“They’re a little holey now.”
I snort. It’s a good thing my mom isn’t here, she’d be mortified. “Yeah, I bet.”
“I’ve never stopped loving you, Sparrow Fisher.”
I focus on breathing and not losing my coffee and muffin all over him. That would serve him right.
“I’ve never loved anyone but you.” He goes on, seemingly unfazed by my silence.
I turn my head and the look on my face seems to scare him. His eyes widen.
“It doesn’t matter, Ian. Love … it means nothing, at this point. And I’m the only one in this non-relationship who can truly say that I’ve never loved anyone but YOU. So don’t even give me that nonsense about only loving me. That’s a load of crack.” I huff and look out the tiny window, trying to forget he’s there.
He chuckles and I whip my face around to see what could possibly make him laugh.
“You still love me,” Ian whispers, stroking my cheek. “And you said, crack.” He smiles sadly at me; his eyes searching mine, pulling me in … deep.
“We don’t say Crap; we say Crack.” I recite.
“We don’t say Shi—” I clamp his mouth shut before he can say the rest. “We say Shoot,” he finishes, muffled. He kisses my hand and I am sinking, sinking fast. My stomach is back on the ground, and my heart is in my throat. I’m not sure how long his mouth mesmerizes me. His tongue flicks around my middle finger, and I’m jarred awake. I rip my hand away.
“Oh, Spar…” he begins.
“You know what? We’re stuck on this flight together. I don’t want to talk this way anymore. We can talk about other things. Like—what’s new with you? Or, what’s happening with your career? How is your mom? Things like that … the rest, I just do not even want to hear come out of your mouth. Got it? And if you can’t keep your end of the bargain, I can ignore you the rest of the flight. Deal?”
His eyes are dancing, and I want to smother him with the airsickness bag. Yeah, I can’t say barf bag either, okay? I have this thing about words. Sometimes it feels like a disease; other times, it feels close to a gift when I’m writing and come up with meaningful words instead of slang drivel. Disease or not, my editor appreciates it.
“Deal,” he says and he reaches out to shake on it. His rough hands feel like home, laying claim on me all over again.
I gradually thaw just enough to carry on a conversation. I figure for all the times I’ve wanted to know where he was, what he was doing … this is my chance. I can pick up the hurt again later. The rest of the flight breezes by in fast-forward. We talk about the details of his career, although I’d kept track of a lot of it online. Ian’s a professional musician and has spent time in both L.A. and New York playing on any and everyone’s projects. He’s considered the best guitar player out there; guitar companies vie for him because Ian Sterling playing their guitar one time will increase their sales by insane percentages. But even more than that, his songs … he can write a song like no other. And then there’s his voice; it’s raspy and intimate, unique. He tells me about his new friendship with J. Elliot, his lifelong idol.
“Working with Elliot has been a dream. He’s really pushed me to do a solo project with the songs I’ve written over the last few years.” He does his anxious hair tug thing and looks at me, watching for a reaction.
I know what this means, but don’t acknowledge it. I’ve known it would come to this. The songs he wrote for me a couple years ago will be playing every time I go to the mall, every time I turn on the car radio and probably in a cute romantic comedy that I need to avoid. Ian Sterling has been successful for years, but with Elliot behind this project, he will explode. And I’ll be the roped up ball of sadness. That’s what my future holds right there. Little prickly threads of devastation hanging out of my gnarly, ransacked heart.
“You deserve all the royalties. Every single song is about you.” He leans over and rests his forehead on mine. “God, I want to kiss you.”
My eyes close and for a moment, I just inhale him. How many times have I dreamed of being this close to him? I feel the pull he’s always had on me and am tempted to give in one more time. Sanity fortunately returns. I shove him off, and he holds up his hands as I stare him down. “Fine, fine! I’ll behave!”
Relentless. I’m torn between throwing up and making out with him in this tiny airplane.
“What are you doing in New Orleans? Besides being by my side day and night?” He smiles as my eyes narrow. “What?” he asks with a shrug. “It’s a reasonable question.”
“Tessa’s getting married on Saturday. I’m the maid of honor. There’s a lot to do in the next five days.”
“Ah, Tess. I’ve missed her.”
I lean my head back on the seat again. Ian is staring me down and I’m exhausted.
“Sparrow, we don’t have much time left on this flight.” He presses his eyes with his fingers and takes a deep breath. “Give me your number. Please. I promise I won’t … well, I can’t really promise that. Just say you’ll see me again while you’re here.”
“It’s not a good idea.” I shake my head, as much to myself as to him.
“Well, my number is the same. I will never change it. You know, hoping one day you’ll call and say you’re taking me back,” he says earnestly.
I sigh, frustrated and turned on.
“You know it’s true.” He inches closer.
“No, I can’t really say that I do.”
“Well, I can.”
His eyes are distraught when he looks at me.
“Sparrow, I know you’ve already heard me say I’m sorry, about a thousand times … but if you can’t hear anything else, hear this … you changed me. Please let me…”
I hold my hand up and look straight ahead. It helps to not see his face. “Don’t. Just … don’t.”
His face crumbles and I think I see his hand tremble as he runs his fingers through his hair. His eyes fill and for a moment, he doesn’t look nineteen. He doesn’t look thirty. I see what he will look like at sixty and it torments me.