14 - Comfort and Stability vs. Passion and Freedom.

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Then.

I don't think I made it back to sleep after all that night and I was exhausted from my many hours of debating back and forth with my own mind, which I'm convinced could win awards for both stubbornness and indecision.

I didn't speak to Camden after his text, and had no immediate plans to either. I would be seeing Ruben later today after work and shopping, as I promised him I would. But where yesterday I thought I needed to talk to him about ending our relationship, now I had resolved that I would just be explaining to him that since Bree left I had been struggling a lot — which wasn't technically untrue — and hoped he would understand and forgive me for my recent weirdness and borderline-insanity.

I somehow managed to get through the day, but not without a few concerned looks from Hunter, who was back at work following his wife's birthday. I was grateful for not having to take charge of the shop for the day with everything that was running through my mind. I imagine I would have set something on fire or flooded the sink or something with how distracted I was.

Ruben was sitting on the bench outside when I finished my shift. He looked absolutely sweltering in the summer heat, flushed pink through his already naturally dark tan. I wondered how long he'd been there waiting for me, because I didn't remember telling him what time I was supposed to finish, and by the shade of pink on his nose and the beads of sweat just below his hairline, it was likely quite a while.

"Sorry . . . I know that I was supposed to meet you at home later, but I didn't want to wait. I just wanted to see you," he said apprehensively, as if he was the one who had done something wrong and needed to beg for forgiveness, not me.

I went straight for him, burrowing myself into his chest without hesitation, not at all repelled by the layer of sweat soaking into the cotton fibres of his shirt under the hot sun. The longer I stayed there, the more I felt him relax, as if he was being released from the prison of tension and anxiety which I had confined him to the last few days. He kissed me on the forehead as we stood out there in the bright sunlight hugging, and I was reminded of all the reasons I was attracted to him in the first place.

He was my peace and my courage and the minimal resilience I claimed to possess.

"Your hair always smells of coffee right after work," he said from somewhere above my head.

"You constantly smell of sawdust and salt water, even when you haven't been at work or surfing," I laughed. He should patent and sell his smell. Surfing Tradie, or something like that. I would buy it by the truckload. Maybe even invest in shares. "Come inside for a bit. You feel like a million degrees."

"Well, I've been waiting outside for two hours, so I could very well be a million degrees by now," he laughed.

"Why didn't you come inside, Ruby? You know it's air conditioned."

"I didn't know whether you'd be upset to see me earlier than you said. And I just didn't want to interrupt you. I like watching you work. You're usually more relaxed somehow."

I hugged him again before taking his hand and dragging him inside, asking Hunter to make us a couple iced coffees. Hunter appeared more at ease with me walking back inside with Ruben two minutes later than he had been all shift. He didn't even make any smartass comments about me being back at work when I wasn't working.

"You seem yourself again, Sade," Ruben said cautiously as we waited for our drinks.

I took a deep breath before trying to explain to him what had been going on in my head the past few days, strategically leaving out all elements involving Camden. He seemed to understand everything I said, even the part about my being scared about our relationship seeming unnaturally stable and normal, with reference to our not-yet-but-practically married, almost adoptive lifestyle with Madden. He agreed and said he sometimes felt that way, too, but that it was stranger for him how not weird it was. He only wanted it to be like that if it was what I wanted as well. He also said that if it made me uncomfortable he would take a step back and pretend to not be as relaxed with Madden as he naturally felt, and that we could try to do more things together just the two of us; to still experience the fun and excitement of just being teenagers for a little longer, while we still had the freedom to do so.

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