More Than Words
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She put a hand on my arm as if in comfort. “Thank you, no.” Then she turned and walked away from me for the second time in twenty-four hours.
Thank you, no?
I followed her out the hotel door, fast-walking to catch up. Outside, the air was cool and fresh, the sky already a bright, cloudless blue. “Thank you, no?”
She turned abruptly, and I collided with her. Her body was both firm and soft, and I wanted to press in closer, but she stepped back, taking a deep breath. “Listen, half the women of the free world would love to spend time with you. You won’t miss the company of one girl.”
She turned again and walked to the curb, where she took her cell phone from her purse, glanced at it, and dropped it back inside.
I went to stand next to her. “Forty percent.”
She glanced at me, furrowing her brow. “What?”
“Half the women of the free world is a bit of an exaggeration. Forty percent, forty-five max. I don’t take a single one for granted.” I brought out the big guns, smiling, sort of lopsided, the one I knew women went crazy for.
But once again, apparently not this one. She tilted her head as if she was trying to figure something out. “Funny,” she muttered, drawing out the word, though she didn’t sound amused at all. She took a few steps forward, tapping her foot and looking toward the bend of the long driveway, as if impatient for her ride to show up.
This wasn’t working. I wasn’t charming her. At all. Maybe it was little wonder after our first two encounters. “So … okay, you’re mad about the women who interrupted us both times we’ve run into each other—”
Her head whipped toward me and she gave it a quick shake. “No.” Her chest rose and fell on a deep intake of air. “No. I’m not mad. I have no reason to be mad. I just … don’t want to be a part of it. I can’t be a part of it.”
A shuttle bus pulled up to the curb, and she headed to it. I paused for a moment, telling myself I should walk away. But my feet had a mind of their own, and they followed Jessie, stepping onto the bus. She was already sitting, and her eyes widened when she saw me. She pulled her sunglasses down and looked out the window. I took the seat across from her, putting my own sunglasses on.
An older woman took the seat next to Jessie, and they struck up a conversation in French. I stared out the window, wondering what I was doing. I’d never chased a woman in my life. Much less to a museum. This was either a new low or a new high; I couldn’t tell which.
As I watched the scenery go by, I realized I hadn’t been up this early in years. I’d forgotten what the morning sky even looked like. But I’d woken this morning with an excitement running through my veins that I hadn’t felt in what seemed like forever, and I knew it had to do with Jessie. I wanted to see her, to spend time with her, to hear the things she thought about, to find out the details of her life and all I’d missed since the last time I’d seen her.
But she didn’t want to be a part of it. Of me. I should have walked off and found any number of women who desired my company, but I couldn’t because I only wanted to spend time with her. Jesus. Maybe it was the challenge. Lord knew I hadn’t had one of those for a long damn time. Still, I knew she wasn’t playing some sort of game to get me to chase her, so again, what the hell was I doing?
The shuttle drove through the quaint downtown area, turned and bounced down a short, dirt road, finally lurching to a stop in front of a square stone building. We all stood and filed off the vehicle, but I held back, following behind Jessie, who was still chatting animatedly with the older French woman. I picked up a brochure at the museum’s front desk, purchased a ticket, and followed the group through a lobby area and into the dim, quiet interior of the gallery. The space was roomy and open with display cases lining the walls and placed in the middle of the room, creating wide rows that patrons could wander between. Large, framed paintings hung on all four walls, with small gold placards beneath each one.
A tour guide greeted our group and asked if anyone spoke a language other than French. I kept quiet. I didn’t care to hear about any of the items, so what did it matter what language he spoke? He began his talk, and I tuned him out easily, leaning against one of the display cases and stifling a yawn. I saw Jessie’s lip quirk up as if she’d seen me in her peripheral vision, but she schooled it quickly and laced her hands in front of her, tilting her head as she listened to the guide.
I moved along with the group, glancing at a few items, mostly watching Jessie as she walked in front of me, bending toward each display and reading the descriptions, her lips moving along with the words. Why I found that so sexy I had no idea. I took a moment to look at the pieces that seemed to draw her attention, wondering what I could figure out about her from the things that piqued her interest.
I put my hands in my pockets, then removed them, feeling out of place, but at the same time, not really wanting to be anywhere else.
At first I didn’t think Jessie was paying much attention to me, but then I caught her glancing my way surreptitiously in the reflection of one of the display cases, and it made my heart thump faster in my chest. We wandered to the back of the room, and I saw her look at me again and look away, and I couldn’t help the smile that made my lips twitch. Maybe she was only keeping me in her sights because she knew I was watching her, but I didn’t care. It felt … good. But for the first time in a long time, I wished my life hadn’t been as public. I wished she didn’t have so many reasons to write me off so quickly, that she wanted to know me like I wanted to know her. Like she had thirteen years ago, when she’d first looked past the bruised and battered face and had seen the lonely, sad boy within.
The tour guide had finished his spiel and was standing near the back of the room, answering questions quietly, when someone came up to him. The near-silence of the room was suddenly broken when my cell phone began ringing shrilly from my pocket. “Oh, fuck.” My words—meant to be muttered—echoed around the tall room, some strange acoustics causing them to bounce from wall to wall. Several older women looked at me with shocked disdain, tsking softly. I fumbled in my jeans, trying to remove the damn thing as quickly as possible. I smiled in embarrassment as I glanced around, catching Jessie’s wide-eyed stare. The phone finally came free of my pocket, and I punched the first button I could get to, which unfortunately was the answer button. Myrtle’s loud, crackly greeting rang through the gallery, and I turned and walked quickly to the front of the room, exiting into the lobby that, thank God, was empty.
“Myrtle, I have to call you back.”
“What? This isn’t a good connection.” The phone crackled directly in my ear, and I winced. Ouch. I hit the speaker button, turning the volume down and glancing back at the closed door to make sure I couldn’t be heard as Myrtle went on. “I called to give you the transcriptions of your text messages.”
“Myrtle, I need to—” I whispered, walking to the other side of the open area.
“I see why you don’t have time to read them. There were fifty-seven. Some were from women that sounded like brazen hussies, and I just deleted those. In my day and age, no self-respecting female would talk to a man that way.” She made a disgusted sound in her throat, and I tried to break in one more time. “One of them sent you her address and suggested you come to her house and do things to her that were so lewd, I wrapped up a bar of Ivory and sent it to her with a note that said, ‘Please use this to wash your whore mouth out with soap, regards, Myrtle.’ The other ones—”
“Myrtle,” I hissed loudly, thankful there was no one around. Still, the crackling faded, and I took it off speaker even though the ceasing of Myrtle’s rambling let me know she’d finally heard me.
Myrtle had finally figured out how to open the computer program I’d set up that allowed my assistant access to my text messages. There were only so many texts because they’d been building up for two months while Myrtle became acquainted with the twenty-first century. Damn my own tendency to give my number out freely when I was drunk. I usually came to regret it—like now.