~ Gut Instinct ~
Dawn's melancholy state worried Nikolas. He missed the vivacious doctor who flirted with him and teased him. He missed the way her chocolate brown eyes would fill with mischief and joy. Quite simply, he missed her.
"Dawn," he said, taking her hand and leading her to an empty bench in the park, "what can I do to help?"
"To help with what?" she asked with a frown.
"To help you." He looked down at their joined hands. "We've spent almost every day together this week, and each day, I feel you drift farther and farther away from me. I know we've only been seeing each other for a short while, but this doesn't feel right. Have I done something?"
"No, you haven't," she said quietly. "It's not you. You've been a great friend to me-"
"But I want to be more than just a good friend to you," he interjected. "Why won't you let me? Just a week ago, we were so much closer and then suddenly, we're not. Tell me what's changed."
Tears filled her eyes. Looking at the ground, she whispered, "I don't know. I'm not sure what's happened. I enjoyed being with you. The dinner in the conference room was the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me."
"But?" he prompted. His stomach turned when she pulled away from him and folded her arms across her chest. He wanted to reach out and bring her back to him, but he didn't. Making a move like that would have been wrong. She wouldn't have responded to him well if he had done that and he wouldn't have liked himself for doing it. "We can't make this right if you don't tell me what to do."
She shook his head. "There's nothing you can do. There's nothing I want you to do."
"Is there someone else?" Her gaze cut to his and he read the truth in her eyes. The answer was plain to see. "Is it someone I know? Is it Tommy?"
"There's no one else, Nikolas," she stated quietly. "Not really."
He found her words hard to believe when her eyes told him differently. "Not really?" he repeated. "Either there is or there isn't. If you can't be honest with me, you should at least be honest with yourself." He stood and extended his hand to her. "I should take you home."
"I'm sorry. My world feels so crazy now." She gently pressed her hand against his cheek. "Your friendship means a lot to me. I hope this doesn't mean we can't be friends."
"I wanted to be more than just your friend," he answered honestly, "but if that's not the way you feel... I care about you, and I'd like to remain in your life. If that means I must accept only your friendship, then that's what I will take."
Tears slipped down her cheeks then. She pulled him to her for a brief hug and whispered against his ear, "Thank you."
Nikolas hugged her to him for as long as he dared. Then, he released her and they left.
Surviving an entire week without Keesha in his life proved to be difficult for Jason. Everything reminded him of her and the years they had been together. He missed sharing the little things. He missed holding her in his arms at night. He missed loving her. Everyday, he woke up determined to call her and try to work things out. And by the end of everyday, his pride overcame his determination and he made no move to contact her.
Until he saw a glimpse of her at the hospital.
She stood outside Dr. Jones' office. At first, Jason was too mesmerized by her to notice if she was alone or not. Faded jeans clung to shapely hips. A loose white denim shirt did little to hide the soft, generous curves that he knew so well. Her lips parted into a smile and even from the distance that separated them, his heart melted. The pain of the abrupt end of their relationship quieted to a dull roar inside his chest. He longed to walk down the hallway and join her. Talk to her. Be with her. Dammit, be free to love her again.
He took a step towards her and just in that split second, he saw who accompanied her. He stepped back and went around the corner. He didn't want to believe it, but now, he thought he knew the truth. She left him for someone else.
Heels clacked down the hallway towards him. Too stunned to move, Jason stood there and waited for whomever it was to pass. As the person came closer, the smell of jasmine drifted in the air and he knew it was Keesha. Suddenly the pain erupted into anger and he leapt from his hiding place to confront her as she rounded the corner.
"Jason!" she gasped in surprise. "You scared me," she adding after taking a deep breath.
"Why didn't you tell me the truth?" he demanded.
She frowned and stepped back. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't lie to me, Keesha," he growled in low voice. "I saw you with him. How long has it been going on?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Y-You saw me with Stone?"
"How long?" he repeated, taking a step towards her.
This time, she didn't back away from him. Her chin jutted forward and she stared back at him. "I didn't cheat on you, Jason. I would never have done that."
His throat constricted and his chest hurt. He tried to ignore the affect of being near her again and focus on the matter at hand. "There was a time when I would have believed you-"
"You still can," she interrupted quietly but firmly. "I loved you very much, Jason. When Granny Mae died, you were my rock and I will never forget how strong you were for me. A part of me will never stop loving you."
Tears stung the back of his eyes. His hand balled into a fist at his side. "Don't, Keesha. Just answer my question. Don't say you love me when we both know it's not true. I saw you with Stone. You're in love with him."
She didn't deny it. "But that doesn't mean I don't care about you. I want you to be happy, Jason, and you wouldn't have been with me."
He shook his head as a single tear slipped down his cheek. "I was happy with you. I would have been happy to spend the rest of my life with you."
"I don't think so, and now..." She reached out to touch him but seemed to think better of it and lowered her arms. "Tell me what I can do to make this easier for you."
"What does Stone have that I don't?" he asked in a hoarse voice.
Keesha's eyes glistened with sudden tears and this time, she took his hand. "It's not about you versus Stone. Things were changing for me long before he and I... You're a wonderful man, Jason, but we weren't meant to be. I wanted to continue to be friends, but I'm not sure..."
He shook his head and pulled his hand free. "I can't. Not after loving you. I can't settle for just your friendship." He swallowed back a sob and added, "Be happy, Keesha. Goodbye."