I’ve been called many names—mid-kid, wild child, Ella Bella, preacher’s daughter, and probably a lot of others behind my back. Whiskey Girl, though, is top shelf. It’s not necessarily the most accurate. But it’s my favorite because of who crowned me with it.
Entering the bar, all I wanted was a temporary escape. I needed a moment of not comparing my life to my perfect sister’s. And that definitely meant a shot of something strong … something that would leave an impression. Little did I know, it wouldn’t be the alcohol but the stranger sitting beside me.
When fate traumatically threw us together a second time, the initial bond I had with that man strengthened. Maks understood sister issues. He understood being the undervalued family member. He understood loss. He understood me.
What Maks didn’t understand was my ability to protect myself from being hurt. I did it when playing sports, and I had learned to do the same with relationships. That’s why when it came to our goodbye, I needed to be the strongest proof and fly away.
But bottles break. Wings get clipped. And my directionless life suddenly seemed to have a plan of its own.
“I’m ready to sit,” I reiterated. “I need to—”
And then, Boom, I did. I dropped right to the wooden surface of the porch. Thankfully, it was with somewhat of control, and I landed squarely, but not too harshly, on my bottom.
I could hear but not necessarily focus on Maks. I knew he had lowered his body to sit beside me. Actually seeing him clearly, though, meant too much concentration.
“You’re going to hyperventilate. Calm. Calm down.” When he scooted his knees right up against mine, I managed to finally see his eyes. “Breathe.”
But that was the problem. I couldn’t seem to do that … at least not correctly. The considerate Californian took my hand in his and placed it on his T-shirt-covered chest. What color the garment was or if it had any other details, I did not know. I could feel the thin softness of it, though, and his firm body moving ever so slowly and steadily underneath it. Then his other hand rested on my upper chest, close to my heart. There was an obvious imbalance of our breathing patterns, and I understood it was mine that beat in an imperfect rhythm. I also knew at that moment what his purpose was. He wanted to regulate me … to have his hands do what his words could not—help me be calm and breathe.