Collide (Chapter 11: Sea of Uncertainty)

The next morning Gavin brewed a pot of coffee, hoping the caffeine buzz would jolt his thoughts away from Emily. Walking over to a window in his penthouse, he found the sky besieged by threatening gray clouds hovering over the city. It fit his mood perfectly. Agitation with his lack of self-control crawled through his system as stealthy recollections of Emily's sweet lips weaved through his mind. The smell of her perfume clinging to his skin permeated his pores…and by God, it was intoxicating him by the minute. Though his body still hummed with pleasure from their encounter, his mind was caught in a tangled web of emotions.

A knock at the door broke through the heated events rolling around in his head. Opening it, he found Trevor wearing a wide smile, denoting he was in a far better frame of mind than Gavin.

"Damn, dude, you look like shit," Trevor said, settling on the couch with his long legs sprawled out in front of him.

Gavin poured a cup of coffee and perched himself on a barstool in the kitchen. "I couldn't sleep."

"Sorry about that, bro. I, however, slept like a baby wrapped in Fallon's arms."

A weak smile tipped Gavin's mouth. "Sounds like it went well."

"Beyond well," he replied with a smile. "I actually dig her. She has this funky, cool personality, and to top it all off, she's a little freak. I mean, she goes both ways."

With the cock of his brow, Gavin smirked. "Your sister goes both ways, too."

Trevor cringed. "Did you really have to kill my buzz, bringing that up?"

Gavin shrugged casually.

Trevor stared at him for several seconds, seeming to read something in his eyes. "So are you going to tell me what's going on with you and Emily?"

"Nothing's going on with me and Emily," he clipped, his tone harsh.

"Dude, we've known each other for fourteen years. I had a feeling something was up with you two, and last night only confirmed it."

Gavin got up and sauntered over to the window as he contemplated what to say. His answer was slow and apprehensive. "I'm in deep."

"Bro, please don't tell me you fucked her."

He turned and pinned him with a hard glare. "No, I didn't fuck her, Trevor."

"Well, what the hell's going on?"

Nibbling at his lip, Gavin paced the room like a caged animal. He didn't know how to explain what he felt for Emily. He didn't know how Trevor would perceive him after confessing to everything either. The only thing he knew was that he couldn't make sense of his emotions, and in that moment, he didn't care if he should.

He felt what he felt.

End. Of. Story.

"Dude, just come out and say it."

Gavin plowed his hands through his hair and regarded him from across the room. "I think I'm falling for her."

With disapproving eyes, Trevor's mouth hung slightly agape. He stood up and walked over to him. "You do know Dillon's our friend, right?"

A frown marred Gavin's features. "What kind of question is that?" he asked as if the answer should be obvious.

"Come on, Gavin. How did you fall for our friend's girl?"

"I met her before I knew she was with Dillon," he replied, the words stated through gritted teeth. He padded back over to the counter and downed the rest of his coffee.

"Wait, I thought the first time you met her was that night at the club."

Gavin sighed deeply, placing his hands on the back of his neck. "No, it's complicated. She delivered food to my office. I tried to get her number…" He paused, his stomach twisting as he remembered the first time he saw Emily. Even now, the thought of her nearly evaporated the oxygen from his lungs. "Or maybe I tried giving her my number. I can't fucking remember; it was back in June. I went to her job the next day to see her, and then we were introduced a few days later."

Trevor walked back over to the couch, sinking into it. "Look, dude, I'm going to be brutally honest here." Gavin eyed him from across the room. "He's planning on marrying her – soon."

Again, oxygen nearly depleted, Gavin swallowed hard and leaned against the counter. "He told you that?"

"Surely, he's mentioned it to you?"

"Yeah, but I didn't think he was serious." A gut-wrenching ache ran through his stomach as his chest constricted at the thought. "Besides, he doesn't love her. Do you honestly believe he stopped fucking around with Monica? I sure as shit don't."

"Knowing him, you're probably right. But, to tell you the truth, bro, I don't think about it. What he does is his business. Emily's with him for her own reasons, and as far as I'm concerned, she chooses to see what she wants. It's as simple as that."

"Well, it's not that simple for me," he replied, his tone rising.

"It has to be. You need to kill whatever the fuck is going on between you two."

"I don't think I can." Hesitating, he drew in a lungful of air, his voice dropping a notch. "She's supposed to be with me."

"Dude, this can only end in disaster. Gavin – seriously – you need to really think about what you're doing. Just think about it. She loves him, too."

"She doesn't love him," he scoffed. "She's just confused or something. He may be my friend, but just like all the rest, he fucks with her head and drags her into his morphed sense of need for him."

"No. You're fucking with your own head by thinking she doesn't love him. Listen to yourself, bro. Take a step back and honestly listen to what you're saying here."

Although he didn't speak, Gavin's eyes hardened like shards of glass splintering away from a broken mirror.

"Look, man, I'm just being honest. It's a bad situation. You know it, and I know it."

"I'm not denying that it's a bad situation!" he tossed his hands up, the words cracking like thunder. "Do I look like some kind of asshole? A snake is a snake, no matter how many times it sheds its skin! He's no fucking good for her!"

Blowing out a breath, Trevor walked over to the door. He turned around and looked back to Gavin. "You're like a brother to me, dude, but I think you're trying to vilify Dillon for your own personal needs right now. And, to tell you the truth, you're putting me in a bad spot. I can already see this shit's gonna get crazy, and I don't want any part of it."

Sitting back down, Gavin looked at him from across the room, defeat playing in his eyes. "What the fuck am I supposed to do?"

"You need to forget about her. The whole fucking thing's a mistake. And, more importantly, you have to remember that Dillon's your friend." Trevor exhaled heavily and shook his head before walking out the door. "I'll call you later, bro."

The advice was so simple. Just forget her. The words couldn't be closer to the truth. This might have been a huge mistake, but the man at the receiving end couldn't see that. He outright refused to. Emily would never be a mistake to him, no matter how many people he hurt in the process – including himself. Everything he and Emily could be was real for Gavin. When he said that he felt she was supposed to be with him, it wasn't just a heated statement. It wasn't just an inclination. From the first time their eyes met, he felt it down to the lowest depths of his soul, right down to the bottom of his core. She had been made for him in every possible way. Even though she was the very definition of off-limits, his mind and heart screamed to throw it all to the wind and let the whole fucking thing burn to the ground. Therefore, into the sea of uncertainty, he would plunge – trying to make her his – and he feared neither friend nor foe could stop him. He just prayed the woman that saturated his thoughts felt the same.

Emily awoke feeling as if she had swallowed a handful of nails. Her throat was burning raw as reckless images of the night before played throughout her mind. The thoughts, scattering around like marbles, only made her temples blossom into a full-blown headache. Guilt for what she had done to Dillon and their relationship burned almost as hot as her insatiable arousal for Gavin.

With thin and shaky breathing, she lifted her head and peered around the room. Dillon wasn't in the bed. She let out a sigh of relief when her eyes glanced over to the nightstand. Along with a note explaining that he would be back soon, he also left two aspirin and a glass of water that she couldn't consume quickly enough. The cool liquid and the magic little pills slid down into her stomach, eventually offering up some relief, but not nearly as much as she needed.

Groaning, she stared miserably at the drab light filtering in through the window shades. She whipped the blankets back over her head. She wanted the image of Gavin on top of her, kissing, touching, and tasting her to blur, melt, and recede away banished to a place she could never find again.

Nice try…

However, the more she rehashed the undeniable pleasure he produced in their all-too-short exchange, the more she craved him. His dominate yet soft kiss, his hard but gentle caresses, the way his fingers – oh God, the way his fingers tunneled deep inside her – had merely teased her senses with the sweet taste of what he was truly capable of. Not even the worst of hangovers could keep her body from yearning for more. The smell of his cologne still tangled in her hair did nothing to help ebb any of the thoughts that had her loins nearly teetering on the edge of orgasm right there alone in the bed.

Despite all of this, her head was under attack, barraged with her mother's voice.

"Dillon's a good man, Emily. Make sure you hold onto him and never let go."

Clear visualizations played out of all the times Dillon had helped while her mother was ill. Emily had all but fallen to her knees before she died. Frozen with fear and unable to aid in her last few days, it wasn't her that kept watch over her mother – it wasn't even her sister, Lisa, because she had been in a near fatal accident a few days before – it was Dillon. There was no limit to the amount of times he helped her mother. He held her hair for her as she retched in a bedpan while Emily sat sedated in a chair across the room in utter shock at what was unfolding around her. Forget about him paying for hospital bills and taking care of the funeral expenses on his own, he even went so far as allowing Emily and Lisa to keep what little the life insurance policy provided.

And this is how I repay him?

The thoughts forced out hot, helpless tears as she slid from her bed and grudgingly padded into the bathroom. Lingering liquor sloshed around in her empty belly with every step. It was then that she realized she was still draped in last night's clothing. She cringed as she tore them from her body, wanting to burn them in a blazing fire, along with the memory of what'd happened.

Ridding her flesh of caked-on makeup and the scent of Gavin from her lips, she splashed warm, soapy water onto her face, once again finding her stomach wretched with guilt. She looked at herself in the mirror with disgust, anger, and hate – but, in that moment, she decided she wouldn't wallow under her own scrutiny of what she did. She was drunk; that was her story, and she was sticking to it. If sober, surely, none of it would have ever happened. Her body might want Gavin, but in no way, shape, or form did her mind. In all his pleasure, he was simply a serpent companion to the sexual demon hidden beneath the surface of her skin.

At least that's what she tried to convince her short-circuited brain of on this particular Sunday morning.

Hovering over the sink to allow more water to flow into her cupped hands, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a soft touch against her shoulder.

"Jesus, Dillon, you scared me," she said, her voice timid and riddled with an acute underlying panic she was trying desperately to suppress.

Can he tell? Do I look different? Oh God, do I still smell like him?

He gave a soft smile, his tone low, calming even. "You're shaking, babe," he said, brushing the matted hair away from her face. "Let's get in the shower, okay?"

Swallowing back the acid steadily building in her throat, she nodded as he slid her panties down to the ground, her body quivering in the process. She stepped out from them and unhooked her bra, her eyes never leaving his gaze. Grabbing her by the hand, he led her to the shower and turned it on. He gestured for her to get in. With unsteady breathing from mounting nerves, she watched as he undressed. Grabbing for the soap, she hastily ran it across her body in an attempt to get rid of Gavin's lingering saliva from her pores. Stepping into the shower, Dillon pressed her back against his chest as he began to massage her shoulders. Drawing in the deepest of breaths, she let her head fall back, trying to savor the heat from the water.

"Is Olivia awake yet?" she asked, attempting to stir up any conversation.

"I don't think so. Her bedroom door's still closed." He continued to massage her shoulders. "She must've gotten up from the couch because that's where she was passed out when I came in last night."

"What time are we meeting your parents?" she reluctantly asked.

"We need to start getting ready as soon as we're done in here."

Emily nodded.

"So you were pretty hammered last night."

She reached down for the shampoo and bit her lip. "Yeah, I was."

"What did you do last night, Emily?" His voice hardened just enough to send a shiver up her spine.

Attempting to catch her breath, she turned to face him. "Wha…what do you mean?"

With his eyes intent on hers, he slowly lifted a hand and brushed his thumb across her chin. "You lied to me," he finally stated softly.

Heart ricocheting in her chest, Emily shook her head, appearing to struggle against her tears. "I…I didn't lie to you about anything."

He took the shampoo from her, poured some into his hands, and lathered it up. Eyes still locked on hers, he gathered her hair and started washing it. "I ran into Gavin last night when I walked in."

Trying to hide the panic she knew crossed her features and wanting to drown, choke, gasp, or maybe even die right there in that shower, Emily stared back at him, unable to form a sentence. A knot formed in her throat, threatening to cut off all oxygen.

"He told me you girls didn't go to Pink."

Swallowing down said knot, oxygen silently whooshed back into her lungs. "Oh," she said breathlessly. "Umm, yeah, we decided to go to a party at someone's house that Fallon knows."

"Right, you lied."

"I didn't lie, Dillon," she whispered, rinsing the shampoo from her hair, knowing she was harboring a far greater lie. "It was a last minute change in plans. That's all."

Pulling her body against his, he ghosted his mouth down the curve of her jaw. "Okay, last minute change of plans that I wasn't made aware of." He circled his arms around her waist. "What if I'd gone to Pink, Emily? I would've been left thinking something happened to you."

"You're right," she conceded. It was the least she could do, considering…well, considering everything. She knew he could've easily made a quick phone call to check on her, but she wasn't about to push her luck. "I should've called you. I had too much to drink, and honestly, I didn't think about it. I'm sorry; next time I'll call."

Appearing satisfied with her answer, he handed her the soap and turned around, placing his hands on the tile. "Can you wash my back?" Lathering up the soap, she did as he asked. "I'm not sure there will be a next time – you hanging out with that freak again."

"But, Dillon, she…"

"Look, I'm not in the mood to argue with you, Emily. I've never seen you so out of it before. I tried to wake you up, but you wouldn't budge." He tilted his neck from side to side and rolled his shoulders. "There was a point I honestly thought you had alcohol poisoning until you finally mumbled something. It leads me to believe that she's obviously not a good influence on you. End of story. You're not hanging out with her again."

At a loss for words, she stilled her hands from washing him.

Turning around, Dillon gently pulled her head back by her hair and branded his lips against hers. He couldn't see them, but silent tears trickled down her cheeks amid the water that flowed over her face. Today – in these moments and seconds – she wouldn't protest his ridiculous words. She couldn't. It wasn't in her. She barely had any fight left – not after the self-destructive stunt she pulled less than twelve hours ago with his friend. When Dillon began to make love to her, it wasn't just his hands that were present on her flesh. The guilt slid over her skin, manifesting itself inside her like a disease. Now she would use the last remaining fight she had left to avoid the overwhelming sense of shame threatening to swallow her whole.

Sitting in an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, Emily picked up her silverware and regarded Joan Parker, Dillon's mother, from across the table. "Yes, I actually start next week."

"That's fantastic," Joan went on, lacing her fingers together. "I'm just happy that my Dillon got you the job in Greenwich Village. The schools there are wonderful." Suddenly, Joan's face morphed with displeasure. "But, I have to say, it horrifies me to think that you were actually considering a job in Bushwick of all places. It's filth, just absolute filth."

Although it didn't shock her, Emily inwardly cringed at her statement, biting back a crude reply. Joan had been known to strictly surround herself with people that sported cars that cost a small fortune. With her overly priced dyed blonde hair, her monthly Botox injections, and her fake acrylic nails, Emily wasn't sure if there was one original body part on the woman – even her breasts were questionable. The only thing about the "mannequin" that Emily knew to be real was that she was a certified uppity, gold-digging snob.

"Now, Joan, I'm sure Emily had no knowledge of the city's demographics when she submitted her resume," Dillon's father, Henry, replied. Slicking a hand through his brown hair, he leaned back in his seat and gave her a warm smile. "Am I correct or what?"

Emily nodded. "You're correct, Mr. Parker. I just visited New York State's Department of Education website and applied to anything that was available."

Grabbing for Emily's hand, Dillon shot his mother a searing look. "I take full responsibility for not warning her about certain areas. She had no idea where to look."

Emily smiled in his direction, squeezing his hand a little tighter.

"Oh, Dillon, honey, it's just like you to defend her obvious lack of doing the proper research before moving to a new state." She sweetly patted her son's back right about the same time Emily's smile fell. "That's all it would've taken, just a little bit of research on her part to avoid – "

Cutting in, Emily schooled her voice carefully, trying to keep the edge of hostility to a minimum. "In case you've forgotten, I had a lot going on. It must've slipped my mind in the middle of – I don't know – the death of my mother." Emily topped the reply off with a cute, little kink of her neck.

"Well, of course, I didn't forget that," she quickly twittered, flipping her hair behind her shoulder. "I was just simply saying – "

"Mother," Dillon said with heavy emphasis. "Drop it." He put his silverware down and rested his elbows on the table, the look in his eyes firmly stating for her to zip-a-lip.

With a gasp, Joan shifted in her seat and adjusted the collar of her tweed Chanel suit, which Emily guessed probably cost two months of her and Olivia's rent.

Sliding his arm around the back of her chair, Henry looked over to his wife. "Yes, let's drop it for now, shall we?"

Joan gave a curt nod and reached for her glass of red wine. "Fine."

Over the next half hour, Emily sat mute, trying to stir up some plan to get out of there. Sudden blindness, acute respiratory distress, hell, even cardiac arrest topped her mental list of ailments to claim as an excuse to leave. The tension in the air was as thick as hot maple syrup. The actual mind-numbing, hangover-induced migraine forging its way through her skull only intensified her need to leave. She was grateful when Dillon's father broke the silence, buffering out one of his infamous jokes involving a hooker and a chicken.

Dillon looked at Emily after the waiter cleared their plates. "Babe, you're having dessert, right?"

She shook her head to decline.

On second thought, stuffing another piece of food into her mouth had her seriously thinking she might get out of this nightmare by upheaving all over the table. The idea held a certain amount of appeal to it.

"Actually, I will," Emily replied.

While waiting for her tiramisu, Emily glanced over to Dillon and noticed he was starting to sweat, nearly all color draining from his face. If she wasn't mistaken, he looked as bad as she felt.

And that was bad.

Placing her hand on his cheek, she asked, "Are you alright?"

He nodded his head, and with a shaky hand, he plucked a napkin off the table, wiping the perspiration from his brow. Emily handed him her water, and within a few gulps, he drained the entire glass. She looked over to his parents to gauge their reaction on his freakish demeanor and found both of them smiling like the Cheshire Cat in his direction.

Huh?

When her eyes traveled back to Dillon, he was rising from his seat, one hand gliding not so smoothly into the pocket of his pants. For the next few seconds, it was as if the sights and sounds played out in slow motion for Emily.

Her heart began to race like a frightened little mouse fleeing its predator.

Dillon pulled his chair away from the table.

Thump…

Dillon slowly got down on one knee.

Thump…thump…

Dillon produced a small black velvet box.

Thump….

Thump….

Flat line….

Beeeeeeeeeeep….

Somewhere in the midst of what Emily was witnessing, her now fogged brain registered the distant sound of other patrons letting out gleeful gasps as they watched what her boyfriend was about to do. A thick dryness – one that could easily mock the Sahara Desert – plagued her tongue. With blurred vision, she scanned the crowd – most of them holding wide smiles, some pointing in her direction, one man even yelling "Go for it, buddy," ending his hoot with a whistle through his fingers.

Staring down at him kneeling in front of her, interminable anxiety had Emily stuttering most of her words. "Dillon…wha…what are you doing?" she whispered.

Pulling in a hurried breath, he lifted Emily's hand to his mouth and planted a soft kiss on it, his voice quivering low. "I love you, Emily." He cracked open the box, highlighting a Princess-cut engagement ring well over a carat in size. His eyes twinkled with what appeared to be tears. "You make me whole in every way imaginable. Would you please do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Still trying to process his proposal in its entirety and desperately seeking a normal pace of breathing, Emily brought her hand to his face and cupped his cheek, her voice lower than a whisper. "Dillon, can we go talk in private, please?"

Almost immediately, the smile he was wearing fell from his face, but before he could answer, his mother spoke up.

Her face contorted as if she were offended. "Surely, you're going to say yes to my son?" she fretted.

Henry sent his wife a lethal silencing stare.

With no response, Emily bit her lip and looked down to her hands twisting in her lap.

Dillon slowly rose to his feet, offering his mother a scrutinizing glare. He reached down and gently grabbed for Emily's hand. "Umm…okay, babe," he said, his voice low and cracking slightly. "There's a banquet room we could go into."

Emily let out the air her lungs were holding hostage. She reached for Dillon's hand, and with her head downcast in embarrassment, she followed him to the back of the restaurant. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see onlookers straightening in their chairs and quietly resuming their meals. Low whispers descending throughout the restaurant rang loudly in her ears like a high-school marching band.

Dillon closed the door to the vacant room, his unspoken question hanging in the air. The dejected look in his eyes said everything as he crossed his arms and slowly sauntered over to a window.

Emily's voice was barely above a whisper, but it still carried across the room to where he stood, unmoving. "I just need some time, Dillon. That's all."

Without turning in her direction, he exhaled a weighty breath, his voice as low as hers. "I don't understand, Emily. We've talked about this quite a few times. I thought you loved me."

Emily let out a sob, despite all of her inner resolutions to keep it together. "God, Dillon, of course, I love you. I love you more than you could ever imagine," she cried, the words tasting foul in her mouth as haunting thoughts of last night soured her stomach. The last thing she needed was images of Gavin, but it was no use. He was there lingering in her thoughts. His smile…his eyes…his laugh…everything about him further added to her confusion. Her theory about her mind not wanting him was blown to shreds. Just like that, her heart sank a little more. "We don't even live together yet. I thought that would be our first step before marriage."

Dillon turned to face her. "I wanted you to move in with me when you came to New York, Emily. You're the one who didn't want to commit to that." As Emily tried to compose herself, he moved across the room and bridged their distance. With a trembling hand, he stroked her cheek. "I love you. This is our next step, baby. Please tell me if this has something to do with what your father did to your family. I would never do that to you, Emily. I swear to God I wouldn't."

Now Emily's vision tunneled back to a memory nearly twenty years old. As much as she denied having any recollection of the man…she did. One in particular: The morning he walked out of the house and her life for good. Flashes of her confused five-year-old face looking up to a tall figure – whom even at that young age, Emily knew she loved to pieces – cascaded her mind. Her tiny arms gripping his leg in an attempt to make him stay invaded her thoughts like an unwelcomed guest. Though she tried – and Lord knows she tried – she couldn't hold on tight enough. He was too strong for her little body to manage. She could still hear the torturous sound of her mother and sister's cries as he drunkenly cursed each of them with words her fragile ears shouldn't have heard.

Clinging to a teddy bear, Emily followed behind, crying out for him, as he stumbled to the front door. It was a sunny day – that's another thing she remembered. The sun shone upon him, silhouetting his body like the angel she believed him to be, as he walked away and got into his car. She recalled thinking he would come back. He wouldn't though. No matter how many times she sat with pretend tea out among her dolls, awaiting his arrival, he never showed up. That's all she did – waited for someone who would never return. Gone. Vanished like a ghost. The sickening memory brought a fresh set of tears to her already soaked eyes.

However, those disturbed memories had nothing to do with her reasoning for not wanting to rush into marriage. She was scared. Actually, terrified was more like it. She needed to live with Dillon first before making any decision. At least right now, that's the way she felt. Looking back, maybe she should have moved in with him from the beginning, but she couldn't change the past. Nevertheless, today it came knocking on her door in many wicked forms. Though she wouldn't allow her guilt for what she had engaged in last night to cloud her into accepting Dillon's proposal, surely, it had her questioning her moral judgment – drunk or not.

"It doesn't have anything to do with my father," she whispered, staring up into his brown eyes. "I just need a few days to think this through."

Pressing his lips into a hard line, Dillon nodded tightly. "Alright, I'll give you the time you need."

"Are you mad at me?" she asked, more tears spilling down her cheeks.

He shook his head and gently wiped the tears from her face. "I'm not mad at you, Emily. Shocked and confused, yes, but not mad."

Dillon pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head, her body shaking against his as she sobbed a little more. She didn't want to face his parents – particularly his mother – nor did she want to walk back through the restaurant. The embarrassment of it all was simply too overwhelming for her. Somehow feeling her anxiety, Dillon handed her a ticket for the valet and walked her to an exit on the side of the building.

Stepping out into a small alley, she reluctantly turned back to face him. Holding her gaze, Dillon hesitated a moment before heading back into the restaurant to retrieve her purse. His eyes held a sadness that Emily knew she had caused, and his once confident shoulders hung low. The man she had come to know as a self-assured soul lost something on this particular Sunday afternoon in late August. Her heart sank further than she could've ever imagined. The pain-stricken look in his eyes would forever be embedded in her memory. As he closed the door behind him, Emily's palms felt slick with sweat, her eyes rimmed pink from crying, and her body ached with a deep sadness of its own.

A few days…I just need a few days, and then I'll let him know…