Waiting for Evangeline on her favorite running path, John felt like a stalker. He ran his hand over the face he’d hadn’t shaved in three days and smoothed a strand of greasy hair behind his ear. Damn, he thought, I must look like a pervert. When he wasn’t able to get past her doorman the night before, he’d gone back to the LPD and stayed up till nearly 3 a.m. finishing the Killing Club report for Bo. For a couple of hours he’d tossed and turned on the couch in his office until he saw the sun coming up and remembered Evangeline’s dawn run. Without bothering to go home and shower, he’d jumped in his car and headed to the park across the street from her building.
Just as he was reconsidering the wisdom of his plan to waylay her, he saw her coming around the corner, ponytail swinging and heels flashing. “Evangeline!” he called, stepping into the path.
She gave him a startled look, ran around him and picked up speed. Chasing her, he was surprised to see how fast she was when she really kicked into gear. She also had the advantage of being fit and wearing running shoes. John had packed on a few pounds since they started going out and his new boots were still a bit stiff. As she headed up a rise in the path, he lunged forward and managed to grab her arm.
“John, stop it! Have you lost your freaking mind?”
“Yeah, I have. Ever since you disappeared.”
“Leave me alone!” she said, turning and jerking her arm away. He grabbed her again to keep her from taking off. Before he could catch hold of her left arm, she drew her fist back and landed a solid punch in the middle of his face. She put her weight behind the blow the way he’d taught her a few months before when she’d asked him to show her how to hit the heavy bag. At that time, neither of them imagined such an opportunity as this would arise for her to prove what a good student she was. Stepping into the punch, she connected hard and square, her fist landing with a thud as muscle and bone drove into flesh and bone.
“I said ‘leave me alone’,” she said staring at the blood gushing from his lip and nose. “Oh God, what have I done?”
John held his hands to his face. Evangeline was struck by the color contrast between his shocked, angry pale blue eyes and the deep crimson blood streaming between his fingers. Inhaling blood, John started to choke and bent over coughing.
It wasn’t like it was the first time John had ever been popped in the kisser, so the pain wasn’t really anything new to him. But he could see Evangeline was rattled: she had never made anyone bleed. He knew he had to work this moment to get her alone. It wasn’t fair, but he would do anything to get her to see him. “Can’t breathe,” he said raising his head and flinging blood everywhere.
“Oh, John!” Evangeline looked around for something to stop the blood. She was about to hand him her hoodie when he stopped her and started taking off his shirt.
“Don’t bother -- my shirt’s already ruined,” he said as she helped him out of his wrinkled dress shirt and held it against his face. He was wearing his usual black tank underneath and she could already see the chicken skin forming on his naked arms in the cool morning air.
“Blood in my eye,” he said through the muffle of shirt. “Can’t drive.”
“Come with me across the street to my place,” she said putting an arm around his waist and guiding him to her building. He leaned on her heavily, enjoying this corrupted moment in her arms. She said a silent prayer of thanks when she saw it was still too early for Walter Bivens to be on duty. The last thing she wanted him to see was her escorting a half-naked, bloody John McBain through the lobby to the penthouse elevator. The night doorman was so new she didn’t care what he thought.
As she reached for her keys, Evangeline noticed her left hand was so swollen and throbbing she could barely bend her fingers. “Damn! What have I done to my hand?”
“You hit me,” John said, taking the keys from her and letting them into the apartment. She led him into the bathroom and made him sit on the closed toilet lid.
With her good hand, she ran a washcloth under cold water. She tilted John’s head back and started wiping the blood off his face. He had a kind of guarded stillness that reminded her of an injured animal. His blue eyes looked helpless and he was very quiet. The blood continued to flow down his face, so she switched to a dry hand towel, hoping the blood would start to clot. Then she began to worry that if it did, the towel would stick to his face. She was standing between his legs with her swollen hand draped over his shoulder. He could smell a combination of lotion, laundry detergent and the hint of musk she’d worked up during her run. He wanted desperately to wrap his arms around her waist and press his bloody pulp of a face against her waist, but he was afraid to push his luck so he kept his hands on his thighs.
She tried to remember the first aid mnemonic for bleeding. “Elevation,” she murmured. His head was elevated. “Compression – that’s what I have to do!” She jammed the dry towel against his mouth and nose.
Sensing she was about to smother him to death to stop him from bleeding, John grabbed her arms and gently pushed her away. “Hice.”
“Hice. Hice for my faze. Hice for your han.”
Comprehension slowly broke over her beautiful features. “Ice!” She dropped the towels and ran to the kitchen. While she was away, he calmly rolled a couple of cylinders of toilet tissue and stuffed them up his nose. Feeling only a little woozy, he stood up and looked in the mirror. He looked so bad, he wanted to laugh. But laughing hurt his split lip. He checked his nose – a little swollen, but it wasn’t broken. A black bruise was spreading under his eyes. With the bruise, the bulbous red nose and the four-day-old beard, he reminded himself of the clown Emmett Kelly. Not quite the face he’d intended to use to win her back.
Evangeline appeared at his side with a bucket of ice. “Should you be standing?” she said. He gave her a look, took the ice from her and dumped it in the sink. He shut the sink drain and filled it the rest of the way with cold water. Then he took her swollen hand in his and plunged it into the ice water.
“Nice shot,” he said. “Do you have to be so good at everything?”
In spite of herself, she smiled. “I had a good teacher.” Her hand throbbed, but all she could feel were his warm fingers on her wrist, his thumb gently stroking the veins on the inside. They stood there for several minutes, not talking, just looking at the ice cubes floating around her hand and listening to each other breathe. Finally she looked up and caught John’s eyes on her. “How’s your nose?”
He pulled the bloody plugs from his nostrils and tossed them in the waste basket. The bleeding had subsided. “I won’t be ready for my close-up for about a week, but I think I’m going to make it.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you,” she said.
“No, but you wanted to.”
Face burning, she pulled her hand out of the sink. He took her gently by the elbow and looked at the hand. “Evangeline, it’ll be stiff because it’s cold, but I’m going to try to uncurl your fingers to see if it’s broken.”
He took her hand and held it against his side, between his ribs and his arm. “I’m just warming it, first,” he said looking into her suddenly sad dark eyes. He wasn’t sure what caused that look, but it made him feel sick. Feeling how warm and solid he was flooded her with a painful mix of memories and thoughts of what might have been. She stared at the vivid blues and greens and reds of his tattoos, the ribbing on his tank top and the faint sprouting of fine brown hair on his chest. She knew how it easy it would be to cross back into the old patterns, the old rhythms, but she was determined not to turn back.
“John,” she said trying to get it out before her voice broke. “I can’t see you anymore. This time, it’s over.”
He knew those words were coming, but it still unnerved him to hear them. He wasn’t sure which tack to take. “Evangeline, I’m sorry for what you saw in my office. Please let me explain.”
She felt herself getting angry and pulled her hand away from his side. “What’s to explain? Natalie threw herself at you? John, it wouldn’t happen if you didn’t let it.”
“You’re right. And I think now I can make her understand that I’m serious about us being nothing more than friends.”
“You’re joking right? There’s no being friends with that woman. Why would you even want to be friends with someone who treats me like dirt? I’ve tried to understand. I’ve tried to be gracious, but I’ve been a fool. I can’t do that anymore.”
“Are you saying you won’t be with me because Natalie and I are friends?”
“John, the question shouldn’t even come up. If you two were real friends – as opposed to – I don’t know what I’d call it – she’s obsessed with getting you into bed and you seem to be addicted to her drama. But if you were real friends, she would respect our relationship – whatever it is.”
His eyes grew hot and he leaned over her, crowding her against the sink. “What do you mean, ‘whatever it is’?”
She pushed against him with her good hand and walked into the living room. Outside she could hear the trash truck behind her building; it must be after seven. She needed to get John out of there so she could get ready for her appointment with Antonio. He followed her to where she was standing near the front door.
Evangeline spoke slowly, all of the music drained out of her voice. “That’s the bigger problem. What are we to each other? What are we doing here? I’ve put myself out there and you’ve left me hanging. You know I’ve fallen in love with you and you’ve made me wait. And I have waited for you to figure out whether you could love me back. I’ve tried to understand what you went through with Caitlin. I’ve tried to walk in the faith that one day you would realize you love me, too. But John, you can’t talk yourself into loving someone. You either do or you don’t.”
She started to cry. “I think you know how you feel, but you just won’t say. And I’m thinking you don’t love me, but you don’t want to be the one to end things. And little by little, we’re getting torn apart. And I hate who I’m becoming behind this – crazy and jealous and violent. Look what I did.” She pointed towards his face.
John stepped towards her. “Baby, it’s okay. I deserved it.”
“It’s not okay. I don’t want to be the kind of woman who causes scenes or hits people – even if they deserve it. And look at how you’re behaving – having me arrested, stalking me.”
“Wait – I never meant to have you dragged in in handcuffs. I was out of my mind – you’d vanished from the face of the earth. I didn’t know where you’d gone – I still don’t know. And as for stalking you, if you’re not going to return my calls or let me in, what do you think I’m going to do? I had to see you. We have to work through this.”
She loosed a ragged sigh and said, “John, what more work do you expect me to do? You keep asking me if you’re enough for me.” She raised her mourning eyes to his. “Man, hear me: you have been the dream I never knew I’d dream. My world is twice as big because of knowing you. And I’m grateful for that.”
Tears filled his eyes. “And I feel the same way about you, Evangeline.”
“But let me finish -- I think the real question is maybe I’m not enough for you? Maybe this” – she held her hands out and looked around – “maybe all this, maybe all of me, is not enough for you. Or maybe, maybe …I’m too much? I don’t know.”
Her words floored him. How could he have made her think she wasn’t enough for him? When he met Evangeline, he had forgotten how to pray. Now, nearly a year after knowing her, he began every day with a silent prayer of thanks that God had let such an amazingly beautiful and loving and strong woman into his life. He had never known anyone like her. But the realization of the blessing made him that much more afraid that loving her might mean losing her. And it tore him up to hear that loving him was making her hate herself.
“What do you mean: maybe you’re too much for me?”
She swallowed hard and seemed to be choosing her words carefully. “I don’t know how to say this without seeming …arrogant. I work really hard, you know, and I try to be good and I try to do the right thing. I don’t always get it right, but I try. And I’m proud that I can take care of myself. And I know sometimes men can find that off-putting. And I see how you are with Natalie. Natalie is nothing like me – she’s always in trouble and you find her irresistible. And I have to think that maybe it’s because you like all the opportunities she gives you to save the day. But just because I’m not being accused of murder or my life isn’t in danger, doesn’t mean I don’t need you. John, you shouldn’t have to save me to be my hero.”
Evangeline bowed her head and cradled her swollen hand in her good one. Before she could protest, John put his arms around her. “I’m sorry I’ve made you feel this way. You are the woman I want to be with. Don’t you know you’re the only woman I find irresistible?” he said, diving in for a kiss. He could feel his lip splitting again, but he ignored the pain. All that mattered was this moment. He had to show her how he felt. He held her so tightly that she was nearly breathless and rained questing kisses upon her until she started to kiss him back.
She could taste the iron and salt of his blood in her mouth and she knew it must be hurting him, but neither of them could stop. Then her warm right hand was on his throat and he was pulling her hair loose from the ponytail. They were back in that place that had its own language and gravity and time. Her hand moved over his chest and he pressed himself between her legs. His hand cradled the back of her head and he pushed her up against the wall next to the front door. “John,” she murmured moving in for another deep kiss.
He raised his head and took her face in his hand. He could see a smear of his red blood, like a wax seal, on her bottom lip. Looking into her glowing eyes, he felt a flicker of triumph. “We’re not over. You can’t say you don’t love me,” he said.
Almost as soon as his words hit the air, he knew he had lost her. He could feel her body going cold and rigid as if his words were turning her into stone. Her eyes looked like black glass. She pushed him towards the front door and opened it. “No, John, I can’t say that I don’t love you,” she said with a bitter laugh as she pushed him out and moved to shut the door in his face. “And you can’t say that you do love me. We’re done.”