The distant sound of running water made her smile.
It was oddly comforting to hear such an ordinary thing as the washing of dishes and to know that the person washing them truly enjoyed the simple domestic rite. And Sonny did enjoy it. He'd smiled contentedly as he pushed up his sleeves, took the dirty plates from her hands and immersed them in soapy water. Alexis once again tried to help, and once again Sonny laid claim to all clean up duty and shooed her from the kitchen the minute she reached for a dishtowel. But Alexis didn't leave, as Sonny thought she had. She lingered in the doorway instead, silent and unnoticed, and watched him. His whole body seemed at ease, his being light as he leisurely worked. His hands moved with graceful dexterity, in and out of the water as each glass and plate was soaped, rinsed, and finally wiped dry with a soft cotton cloth.
And it suddenly struck her how much care and focus Sonny gave to everything he did - washing her dishes, making her a waffle, building her a fire…or rubbing the vitamin oil into her skin. Watching him carefully wipe away the water from a glass, Alexis was flooded with the memory of waking up in the hospital to the feel of Sonny's fingers gently tending to her arm, his dark eyes intently studying movement of his own hands. Alexis had watched him then too, silently, transfixed, until he felt her eyes upon him and shifted his gaze up to her face. The warm smile he gave her, the dark beauty of those contemplative eyes locked with hers, and the soft touch of his hands on her skin carried her away on a new wave of feelings for him that defied logic. It frightened her, and she didn't trust it as real.
Alexis had thought the new feelings were nothing more than misplaced gratitude for being alive. Her mind and body were so compromised, and Sonny was so attentive and sweet. But the feelings weren't going away. They only strengthened, as her mind and body did the same. The more time she spent with Sonny, the more she wanted him near. The more he cared for her, the more she liked being cared for by him. The more he touched her and smiled at her, the more she wanted him to touch and smile. And the way he looked at her, as if he could see her soul, made her lose all sense of time and place. She was losing herself in those eyes more and more…and willingly. She was losing herself in everything about him.
But Alexis was too afraid to admit any of these things to herself when she was feeling them the strongest - when the intimacy between them was visceral, and a palpable presence. It took an ordinary moment in time for Alexis to finally trust it as real. There was no smiling, no touching, no soulful eyes melting into hers. He didn't even know she was there. It was a moment when Sonny, the man, was just being himself. And as Alexis clung to the doorway and gazed at the beautiful olive-skinned man with shiny black hair and rolled-up sleeves, happily washing and drying dishes, she knew there was no more denying it, or naming it something safer to feel.
She loved him. Alexis loved Sonny. And she didn't know what to do with that.
His voice startled her, and she jumped.
"How long have you been standing there spying on me?"
Sonny smiled at her with an amused expression, dishtowel in hand. Alexis bit her lip and grinned back through the embarrassed flush she felt growing in her cheeks. She shrugged one shoulder, and didn't utter a word as she leaned her head against the doorframe. She couldn't speak even if she wanted to. There was a lump in her throat the size of Cleveland. Sonny folded the towel and took a step toward her.
"Are you still hungry? I'm sure Johnny's inhaled the last slice of pizza by now, but I can fix you something else. How about some fruit?"
She swallowed and shook her head. Her hand firmed its grip on the wood. Sonny's eyes were perusing her with curiosity and it was making her legs feel weak. He set the folded towel on the counter and took another step toward her.
"Are you alright? Why are you so quiet?"
"Well that's a switch." Alexis finally murmured. "Usually you're complaining that I talk too much."
"No complaining - observing."
"You love semantics."
Alexis shifted her weight to the other foot. She was afraid to say anything that might give her away. "I'm just quiet, that's all."
"And needing to finish up that nap I so rudely interrupted earlier?"
"Then you, my little spud, are in the wrong room."
Sonny set his palms on her shoulders and turned her around, then slid one hand down to her hip as he led her from the kitchen threshold through the living room. There was an air of the clean, fresh smell of dishwashing liquid about him, and his hands still held the lingering heat of the water. It radiated through the fabric of her clothing and fed into her skin…the heat. She faltered as he guided her toward the stairway, and Sonny tightened his hands around the curves of her shoulder and hip. Her eyes darted furtively over her shoulder and found his face a question mark.
"I…um, the couch is good, I think. It's brighter down here, so I won't sleep too long."
"Okay. But let me go get your alarm clock, so you can make sure you don't…"
Her abrupt outburst took him aback. Alexis bit her lip again and cast her gaze to the window. She didn't want Sonny to see that she'd set her alarm for the middle of the night. She didn't want him to know that the nightmares continued, and waking herself up was how she was trying to stop them.
"The little pin thingy that you have to turn to set the alarm kind of sticks and it's just a pain to change it. I'm sure I won't sleep too much anyway. M-maybe you could just ask Johnny to bang on the door in half an hour. That oughtta do the trick."
"I'll get you a digital clock. Problem solved."
Alexis settled onto the couch with a tired sigh. "I'm an old fashioned girl. I like my brass quartz clock with the pin thingy that you have to turn."
Sonny grinned. "Then I'll have it cleaned for you, so it won't stick."
"You're going to clean my clock?"
He laughed. "You're just dying to say 'Been there, done that' aren't you?"
She nodded. "Aren't I being good?"
"You're being VERY good."
Alexis felt a twinge of guilt over her harmless lie - more than a twinge. She hated it, but she couldn't take it back now. She hugged the throw pillow to her head as something Sonny said not long before suddenly revisited her mind.
"You don't ever need to protect me from anything that's on your mind or in your heart. Not ever, Alexis. I want you - the real you, now and always."
She looked up at Sonny's face as he focused on buttoning his newly rolled-down cuffs. Maybe she COULD take it back? Maybe if she told him the truth, he wouldn't worry as much as she thought he would? Maybe he'd let her deal with her own problem like the grown woman that she was? Maybe…
"I'm going to go take care of something, while you're resting. I won't be long."
"Um…take as long as you need. You're supposed to be getting back to your own life, remember?"
"I am in my own life. I'm right where I want."
"I want you - the real you, now and always."
As Sonny smiled down at her, those last few words replayed in her head. He wanted her…how? What did he mean, he wanted her? Her hand unconsciously moved up to her mouth, fingertips grazing her lower lip. Her heart began to pound, lips feeling the phantom of Sonny's tender kiss goodnight and the firm threading of his fingers in her hair. The affection he always gave her came from a pure heart - she could feel it. And it was always shown with respect. Yet there was a look of longing in Sonny's eyes as he held her head close to his, her mouth close to his, as if he wanted to kiss her again. She thought that he would. But he didn't. He simply stared at her, as he so often did, then released his fingers from her hair and allowed Alexis to pull away. Something inside of her felt a loss. She had wanted him to kiss her again, and she felt absurd for having such a thought when Sonny's treatment of her had been all but reverent. The longing she thought she saw in him was probably just his reluctance to leave her alone so soon. It was his overprotection of her, not his want for her. Or so she'd told herself.
"I want you…"
"I want you to make sure you're dressed warm enough later on, okay?"
"For our date. A walk in the park before dinner, remember?"
"Or somewhere other than the park?"
Sonny frowned and sat on the edge of the sofa. "You're not thinking about standing me up, are you?"
Her eyes darted away from his face. Sonny set a hand down on her knee to get her attention.
"I haven't been stood up since I was seventeen."
She smiled softly and met his eyes again. "I have a hard time believing you've EVER been stood up."
He tilted his head. "Was that a compliment?"
Alexis sighed heavily. "Yeah, well."
Sonny laughed and brushed his fingertips down the side of her face. She slowly blinked as a light shiver ran through her in response to his touch. His hand lingered along the edge of her jaw, then slipped under her chin to lift it upward.
"Go to sleep. I'll be back about five thirty, and if you're up for a walk, it would make me very happy to take you. If not, I'll grumble for a bit, then take a rain check."
Alexis nodded again. Sonny ran his tongue across his lips and leaned his arm along the back of the sofa, bringing his face closer to hers. She shifted and cleared her throat.
"Alexis, are you sure you're okay? This quiet mood of yours is making me nervous."
"Consider the alternative and be grateful your ears are getting a respite from my usual babbling."
"I kind of like your babbling."
Her eyes widened. "Was that a compliment?"
"I didn't hear anything." Sonny pulled the chenille blanket from the edge of the sofa and tossed it over Alexis's face.
"Hey!" She laughed as she pushed the blanket down and blew at the bangs that fell into her eyes.
Sonny grinned as he gently brushed the errant wisps of hair away from her face. "That's what I wanted - to hear you laugh. Now I feel better."
Alexis swallowed and reached up to touch his cheek. "You always make me feel better."
"Wow. Two compliments in two minutes. I could get used to this."
Alexis laughed again. Sonny tapped her left dimple.
"And I'm already used to THIS."
"Go - take care of…whatever."
"I'll see you soon."
As he began to push himself up off the couch, Alexis closed her eyes and snuggled her head deeper into the pillow. A moment after she felt Sonny's weight release from the cushion beneath her, she felt his soft, warm kiss upon her forehead. She opened her eyes to catch a brief glimpse of Sonny's newly blushing cheeks as he quickly moved away from her and headed for the door. Alexis stared after him, a smile on her face and love in her heart as the door closed behind him.
"I want you…"
"Back at ya." Alexis whispered to the empty room. "God help me."
The dark figure stood still and silent in the doorway, backlit by the strong wash of the midday sun that blinded unshielded eyes. He squinted and blinked as he tried to make out the features of a face made dark in contrast to a frame of light. He couldn't. But even so, he knew who it was. He'd been expecting him.
"I wondered how long it would take you to show up. Belly up to the bar and name your poison." He set a bottle of Jack Daniels sharply down on the wet-spotted wood. "Or does my memory serve me well?"
His squint narrowed as he stared into the stinging rays that blazed a widening path across the room. The silhouette didn't move. A loud, heavy sigh of tedium was released from behind the bar.
"Okay, would ya eighty-six the al fresco please? You're killing the bluesy mood. And FYI, the shadowy figure in the doorway routine isn't nearly as menacing as you think it is. Watch "The Sopranos" sometime. Maybe you'll learn something. Now THOSE dudes know how to do menacing!"
"You're a funny guy, Luke. To yourself."
"I'm funny to everybody! Now I already asked nicely once, so will you shut the damn door?"
Sonny dropped his arm and let the door squeal closed behind him as he took a step forward. His eyes surveyed the colorful, aboriginal interior of the club he used to own but hadn't seen in months. It felt strangely comfortable to be there again, as if he'd gone back in time and his estrangement from Luke had never happened. Nothing had changed - not even the lack of customers at that particular time of day. It was too late for the drinking lunch crowd, and too early for those in need of releasing some post workday steam. But at the corner of the bar sat one familiar face - a long-time regular hunched over his ubiquitous racing form and paying no mind to anything else.
Luke set a clean glass down and let a generous flow of amber liquid spill into it as Sonny's heels slowly clicked toward him. He slid the glass down to the edge of the bar and topped off his own dirty glass bearing a phantom film of scotch at the bottom. Sonny halted right in front of him and stared down at Luke's offering without saying a word. Luke turned away and returned the bottle to its resting place on the crowded ledge behind him, then turned back to Sonny. The man still stared at the untouched drink. Luke took hold of his own full glass and raised it in the air with a cocky smile.
"Here's to...the love of a good woman."
Sonny's eyes snapped up to Luke's face.
"Yeah, I thought that would get your attention." He tossed back his double shot and swallowed with a loud finish.