise, but needs a bit of tweaking. And even then, I have Karen or Greg Young read them over to make sure I’m not being . . . an asshole.”
Jaime laughed, brief and sarcastic. “I’m sure Karen and Greg have their work cut out for them.” Another glance at me, this one less wary and more curious. “What prompted your change of heart? What made you stop being quite as much of an asshole?”
I was the one to look down at my feet this time. I swallowed and sighed, shoving my hands in my pockets. I nearly punctured my palm on my keys.
“I went into rehab. Quit the booze and coke. Started going to therapy. Did a lot of soul searching and realized that just because I’m a miserable fucking bastard, doesn’t mean I should inflict my misery on others under the guise of helping them.” I shrugged. “But being a miserable fucking bastard is a hard habit to break, as you can see.”
In the surprised silence that followed, I could hear Jaime’s step falter briefly. Then he was walking abreast with me again. His gaze on me was bright and definitely curious. I shrugged again and darted glances at him out of the corner of my eye. “Don’t blame the group for my misstep tonight. Please, come back.”
Jaime shook his head. “I—no. I can’t. I don’t do well around people, anyway, and . . . this was just a bad idea. I can’t.”
Guilt washed over me like a wave. There was no one to blame for this but me. As usual.
“Would you go back if . . . if I left?”
Jaime sighed again. “It doesn’t matter. I just . . . I can’t deal with it, like I thought I could. Opening up myself, my heart and soul, to people I don’t know.”
I understood. Any writer would. Because what was writing, if not exposing one’s heart and soul to the world?
And Jaime had every reason to be wary of doing so after the way his heart and soul had been rejected so harshly, once upon a time.
I hung my head once more. “At least . . . at least let me give you a ride to where you’re going?”
“Uh . . . thanks, but it’s not far.”
“Where?” I persisted, and Jaime brought the hand clutching his copies of Haven to his sternum.
“Just the Bearsville Theatre.”
I snorted. “That’s quite a bit of a walk.” I paused then went on nervously. “Also . . . you’re walking the wrong way. Though, um, if you walk far enough this way, you’ll eventually reach it. You know, what with the Earth being round, and all.”
Jaime stopped dead in his tracks and I stopped, too, turning to face him. He blinked, his wide eyes full of some emotion I couldn’t decipher, then he . . . smiled. And started to laugh.
He was lovely. Breathtakingly so. I literally had to remind myself to breathe.
I watched him laugh and laugh, till the laughs trailed off into sporadic giggles, and Jaime covered his mouth and nose with one hand when he snorted.
I didn’t realize I was grinning until I spoke. “C’mon. I’ll give you a ride into town and get you to the Bearsville Theatre without you having to circumnavigate the globe to do it.”
Jaime snorted once more, in the midst of giggling, then ran his hand back up over his face and into his hair.
“Won’t you miss the beginning of group?”
I shrugged. “Eh. Just the writing exercises Freda comes up with. I must admit, I’m in no mood to write a brief triolet on what butterflies may or may not think about.”
Jaime’s grin shone out, brief and puckish and I had the ephemeral, but strong urge to just grab him and kiss him . . . to taste that wild, fey grin and feel it against my own.
I took out my keys and jingled them. “C’mon. I can have you there in ten minutes.”
Tilting his head and giving me a measuring gaze, Jaime finally nodded once.
“Okay,” he said softly, his grin and giggles gone. But something in me leapt up, nonetheless.
Once in my truck and buckled up, Jaime and I looked at each other and smiled. His was almost shy, and mine, I’m certain, was goonish. I was red from my cheeks to my ears.
I cleared my throat and started the truck, putting on the CD player. Immediately, the bluesy piano and guitars of Do I Look Worried issued from my speakers:
Back in the day when I lied
We'd always fight
Now here you are foolin' 'round
Out every night
I don't have to take it anymore
And I'm tired of always keeping score
All I say is:
Do I look worried to you?
Oh, do I look worried?
Smacked in the face
Such a disgrace
You were wrong
I try it again, stay 'til the end, but how long?
We've been here so many times
And I know you've fed me so many lies
All I say is:
Do I look worried to you?
Oh, do I look worried?
Ohh, worried to you
Ohh, 'cause I ain't worried
Fool me once or twice
You know the saying: Shame on you
But now that I'm done with the math
Here's what I'll do
I'll find my way, keep an open door
'Cause it's not the same as it was before
All I say is:
Do I look worried to you?
Oh, do I look worried?
Ohh, 'cause I ain't worried
Lord, 'cause I ain't worried
You better, you better be worried
Ohh, I'm worried, worried, worried, worried
Yeah I ain't gonna take it anymore
The song ended as we got into town proper, and I glanced at Jaime, who was leaning back in the passenger seat, eyes closed, small smile playing about his lips. I wondered what that smile would taste like and feel like. I couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow, we’d just shared a dance. A slow one, like at the end of prom night. The kind that naturally ends with a long, lingering kiss. . . .
“You have a nice voice,” Jaime said as I pulled up to a stop sign. I shook my head a little, to clear it of my silly prom night-thoughts. Forget dancing with me; I was lucky Jaime hadn’t kneed me in the balls.
“So do you,” I returned. We’d both sung along to the song, and I realized, as I waited for an Acura to make its way through the intersection, that he was the first person I’d ever come across whom I hadn’t had to introduce to Tedeschi Trucks Band. He was obviously already a fan.
That made me grin again as I passed the stop sign.
“Not many people know Tedeschi Trucks Band,” Jaime said, as if reading my mind. I glanced at him and found him watching me almost wonderingly. I blushed, feeling as if I’d accomplished something significant.
“I was thinking the same thing.” I laughed a little. “They’re one of my favorite bands.” I waved at my CD cases in their holder, and Jaime leaned forward as far as the seatbelt would allow, mouthing the titles of my CDs.
“You have Folklore!” he exclaimed with pleased surprise.
“I do. Sixteen Horsepower is my absolute favorite band.”
“One of mine, too,” Jaime said, blinking up at me. I stopped at a yellow light and smiled at him. He smiled back, and there we sat, till well after the light had changed. Finally a car behind us honked its horn, and I snapped my eyes back to the road and cleared my throat, driving through the intersection.
Silence reigned for the two minutes it took us to get to the Bearsville Theatre from there.
When I pulled up outside the brightly-lit venue, Jaime unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door, turning a strangely shy gaze on me.
“Thanks for the dance, Mister,” he said quietly, sardonically. Then added more earnestly. “And the ride.”
“Not a problem,” I replied, swallowing nervously. When he looked into my eyes, I felt seen into and very young. Weird, because I usually felt older than the dirt I stood on. “Look, I know you, uh, said you didn’t want to come back to group, but . . . please reconsider? I mean, you haven’t even been through one meeting and I can say you’re easily the most talented of the group. Myself, included.”
Jaime’s lovely eyes widened. “Really? B-but you said—”
“Whatever I said five years ago, take with a ginormous block of salt, if you take it at all. And I may just be a reformed asshole, but I know talent when I see it, now. I think that being in a group of like-minded people will only make you an even better writer. So . . . reconsider, okay? Either this writing group or, if I put you off it, another one. Okay?”
Jaime searched my eyes for a few moments then nodded. “I . . . I’ll try.”
I nodded, too. “Good.”
We stared at each other for a little while before Jaime laughed a bit and started to close the passenger side door. “G’night, Luka,” he murmured.
“G’night, Jaime . . . wait!” When Jaime turned back to me, opening the door a little wider to regard me, I swallowed again and tried on a nervous smile. “You, uh, have my email from the MeetUs message board, right?”
“Mmhmm. And you have mine.”
“Yeah.” I made a mental note to go digging through the message board for his addy. “Good. Great. I mean, you know . . . if you ever wanted to go for coffee and talk about your writing—or just writing in general. . . .”
Jaime’s eyebrows lifted and his eyes widened. “Uh . . . okay. That sounds . . . nice.” He smiled that shy smile and leaned against the truck for a moment before starting to shut the door once again. “Good night, Luka.”
“Good night, Jaime.”
I sat there for some minutes after he disappeared into the Bearsville Theatre, smiling to myself and listening to Tedeschi Trucks Band play.