12. Just one more day

How do you stop before it's too late?
You choose and you lose if you hesitate.
How do you stop before it's too late?
How do you stop? You're lost if you hesitate.
How do you stop love from slipping away?

"How Do You Stop"
Joni Mitchell (Hartman/Midnight)

Sleep didn't come easy to me that night. Holding Kiddo close to me, I nourished a wonderful feeling that glowed deep inside me and at the same time, enveloped me like a warm blanket. It was possibly the closest thing to love I'd felt in years, and it scared me shitless. I didn't, however, want it to end; so I refused to waste these precious moments on sleep.

Every now and then, the adorable creature lying next to me would quietly moan, or mumble something incoherent; he was sleeping fitfully. Each time he stirred, I caressed his face and placed soft kisses on his forehead, or I took his hand in mine and kissed his knuckles, whispering soothingly to him, until he would sigh and relax in my arms. It worked every single time, and being able to do this for him made me so ridiculously happy that I felt a big, fat lump in my throat.

Portman, you've got it bad!

Finally, the exhausting ups and downs of this longest-Monday-ever caught up with me, and I slowly dozed off in the comforting warmth of our embrace. The last thought that crossed my mind was that Kiddo was actually the first man I had ever allowed to stay overnight, and how strange it was that neither of us had acted or reacted in any predictable way ever since we'd met... then I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


The first thing I noticed when I woke up – I had turned away from Kiddo in my sleep, and he was spooning perfectly against me, head to toe. The second – his arm lay around me and his hand cupped one of my boobs as if it belonged there. And third, by telegram from my butt – he was sporting a pretty impressive morning wood.

Well, I liked all three. I even liked the tingling spot in my nape where my hair had become damp because of Kiddo's warm breath against my skin. I realized that, in my 42 years, I had never woken up like this and I was surprised how much I relished the delicate intimacy of this moment.

Annoyingly underwhelmed by all this, my bladder most vehemently commanded attention. The alarm clock on the nightstand informed me it was 8:42 am.

Time for a human minute.

As gingerly as possible, I detached Kiddo's hand off my breast and slowly slipped out from underneath his arm. He groaned a little, but I managed to roll over and put his hand back on the mattress without waking him up. As soon as I sat up, the magic was gone. Without his body wrapped around mine, I immediately felt cold. And uncomfortably sobered.

What the hell are you doing here, Portman?

I looked down on his sleeping face... his flawless features were peacefully relaxed, the dark shadows under his eyes had almost entirely disappeared. Only the blond curls were unrulier than ever; three single streaks on his forehead had teamed-up to do 'The Wave' each time he exhaled through his pouted lips. And I noticed a small wet spot on the pillow, where he seemed to have drooled a wee bit.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a trace of the man who had made love to me a few hours ago. All I could see was a sleeping child.

Even though, with a closer look, this child clearly could use a shave.

What had I been thinking, going into rapture about him like that? This was no longer just the little naughty adventure I'd pictured to myself in the beginning. This was different. Because he was different.

Wrong, wrong, wrong – this is so wrong, Portman, you oil can!

Kiddo wasn't the happy-go-lucky cool kind of guy who would just take this as an opportunity to boast about later with his buddies. He was a brooding, sensitive boy. He obviously had some serious problems I hadn't figured out yet. And whatever he thought was going on, he was clearly on the wrong track already... about me, about us. The things he had written in his notebook...


...and, oh God, the things he had said, lying next to me, naked, in my bed! What if he confused this with being in love? How should I ever straighten this out then? How should I send him away without breaking his heart? ...or my own?

Wait –



My throat tightened. Suddenly, I felt somewhat nauseated. Something was conglomerating in my chest and my heart did its utmost to explode. I grabbed my bathrobe and blindly rushed out of the bedroom and to the balcony door. I tore it open, threw the bathrobe around my shoulders and clung to the railing, desperately gasping for air.

I can't...

Small white puffs broke away from my lips and fell apart in the cold morning air, assuring me I was doubtlessly breathing. But the oxygen wouldn't reach my lungs. The lump in my chest was burning now, choking me. Wafts of black were threateningly narrowing my field of vision and all of a sudden I...

am a child again, curled into a ball in the attic of my parents' home, sobbing and shaking and clinging to the warm bundle on my lap. I found the abandoned mongrel puppy three days ago. I named him Boomer. I kept him hidden in the attic, I fed him, cradled him, caressed him... I let him take my ten-year-old heart away, unconditionally.
Today Daddy found him and said the words that made my world collapse: 'We can't keep the dog, Annabelle, you must give it away!'
I'm shattered, suffocating with a fire inside of my chest. Boomer is licking my shaking hands; his fur is drenched with my tears. I love him so much. And I am sobbing, like a broken record:
'I can't... I can't... I can't...'

"...I can't..." I wheezed. My knuckles were white with my death grip on the balcony railing.

"Annie... Annie!"

Out of nowhere, Kiddo's face drifted into the pinpoint center of what was left of my view of the world, and I could feel his hands on my cheeks. His lips were moving. Was he talking to me? What did he say?

"Look at me, Annie, ok? No, no, no... look here! Do exactly what I do..."

His index finger tapped his own mouth, and I stared on it, uncomprehending. It looked like he was blowing on a spoonful of hot soup in order to cool it down. Mechanically, I imitated him.

"Yes, like that... keep it that way. And now breathe, in and out... pursed lips breathing!"

But... I can't...

"It's all good, Annie, all good... no, no – don't look away, stay with me. Focus! Ok... do not open your mouth, ok?"

Not open my...? Fuck, but I'm suffocating!

"...I can't... I can't breathe..."

He was rubbing my back now, soothingly. "No, you're doing great, just keep on breathing like that. It'll be over in a minute – can you feel it?"

I could. It actually worked... finally; I felt some oxygen rush through my system.

"You just had an anxiety attack, Annie. What was it, a bad dream? Better now?"

Still dizzy, I just nodded. Yes. And yes.

"Ok." He stopped rubbing my back, crossed his arms in front of him and started rubbing his own biceps instead. His shoulders went up to his ears, and he smiled wryly. "Do you think we can go back inside then? It's a little... uncomfortable outside here."

Now that the black wafts were disappearing, I noticed Kiddo stood here with me in the morning chill, wearing nothing but a towel and goosebumps. So gorgeous.

I can't give him away...

"I should fetch you your clothes," I answered absentmindedly.

...not yet anyway...

"Ok. Come here." Caringly, he reached out for the collar of my bathrobe, helped me to slip my arms into the sleeves, and wrapped it tightly around my neck and shoulders. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. Since when did I weep so easily?

...maybe just one more day, and then...

We went inside and I closed the door behind us. He followed me silently to the bathroom where I took his clothes out of the dryer and handed them to him.

One more day. I can sort this out tonight.

I was almost myself again. "Shit, I don't know why I just snapped like that. Thanks for... helping me, Edward."

He gave me a little smile. "No big deal, Annie. I used to have anxiety attacks all the time. They just happen. What was your dream about anyway?"

"Um, I don't know. Something from my childhood days," I said, conspicuously rummaging the bathroom cabinet more than necessary for fresh towels.

"Oh good." He exhaled audibly. "I was afraid for a second, it was about me."


Carefully avoiding eye contact, I handed him a towel. I busied myself with yet more redundant rummaging and asked, "Would you perhaps like to shave?"

"Yes, if you... wait – why do you have shaving gear?" he asked bluntly, suspiciously eyeing the shaver and foam I was offering him. He was clearly unpleased for some reason. But whatever it was, it thankfully distracted him from the bad-dream issue.

"What do you mean, 'Why do I have shaving gear'?" I didn't get his question.

He cleared his throat. "I mean, whose is it?"

Get this! Jealous, are we?

I ripped the cellophane off the disposable shaver and held it out to him. He tilted his head to read the label, and I watched him mouth, 'La-dy-sha-ver'.

"Oh," he muttered, "it's yours."

"It's not Carlisle's, anyway." I chuckled over his puzzled expression. "I was rather positive you had enough chances to notice that I am hairless in places where women naturally are not."

He blushed. "Yes, I... sure. Ok, thanks then. But I'll go without shaving, I think."

We looked at each other for a few moments, a little awkwardly. Then he asked, "I didn't get it right, huh?"

I noticed the launch of: Frown, Level One. What was he talking about?

"Last night," he elaborated, 'when I... was it very bad?"

Wow! The was-it-as-good-for-you-as-it-was-for-me question? Really?

"You were wonderful, Edward," I assured him quickly, meaning it.

But it didn't seem to please him. Along with the ignition of: Frown, Level Two, he took a deep breath, narrowed his green eyes at me, and said pointedly, "But I didn't fuck you senseless, did I?"

Holy shit... what?

I gasped involuntarily – where did that come from? Had he really taken my wanton jabbering literally? And what the hell did he want to hear? God … men were always so sensitive with this shit, and obviously, he wasn't an exception. One false word and you needed a week, minimum, to give new heart to their sore manlihood.

I was still agonizing over a believable reply that wouldn't damage his delicate juvenile confidence, when I saw one corner of his mouth twitch and curl up. His shoulders were subtly shaking with suppressed laughter.

No way! That cheeky little fucker!

Would he ever do or say anything I expected?

"I hate to say this," I giggled, "but no – you didn't fuck me senseless. Not really."

And then we both burst into laughter and cackled helplessly for several minutes, holding our stomachs and wiping our eyes. It was wonderful to see him like that... blithe, hilarious, and childishly proud because he had successfully taken me for a ride. It was a first. And I loved it.

When we finally calmed down, he said, still grinning, "There's a proverb saying that laughing together makes people fall in love with each other, did you know that?"

"No, I haven't heard that one before," I answered warily.

He looked down on his feet for a moment, and I watched the grin disappear. Without raising his head fully, he shyly looked up at me from under his long lashes, his forehead crumpling in the cutest James Dean fashion.

"Annie, can I... may I kiss you?"

Fuck, yes!

"Fuck, no!" I squealed.

The fact that we hadn't really kissed yet was my only emergency exit. In some screwy way I thought that a kiss – a real kiss – would seal something I wasn't prepared for, like there would be no going back afterwards. Part of me knew this was stupid, but I tried to convince myself that no real damage was done as long as we didn't share the intimacy of a real kiss. And Kiddo...

Oh... please don't look at me that way!

"I need to brush my teeth," I hastily explained, "and I need to wash. I want a decent breakfast. And most of all, I'm bursting for a pee!"

Kiddo ruffled his own hair with both hands and smiled at me.

"That was probably the best rebuff I've ever got," he replied. "But to be honest, I need that too. All of it." And then he winked at me.

He winked? Who are you and what have you done to brooding Edward?

Apparently, nothing could do any harm to his good mood this morning. Still smirking, he adjusted the towel around his hips (probably not knowing what watching him do that did to me), moved for the door and said, "Ladies first, ok?"


"I haven't thanked you yet for allowing me to stay," Kiddo said as he dropped himself on a chair for breakfast. "So... thank you, Annie."

"You're welcome." I motioned around the table. "Just help yourself... um, you're not on a special diet, are you?"

"No," he answered, "I can eat everything I want, don't worry. Thanks."

He opted for cereal with milk and sugar. A lot of sugar, I noticed a little worried. Weren't diabetics supposed to avoid sugar? It was fun though, to watch him eat; he held the spoon in his fist like a little boy and literally shovelled the cereal in his mouth as if there was no tomorrow.

I smiled to myself, wondering how he could go from child to man to teenage boy and all the way back again in less than an hour. He had been so mature and confident when I had panicked on the balcony; almost like I was the younger one of us. And now he was round-cheeked munching away like a ten-year-old.

I was so absorbed puzzling over him that I winced when he suddenly spoke. "Just ask!" he said between chewing. He was looking at me expectantly.

"Ask what?" Having underestimated his wits a few times too often already, I was immediately on guard.

"Whatever you want." He swallowed the last bite and shoved the bowl aside. "I can see you have a lot of questions on your mind."

...why are you here are you falling in love with me how did you knock out James why wouldn't you want to come inside me where did your talking problems go does my age bother you what were you afraid of when we fucked why are you so different today do you think I'm attractive what are the things in your diary about do you have a girlfriend...

It was only then I became aware of the constant stream of questions running in circles in the back of my mind, and I blushed. "Really? How would you be able to see that?"

Now it was his turn to blush. "That's not hard to guess."

Where have I heard that line before?

There was no use in denying it. "You are right; there are actually a few things I'd like to know. We haven't done much talking yet anyway, and I think we really should talk."

"I agree. So, just ask." He leaned forward a little, watching me eagerly.

I had no idea where to start; the questions in my head were spinning like the Wheel of Fortune. I forced it to a random halt and blurted one out without editing, "Do you have a girlfriend?"

Great pick, Portman. Perhaps you should buy a vowel...

Kiddo leaned back in his chair and exhaled through pursed lips before he answered, "That's a very tough question, because I honestly don't know."

"Why is that? Too many choices?" I laughed nervously.

"No, there's only one actually. But I don't know whether she wants me too. I know she kinda likes me, but I'm not sure, so..." He shrugged.


So he was in love with a girl. That was a good thing, right? It would make everything so much easier. I was relieved, almost excited.

"Does she even know you like her? Maybe you should just go and talk to her?" I encouraged him.

He cast down his eyes and smiled. "Yes, I think she knows," he said. "We even had sex already... it was beautiful. She was beautiful."

Uh... too much information!

I tried to ignore the silly twinge of jealousy and cleared my throat. "So what's the problem? If you want her to be your girlfriend, you should just ask her. Maybe she's waiting for you to ask?"

He looked up at me doubtingly. "Do you think so?"

"Absolutely!" I answered firmly. "The sooner, the better. Do you have her number?"

"Why... you mean I should ask her now?" His green eyes widened.

Yes, now! Grab the girl, go to her... and spare me the need to send you away!

"Yes, why not?" I confirmed, forcing a smile on my face. "There's nothing to lose, right?"

"Ok," he said, still reluctantly. "I'll do it."

"Good." I nodded. That had been easy... too easy. My heart began to bleed but I tried to hide the pain. I tore my eyes away from his face and poured myself another cup of coffee.


You can do this. Milk. Sugar. Stir. Very busy. Eyes on the table.




Annoyed at myself, I noticed a single tear dwelling in the corner of my eye, about to run down my cheek. I couldn't bring myself to wipe it away. I looked up, and our eyes locked. Then he spoke…

"Do you want to be my girlfriend?"

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