Mia stepped into the elevator with a weak cup of coffee from the sad pot in her hotel room in hand. She’d get proper coffee after the meeting. Her stomach flipped nervously as the elevator descended. She said a small silent prayer that it would not stop at Luke’s floor. Last night had been awkward; she had almost slept with him. The elevator bell rang as the door opened and Luke stepped in. Mia looked down nervously and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Morning,” Luke said lightly.
“Good morning,” Mia replied.
“Ready for this meeting?”
“Mm-hmm.” Mia said, praying this would be the end of the forced conversation.
Luke turned towards her.
“Mia about last night.”
No, not here, I don’t want to talk about this now, she thought. The elevator bell dinged as they reached the ground floor. Mia had never been so grateful to be out of the elevator. She stepped out, and Luke followed. They had the pitch of their career to one of their firms largest clients in Santa Monica. The plan had been to fly in and out quickly before travel for the country shut down. A mysterious illness was spreading rapidly, and there was talk of a travel shutdown. The company needed this pitch to go well. Mia and Luke were the top two performers for the company, so they had been sent out on a Hail Mary.
Mia stepped out of the hotel, expecting the air to be warm, but the ocean breeze was still chilly. It sure beat the snow back in Chicago thought. The doorman recognized her and went around to get the rental car. Luke took advantage of the moment.
“Mia about last night, I just wanted to apologize.”
“There’s no need. We were having nice time and things just got out of hand, no need to apologize.”
Please let this be the end of this, Mia thought to herself. She couldn’t deal with and bring her A-game to the pitch. The car came around, and Mia walked for the driver’s side before Luke could. The passive-aggressive move of power was noticed. As Mia grabbed the key from the driver, he asked, “Are you folks leaving today before the shutdown?”
“Hopefully,” Mia said as she got into the car.
Luke, who had already gotten in the car, leaned towards the driver’s side. “Any word on anything official? The news was saying maybe by 5 pm tonight?”
“I haven’t heard anything official. I just know most everyone is checking out this morning.”
Three hours later, Mia and Luke walked out of the Plaza Building, closed deal in hand. Mia had worked her entire career to get to this point, and now, she had just accomplished something that was sure to put her inline for a significant promotion, possibly partner in the firm. As Luke drove back to the hotel, they had both noticed that traffic seemed a bit lighter.
“Should we have a drink to celebrate,” Luke asked as they pulled up to the hotel?
“Maybe a drink at the airport might be better. With everyone so jitter about a shutdown, it creeps me out. I’ll feel better once we are on the plane back home.
“You’re right. It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it? Let’s pack up and head for the airport early then”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll meet you down in the lobby in twenty?”
They dropped the car with the valet again and went up to their rooms. Mia changed out of her suit and heels and into jeans and a soft navy sweater and a pair of loafers for the flight. She packed up the last of her toiletries and checked her appearance in the mirror. Her engagement ring caught the sunlight as she straightened her hair. She stopped and looked down at it, and thought of Landon, her finance. They had been friends first, then lovers, and now even though they were engaged, they sat in some sort of a grey area. She loved him, but the passion was gone. When she had accepted the ring, she had meant it. She and Landon had been engaged for almost five years, yet neither felt that they needed to set a date.
Mia met Luke down in the lobby, and they walked out and waited for the car to be brought around again. Mia noticed Luke’s grey sweater seemed to match his eyes, as his auburn hair, with its natural golden highlights, shone in the California sunshine.
“You look nervous,” Luke said.
“Me? No not really. I just want to get home.”
“Will Landon be home?”
“No, he called last night he’s going to wait it out in Singapore.”
“He’s still over there with that merger?”
“Yeah, he wants to be there as soon as life resumes to help push it through.”
Luke nodded, and Mia knew it was a silent judgement. She resented it and felt embarrassed for what looked like Landon’s lack of concern for her. The car came around, and Mia let Luke drive. She was grateful for the pause in conversation as she looked out the window. Twenty minutes down the road, both Mia and Luke’s phone buzzed. Mia pulled her phone out to see that the flight home to Chicago had been cancelled, Luke’s said the same thing. Luke pulled off the highway and pulled into a Starbucks parking lot.
“Okay plan B,” Luke said.
“No plan B,” Mia replied, “All air traffic has been halted. We’re stuck. We can try and drive. I mean we have a rental car.” She didn’t look up from her phone.
“If this virus is serious enough to halt air traffic I doubt that we’ll make it driving cross country to Chicago.”
Mia turned and looked at Luke, hoping he couldn’t see how terrified she was.
“I don’t know anyone out here where I can stay. I guess we can go back to the hotel?”
“I have an idea. It’s nuts but it’s an idea.”
Mia took a deep breath.
“My uncle owns a little cottage further up the coast, near Cambria. I could call and see if it’s free, and we could wait this out up there?”
Mia looked out the window as she weighted Luke’s suggestion. Who knew how long they were going to be stuck.
“Mia, do you want me to call and see?”
Mia nodded, “Okay, it’s better than staying back a the hotel. The logistics of that are a nightmare.”
Mia stepped out of the car as Luke placed his call. She pulled out her phone and leaned up against the vehicle. She wanted to let Landon know what was going on. It was early there, but she didn’t want him to worry. Her hands shook as she texted him:
Hi babe sorry to text so early. So, I’m stuck in California. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Luke from work has a cottage up the coast we’re going to try to stay at near Cambria. Hope you’re safe.
She dropped her phone and reached down to pick it up. Luke knocked on the window, as she wiped the grit from the parking lot off of it. She turned around and opened the car door.
“The cottage is ours. We can order some groceries to be dropped off if we order quickly. My uncle Dan said the place is pretty well stocked right now. They were going to try to come down but didn’t make it before the shutdown. So do you want to go?”
Mia got into the car.
“Thank you. I think that’s the best idea at least until we know more. Your uncle won’t mind you bringing me along?”
“No. It will just be us. As I said, they got stuck up in Washington state, where they live. Actually had I known they had planned to come down, I would’ve just planned to go there anyway. The cottage is in a pretty spot.”
“Thanks for letting me come along. Please make sure to thank your uncle for me.”
“I will, but we’d better get going it’s a bit of a drive. Will you look up the number to Dub’s Grocery Store in Cambria City? We’ll need to order groceries.”
“By phone? Don’t they have a website?”
“I’m sure they do but my uncle said to talk to Dub directly.”
“Ah, let me find the number here.”
Four hours later just as the sun was beginning to set, they pulled off of the Pacific Coast Highway onto a dirt track towards the Ocean. The drive down had been so incredibly beautiful, and during normal circumstances, Mia would have insisted stopping several times to get pictures and explore the neat little towns they passed through. The car crept over the bumpy track as they defended down towards the shore. Around a bank of large trees stood a small white cottage. It reminded Mia of something out of an English garden more than the California coast. Luke pulled the car up to the covered porch and spotted the two boxes of groceries that said Dub’s General Store- Cambria City, CA. on the side.
Mia stepped out of the car, as the wind whipped off the ocean. Streaks of red, orange, purple and magenta streaked across the sky as the sun made its final descent towards the horizon. Even in these circumstances, it was so beautiful, that one could not help but stop and take in the splendour of it. She shut the car door and walked towards the edge of the small cliff where the cottage sat. The sandy beach was accessible through a well-worn path. She walked to the edge and looked down thinking there had to be a good twenty feet between her and the shore. She backed a few steps back and curled her hands around herself as the wind battered her. It’s so beautiful here, it’s worth being cold, she thought to herself. She heard Luke approach from behind and turned to see him walk up with a wool blanket.
“Here, I thought you might want this. It’s never really hot here, and always windy.” He held out the blanket for her.
“Thank you,” she said over the roar of the wind.
She pulled the blanket around her and took a deep breath. The wool seemed to be an impenetrable force for the cold wind, it warmed her quickly.
“You enjoy. I’ll bring our bags in.” Luke said.
Snapping out of the trance-like state from the sunset, she turned and faced Luke, remembering she was a guest, and had been incredibly rude.
“Oh let me help. Sorry, I was just so struck by the beauty of this.”
“No, stay. Enjoy it. Really. It is beautiful.”
Mia smiled and turned back towards the view. She heard Luke walk back towards the car and took the moment to check her phone again. Landon had not texted back and it was now morning. He had to have seen the text by now, Mia thought. She looked at her phone, no texts and no missed calls. Wondering if her phone was not working properly she turned it off and back on again. Turning back to the sunset she checked the phone screen occasionally as it rebooted. Once fully up and running, the status had stayed the same. She tried not to be concerned.
As the last sliver of fiery-orange dipped below the horizon, Mia turned back towards the cottage. It was quaint with its wood siding and turquoise blue shutters. She walked back and saw a white wicker swing partially covered, sitting on the porch waiting to be hung. On the other side, there was a small bistro table and two chairs. She knocked as she opened the front door, not sure what the polite thing was to do. The front of the cottage had been recently redone, as everything looked more modern than the structure itself. There was a large open plan kitchen that shared the space with a smaller living room and a stone fireplace off to one side. The other side of the room was flanked by French doors that looked out to the ocean.
“Come in,” Luke said standing behind the kitchen island. “I’m just putting the groceries away.”
Mia slung the blanket over the back of the couch and walked towards the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, I should’ve helped. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunset so beautiful in all of my life. What a beautiful spot.”
“Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us. I used to spend summers here when I was a kid. The whole world seems to stop when the sun sets like that here. When I was a kid, my parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, they’d all have cocktails out there for sunset.”
“Really,” Mia said as she sat at one of the stools at the kitchen island. “That is very neat. I’ve never asked where you’re from.”
“My family is from New York, and we’re spread all over the country. I grew up in New York state though.”
“Hmmm, I’ve never picked up the your accent.”
“Oh this accent?” Luke said in a thick New York accent.
“That’d be the one,” Mia laughed.
“I kind of lost it over the years.”
“So summers on one coast, and the rest of the year on the other. Nice.”
“Would you like a glass of wine? Uncle Dan always keeps a stocked cellar. We can help ourselves to anything but the wine on the red racks.”
“Sure, where’s the cellar?”
“Here I’ll show you.”
Mia got up and followed Luke to the wall behind the kitchen where a fully stocked wine cellar stood. She followed him into the small space in awe of how many bottles there were. She would have never thought from the outside that the inside of the cottage would have such lovely amenities. Luke reached around her and grabbed a bottle of Malbec. Mia caught a whiff of his scent, leather, sandalwood and something citrusy that she couldn’t place. She had first noticed on the flight out.
She and Luke had worked together for the past two years, but both of them travelled for work and rarely spent in the office together for more than a week at a time. She liked him, as he had always been nice to her, and competent at his job. They had gone out to a few social occasions at work, and he had met Landon. Luke had a wife, who ran off with her personal trainer, shortly after Mia had met Luke.
As they walked out of the cellar Mia found the bathroom. She stepped in front of the mirror and took in her windswept look. Her cheeks were pink from the wind still, and her normally smooth brown locks were sticking out in every which way. She smoothed her hair down, running her fingers through it, as the noise of the ocean pulled her towards the window. She looked out of the small bathroom window towards the ocean. It was now dark outside, but she knew it was there, she could smell it and hear it.
After a dinner of grilled steaks and a bottle of wine, they sat in front of the massive stone fireplace with a small fire going. There was something so comfortable about the cottage, that felt instantly like home to Mia, and for some reason that put her slightly on edge. The large white sofa, with its overstuffed cushions, felt like a cloud to sit on as Luke sat in the leather chair opposite. They had talked about the merger and toasted to their success at dinner. Mia wasn’t trying to be rude; she just wasn’t very talkative. Landon’s absence had unsettled her. She’d try and call him when she settled in for the night.
As if Luke read her mind he asked, “Have you heard from Landon?”
Mia sat up further on the couch.
“I haven’t. Normally, I’d say he was in a meeting but its a Saturday morning, afternoon now. I wish he’d text, something so I know he’s okay.”
“It won’t bother me if you want to call him.”
“I tried earlier. I’ll try again at bedtime.”
“I’m sure there’s an explanation for his absenece. Why don’t I show you to your room? That way you can call or have sometime to yourself when you want to.”
“Thank you,” Mia nodded as she said it, although she wasn’t sure if it was Luke’s subtle way of asking for the living room for himself.
Luke stood and Mia followed him past the kitchen and bathroom towards the back of the cottage.
He stopped at the last door of the hallway.
“I’m going to give you the master. You’ll have your own bathroom and private deck, kind of your own space. It also has the best views in the cottage.”
“Oh? You don’t have to give me the best room.”
“Believe me, you’ll want it when you see the view in the morning.,” Luke said as he opened the door and switched on the light. There was a large bed with plush white linens and a tall tan upholstered headboard. The furniture in the room was in various shades of white, light tan, and the palest baby blue, to look like the ocean. The far side of the room was a series of French doors that overlooked the view, and where the private deck was. The room looked more like a luxury, boutique hotel room. Luke and Mia stepped into the room entirely, and he turned around.
“The bathroom is in there. There is a clawfoot tub in there large enough to swim in.”
“Luke, this is so generous. Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Like I said, when you wake up in the morning look to your left out those doors. You will not be disappointed.”
“Where are you staying, I mean which room?”
“First door on the left, down the hall. It’s always been my room here. Don’t worry, all of the rooms are really nice.”
“Oh, I wasn’t implying.”
“No I know. Anyway, there’s your suitcase,” he pointed to it sitting next to the dresser, “please feel free to use anything you’d like or need. I’ll let you get settled in. Think of the cottage as your’s too.”
“Luke thank you so much, and if you talk to your Uncle please tell him thank you too. This is so generous and so beautiful.”
Mia reached out and hugged Luke, and he hugged her back. The hug was filled with gratitude, but there was something more there, Mia felt it, and she knew Luke did too. There was something about being in his arms that she found intoxicating. The hug lasted a second longer than it should have and when she pulled away, his lips brushed over the top of her head. She wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not, but her stomach fluttered. She stepped out of his embrace, both of the unsure and slightly embarrassed.
Luke left the room and Mia settled in. She walked into the bathroom and turned on the light to see the tub Luke had mentioned. It was beautiful. She opted for a shower instead, saving a soak in the big tub for another night. She was grateful that the cottage had been well-stocked, not just with food, but quality toiletries as well. She slipped into her pyjamas, a soft pink coloured silk slip, with champagne-coloured lace. She had spotted it in a window of a lingerie boutique on Oak Street in Chicago. The slip was ridiculously expensive, but she splurged and bought it anyway. Tonight the luxurious weight of the silk felt softer against her skin. She pulled the throw pillows off the bed and sat them in one of the chairs in the room. Pulling back the blankets, she climbed into the bed, sinking into to the lushness of it. The linens on the bed were of the highest quality, and the mattress seemed to hug her body. She picked up her phone from the nightstand and called Landon again. This time she left a more serious voicemail asking him to call no matter the hour.
The next morning Mia woke early before Luke. She pulled her robe around her and set out to make coffee in the kitchen. Once the pot had brewed, she poured herself a cup and took it back to her room. She had intended to drink it in bed, but the view of the ocean from the deck lulled her outside. With the way that the deck had been built and the cottage situated on the plot, the wind from yesterday did not batter her. It was chilly, and she pulled her robe closed further as she sipped her coffee. She checked her phone and tried to call Landon again as she dressed for the day, but still did not get an answer. Her annoyance had begun to turn to worry.
Over the next few days, Mia and Luke passed the time by working, reading, and playing old board games. Mia had not heard from Landon, and she was not sick with worry. At the same time, she found herself falling hard for Luke. There was something in the air between them, that felt like pressure building. Mia knew what the release was, but she wouldn’t let herself think about it for too long. Luke took a business call from his room, while Mia worked from the kitchen island when her phone buzzed. She reached over and saw that it said she had missed a call from Landon. The phone had not rung. She picked it up and ran back to her room, calling him again. This time he finally picked up after four days of silence.
“Lan, are you okay?”
“Hi, I’m alright. How is California?”
“What? Where have you been?”
“I’m sorry I haven’t answered your calls and texts. I..”
“Are you okay? Why didn’t you answer me? Landon, I’ve been worried sick.”
There was an eerie silence on the phone that put Mia on edge.
“I’m sorry I worried you. I just wasn’t ready to have this conversation.”
“What conversation? What are you talking about?”
“Mia I met someone. I know there isn’t a good time to do this, and my timing sucks. She lives here in Singapore.”
“What, Landon? What are you talking about?”
“Mia I’m sorry. I love you, but not wife kind of love, more like a friend kind of love. I know I should’ve told you before now, I’m sorry.”
This time Mia was silent, she didn’t now what to say.
“Lee and I got married over the weekend. I’m not telling you this to hurt you. I just want you to know that I have fully committed to my new life here. We’re going to have a baby. Mia I’m sorry to hurt you.”
, hMia pulled the phone away from her ear in disbelief as she heard Landon call out her name. She pushed the red button on her screen and dropped her phone to make the pain spewing from it to stop. She opened the French door and walked off of the patio and down to the beach. Where she sat for a long time deep in thought, how did I miss that? I know we’ve grown apart, but a whole other life! She thought to herself. The more she thought about it, she wasn’t sad that Landon wasn’t marrying her, it was the betrayal that hurt most of all. When she looked deep down and was honest with herself, she knew it would not have worked with Landon.
The sun had shifted towards the horizon, she had sat for so long down on the shore. She was deep in her own thoughts that when Luke put his hand on her shoulder he scared her.
“Sorry I didn’t mean to scare you. Is everything alright? You haven’t moved from that spot for two hours. I thought maybe you’d gotten some bad news. I heard you run through the house. Can I sit next to you?”
Mia nodded and Luke sat down next to her. He just sat and did not try to pull information out of her, knowing she’d talk when she was ready. Mia was grateful.
“Landon called. He got married yesterday, and has a baby on the way in Singapore.”
Mia looked at him, as her bottom lip quivered.
“Wow. Mia I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”
“Is it strange that part of me thought it was coming? I mean not exactly like this, but there was something in me that just knew something wasn’t right. I was a coward, I should have left him. I… I..”
Luke reached over and pulled Mia’s lips to his before she could finish her statement. His touch was gentle. He looked her in the eye, and she nodded slightly, giving permission before he brought his mouth down over hers. Suddenly Mia could feel that pressure between them begin to ease somewhat. She realized in that moment that the man she truly wanted was kissing her in the most beautiful place she had ever been. She wrapped her arm around his neck and leaned into him, committing to the kiss. The shift in balance caused him to topple backwards as he held her. He landed with a soft thud on the sand, and Mia pulled away enough to see his face. She felt his laugh before she heard it, and it put her at ease.
“I’ve wanted to do that for the past two years,” Luke confessed.
“Only that,” Mia asked with a playful tone in her voice?
Luke smiled slyly.
“We could go back up to the cottage and…” Mia said as she got off of Luke and stood.
He stood, and followed Mia, their walk, turning to a jog and an all-out sprint by the time they reached the cottage. Mia turned around just as they entered the cottage and pulled Luke’s body in close to hers. He kissed her with such passion that she felt it in her knees. The stood in the middle of the living room, shedding clothes, breathless.
“Mia wait, stop,” Luke said, each word coming out as a gasp. “I really want this, are you sure you want this?”
Mia removed her bra and let it fall to her feet.
“Mia your gorgeous.”
“I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything before.” She reached up and pulled her mouth to his, kissing him without abandon.