"I don't need a knight-in-shining armor, Phelan," she snapped, pushing me away roughly. Her cheeks glowed red with anger.
"Then what do you need, Rawnie?"I asked softly, looking down at my hands, calloused by years of self-sufficiency.
For once, the girl who had something to say about everything was silent. I glanced up at her and was surprised to see tears shining in her eyes.
"Rawnie-," I began. How could I even begin to tell her? I wasn't one to be particularly blunt with my feelings.</p>
"What I need," she said in a hoarse voice, "is for you to just leave me alone. Because, honestly, Phelan, I dont need you being my babysitter. I haven't needed anybody ever and I certainly don't need anybody now!" She stopped, breathing heavily and brushing away tears of frustration.
"I'm not trying to be a babysitter," I said, feeling such pity for the girl standing in front of me. There was so much more to her than she let on and Boyd had told me so little. I reached forward and brushed a silver tear from her smooth cheek.
I could see the surprise and confusion register in those hauntingly beautiful hazel eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but I held up my hand to stop her.
"Rawnie," I rasped, running my thumb down the side of her face and below her lower lip.
The widening of her eyes in comprehension caused my heart to beat more erratically, if that was even possible, and my mouth got dry. The battle of her emotions was easily displayed on her normally closed face, and I knew it would be one of the few times I would ever get to see those raw emotions. Rawnie took a hesitant step away from her door, raising a slender hand to trace the outline of my cheekbone.
The line between patience and eagerness faded in that instant and I lowered my face to hers, kissing her with as much passion as I could convey. My heart soared as she responded to my fervor, deepening the kiss by wrapping her arms around my neck. The contours of her body fit perfectly against mine.
She slowly back up, dragging me gently along with her as she moved. She finally pulled away when she hit the door. She was flushed and her breathing was ragged and uneven. Almost hesitantly, Rawnie pulled keys from her coat pocket.
"Not mine, I hope," I said jokingly, voice weak.
"They're mine," she promised. There was a pregnant pause and then she said, "Did you want to come in? I don't have Galen tonight. Pyrene wanted to dog sit. I can't imagine why though. If it were me-"
I stifled a chuckle and her small hand flew to her perfect bow mouth. She had realized that she was babbling and turned pink slightly.
"I would like to come in," I said carefully. I didn't want her to all of a sudden backpedal and wonder what the hell she was doing. "But you have to be sure about it, Rawnie. I don't want you to regret anything later."
After taking a deep, shaking breath, she met my gaze. I heard the key slide into the door and the lock click open. Letting the heavy door swing inward, she stepped through the threshold of her small apartment. In the dim light that illuminated the first few feet of the living room, Rawnie looked small, innocent, and most of all... breakable.
Well,"she said in a tiny voice, spreading her arms. "This is it. My apartment."
I walked through the doorway, probably just as nervous as her. Since my parents had died, I had all but abandoned dating and I was somewhat awkward with the social scene. I prayed to God that doing this was the right thing and that neither of us was making a huge mistake.
From what I could see in the minimal light, the small space was scarcely furnished, but books of all kinds were crammed into every available space.
I grinned at her. "It's great."
I could tell she was embarrassed by the way she shuffled past me to shut the door. She flicked the light switch and nothing happened. She flicked it up and down again with the same result.
"Shit," she muttered, tossing her book bag into the nearest corner. "Fuckin' bill didn't go through."
The frustration in her voice was obvious as she cursed again, rummaging through a drawer that was next to the door. All of a sudden, a thin beam of light appeared.
I'm so sorry, Phelan," Rawnie said tearfully as she shined the flashlight at me. "You know how it is."
I heard her choke back a sob.
"Hey, don't worry about it," I said reassuringly. "It happens. Let's see if we can find some candles."
"I don't have any."
Shoving my hands deep into my leather bomber jacket's pockets, I looked at her and again saw the gleam of tears.
"Rawnie, don't worry about it." I hesitated before saying, "How about we go back to my place. It'll be warmer and less stressful. You'll be too worried about not having electricity and you won't be able to function at work tomorrow if we stay here."
"Babe," I said. "You're gonna make yourself sick. So, please. Just take me up on my offer."
Her voice was grateful as she muttered a quick 'yes.'
'I'm just going to grab some clothes," she said, moving past me quickly and going into, what I assumed, was her bedroom.
A few minutes later, she re-emerged with a small bag at her side.
"Ready?" I asked, as she retrieved her book bag. She nodded. "Then let's go."
"I just need to tell Pyrene that she needs to keep Galen for tomorrow too," she said over her shoulder. "I'm sure she'll be thrilled, even if her parents aren't."
"Sure thing. I'll meet you downstairs," I told her as she locked the door behind me.
As I waited for the elevator, watching her disappear around the corner, I thought about how bad Rawnie's situation actually was. From the first moment I had met her, I had realized that she wasn't the richest person in the world, but coming to her apartment had confirmed just how much she was struggling. The no electricity, the scarcity of furniture, and the mere fact that it was colder in her apartment than it was outside made it obvious how much she needed help. I wondered why her family didn't help her out.
I knew from what her cousin-in-law had hinted that her family didn't consider her to be part of them and that he and his wife, Meara, tried to help her when they could, but he never elaborated on the situation. I gave a frustrated punch to the side of the elevator, denting the cheap wood paneling. I was more than willing to help Rawnie and I could tell that Boyd was too, but the situation with the family prevented him. But just what that situation was, I had yet to find out.
When I reached the lobby, I made my way to my truck as quickly as possible. I wanted to warm up the cab of the truck for her. As I slid into my seat, I made sure the heat was on full blast. I had no idea how she managed to survive when her apartment was that cold. Lost in my thinking, I didn't see Rawnie emerge from her apartment building. I heard a sharp tap on the passenger's side window and looked up in surprise. I could see her fight back a smile as I reached over to open the door. She pulled herself up into the truck and immediately put her purple hands by the heater. She winced at the sudden change of temperature, but she didn't move them.
"You ready?"I asked, shifting into gear.
She took a deep, nervous breath. "Yeah, I guess so. Onward, Mr. Phelan>"
"Of course, Miss Rawnie."