Everyone has secrets. Although, I was a master at concealing mine. But part of hiding was deception, and I’d become a veritable Pinocchio.
He was like two different people—Eli and Dr. Paxton. While I knew the latter would turn out to be an incredible teacher, the idea of Eli being more threw me for a loop. I couldn’t separate the two, and it seemed vastly inappropriate and strangely alluring.
The practical side of me needed to win the war inside my mind. I had to please the teacher, not the man. But once I’d cross that line, there was no turning back.
For either of us.
I’d missed anything her teacher had said after Colbie had left the stage. The line to get out of the sanctuary was a mile long, so I sat in the pew to wait. And even after the audience had left, I remained there, unsure of what to do next. My heart longed to see her, hug her, be close to her, even if just briefly. My head told me it would set her back and to stay away.
I hadn’t heard anyone else in the room until she stood next to me.
I couldn’t discern her tone, but I slid over nonetheless.
“What are you doing here, Dr. Paxton?” Confusion mixed with innocence sprinkled with love.
Facing her, sitting sideways on a wooden pew, I tucked the stray lock of hair behind her ear out of habit. “Did you think I wouldn’t come?”
She’d never asked me. In fact, other than her telling me about the work she put in, there’d been little mention of the recital since the weekend of her brother’s wedding.
In a manner that would have her mother reeling, she snorted out a huff of a laugh. “I didn’t think you’d even remember much less miss the game to be here.” She glanced at her hands in her lap and started to pick at the skin around her nails.
“I’ll never choose anything over you.” Talking to her head wasn’t ideal, but Colbie all but refused to look up.
“Except your career.” It was nothing more than a hushed whisper.
I’d managed to keep from touching her—well, other than the hair thing—since she’d sat down. Until now. Instinctively, my fingers tilted her chin. “I didn’t choose my career over you, Cole. I chose your security over my happiness. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could do something different.”
Desperation marred her brow and wrinkled her forehead. “But you can…” She had no idea how badly I wanted to give her everything she asked for.
The blue in her eyes swirled with feathers of gold and strings of intoxicating sapphire. And when she licked her lips, I wanted to seal my mouth to hers. I let go of her chin, hoping to break the spell that surrounded us. I was seconds away from throwing caution to the wind and Colbie over my shoulder. “It seems like graduation is a lifetime away. I get that. I really do—”
“Don’t say anything else. I understand.”
“Clearly, you don’t.” My voice had risen, and I had to pause to collect myself so we didn’t end up with company. “You think I don’t want to be with you. That this is easy for me.”
The girl I’d met on the first day now sat before me. “Isn’t it?” Her words were crisp, her expression staunch, and her wall was higher than it had ever been.
I dared to take her hand in mine, and she didn’t resist even if she didn’t reciprocate. “No. No, it’s not. In fact, it’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” I searched the sanctuary for witnesses or anyone who might be within earshot. “Do you have any idea how much I agonize over not being able to touch you? Or see you?” I ran my free hand through my hair. “God, Colbie. I sit down the hall while you work in the practice rooms just to be close to you. I catch glimpses of you running but stay far enough behind that you don’t see me.” I shouldn’t admit any of this. “I type out text messages and never hit send.”
“Because I miss you. Every day.” I couldn’t hide my frustration any longer, and it came through in my desperate tone. “I miss talking to you, running with you, texting you. Jesus. I miss the way you whisper my name in my ear after you kiss my jaw. It’s everything, Colbie. It’s you. I don’t feel like I can breathe right and like my heart beats just half a beat behind because yours isn’t there to beat with it. But until you graduate, I can’t erase any of that pain for me or you. And I hate it.”
Bestselling author, Stephie Walls is a lover of words–the more poetic the better. She lives on the outskirts of Greenville, South Carolina in her own veritable zoo with two dogs, three cats, and Magoo (in no preferential order). She would thrive on coffee, books, and Charlie Hunnam if it were possible, but since it’s not, add in some Chinese food or sushi and she’s one happy girl.