Just The Way You Are


A real romance between two surreal people

The first time he asked me what it was like being with someone like her, I didn't know what to tell him. So I told him it was like falling. Because, in a way, it is like falling. In a way, my whole life is like falling. But being with her--that's like falling with the knowledge that, no matter how hard I fall, someone's going to be there to catch me.

The first time he asked me if I thought we were meant for each other, I just shrugged. Because I don't know, and she doesn't know either, but that's okay. Hell, it's fucking great, because we don't have to know. We don't have to focus on where we go when the flame between us flickers out. The whens with her don't matter because there are too many nows to distract myself with.

She makes me want to live in now, and that's why I love her. Even when we're fighting, even when I'm torn between wanting to choke her and wanting to smoke the whole pack of cigarettes on my dresser, I love her. We aren't perfect, and we aren't gorgeous, and we probably aren't anything to write home about, but we're real, and that's better than a whole lot of shit in my life right now.

The first time he asked me if I was going to call her, I knew I would. He didn't even really need to ask. He checks up on all of the girls I meet, as though he needs to protect them from me. He probably does. Sometimes I catch myself needing to protect me from me. I've never had to protect her, though. She does a pretty good job of protecting herself. She does a pretty good job of protecting me too. When I'm with her, though, there's nothing to be protected from. Being with her isn't about armor or defenses or walls or what-happened-to-me-when-I-was-younger.

Being with her is about stripping. Clothing, facades, the lining of your throat.

The first time I met her, it was at a bar. It was a stupid industry party, and both of us were bored as fuck. The flavor of the night had slipped away from me long before, and I was too tired of schmoozing to do anything but get drunk. I'd managed to successfully avoid Kevin for at least half an hour when I finally reached the bar and ordered a glass of Jack. Watered down, of course. I wanted to start out slow in case he found me.


Her voice was low, throaty, and full of disdain. I turned around to counter her politely and explain the situation, but all of that changed when I saw who she was.


She nodded curtly. "Yeah. Are you afraid to take something stronger?"

I laughed in what I hoped was a condescending tone. "Like you can talk. You aren't even of age."

She paused to consider the thought. "No," she finally agreed. "But I could drink you under the table."

A girl. Challenging me to a drinking contest. A platinum blonde pop star, nonetheless. I groaned aloud. "Whatever. You willing to put your money where your mouth is?"

"Sure. Twenty bucks, and the first drink's on me."

I smirked. Suddenly, the evening wasn't so bad. Hell, by the end of the night, I was going to be totally smashed and twenty bucks richer. "Name the beverage, baby."

"Tequila. Shots. And don't call me baby."

It took us three shots before she exposed her neck to me and demanded that I lick the salt off of her instead of my hand. By five shots, my tongue was between her breasts and her tongue had found my navel. By eight shots, she was a mess of blonde light in front of me and I was dizzy with drink and desire. By ten shots, I was smashed, and she was laughing.

I surrendered, but she ordered another, just for kicks, and sprinkled salt on my lower lip. It burned, but the sensation paled in comparison to the smoldering of her lips on mine. The shot became a kiss all too quickly, and I was inside of her by midnight. Still totally smashed.

I woke up that morning with the hangover from hell and her number across my chest.

Needless to say, I called her, and a night of fun and fleeting lust became a few weeks of conversation and impending romance. She was everything I'd ever wanted in a girl, and she had the ferocity to balance me out.

She was the first person in my entire life that I didn't have the ability to control.

I still can't control her.

She can still drink me under the table.

I still lick the valley between her breasts.

She still scrawls messages across my pectorals.

I still enjoy bantering with her.

She still talks to me like I'm the only person in the world.

I still can't believe we're together.

Deep down, I don't think she can, either.

Which is why, at four in the morning after a long show and an even longer drive from one city to another, my cell phone is ringing in my hand.


I can hear the smile in her voice before she ever says a word. "Alex."

I won't let her call me baby, so she calls me Alex instead.

I'm smiling now, and I know she can hear it. "Chris."

She won't let me call her baby, so I call her Chris instead.

"I missed you."

"I can tell."

"Did I wake you?"

"Nope. Couldn't sleep."

"Miss me next to you?" And I know she's smirking.

"Not half as much as you miss me." And she knows I'm teasing.

"Probably true. I miss your voice the most, though."

And that's why I love her. Because nothing matters but the way her words wash over me and the fact that all I have to do to please her is tell her how my day was.

"That why you called?"

"Yeah. It was a lonely evening. Had to remind myself you were still there. Even if you're not really here."

"I'm still here."

"So am I."

"Good." And it is good, because I may not know where we go from here, and I may not think about it too much in the moments like this, where she's on the line or in my head, but I can't really imagine a future without her in it.

"Was it a good show?"

I smile. "What do you think?"

She laughs lightly. "Judging by the sound of your voice? Loud crowd. Good crowd, but loud. And Nick was flat tonight, on account of one of his famous colds. But the audience was easy to hype, so you didn't dance as much. Spent more time thrusting your thang into the front row."

"You know me so well." Damn, and she does, too. Just by the sound of my voice, she can tell me how the entire night went, and I love that about her. It's our own little game, that tiny way to remind each other that we're still connected. "And you? How was your day in the studio?"

She smiles. "What do you think?"

It's my turn to laugh. "Judging by the sound of your voice? Long day. Session with Linda that dug deeper than you wanted it to. Lots of tears, lots of broken glass, but an awesome track at the end of the day."

"You know me so well."

I do. And I pride myself on it, because I know her every bit as well as she knows me.



"Sing me a song?"

A sigh, because I'm tired, and the crowd was loud, and the night was long, and I'm not sure how many notes will be just right. "A song?"

"Just a line or two."

She sounds feeble, which I know she isn't, and I know that her day was a lot longer than she lets on. "Okay. But it's gonna be rough."

"You know I don't care."

It's true. She may be a professional, but she doesn't mind when I'm a bit off pitch. I think she prefers that I keep my imperfections, just the way that I love it when she cracks and I can see tears in her eyes.

"What song?"

"Mm..." She sighs, and I know that somewhere, she's falling back into the pillows and closing her eyes. "Anything."

I don't want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are

My eyes are closed, but I can hear her deep breath on the other end of the phone, and it's enough to make me smile through exhaustion. I'm almost asleep when her voice begins to fly softly through the wire.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you

I said I love you and that's forever

Her voice is gentle, tired, and torn at the edges. The day was long and the night without her will be longer, but it's okay, because right now, I've got her confession in my ear and the scars of her fingers along my skin.

I can hear the tears in her smile, and so I pick up where she left off. Because she may drink me under the table, but it takes her twice as long to feel numb.

And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

The last note lingers, wavering, and I can't let it go, because once I let it go I have to hang up, and I still want to hear her voice. When I can hear her voice, I can pretend she's next to me, and whether we're screaming, laughing, or crying, I know that everything will be okay.



"Do you mean that?"

"Mean what?"

She sighs, and her voice is barely above a whisper. "The song, Alex. The song. Do you mean that?"

Oh, that. "Every word, Chris. Every word."

"You love me?"

It takes me seconds to realize that I've never told her before, and I can feel my heart in my throat and my stomach at my feet because it seemed so natural. "Yeah, Chris. I love you."

Her voice is tentative and small, and it kills me, because I want to wrap her up and never let her go. Burn my fingers into her skin until she's mine and the rest of the world has taken a cigarette break.

"Just the way I am?"

And I sigh, because somewhere, in a perfect world, I am holding her, and she's holding me, and we're dreaming of a night of love and a tequila sunrise together.

"Yeah, Chris. Just the way you are."

And it's not perfect, and it's not a fairy tale, but it's enough for me to hang up the phone with a smile on my face. And tomorrow, if I wake up wondering how I got here, I can call her again and be frantic or cute or funny or angry or what-the-fuck-ever strikes my fancy.

There are nights like tonight when I wonder how in the hell I ended up with a woman as beautiful and honest and stripped as Christina Aguilera. And those are the nights that I love to hear her voice, because the second she says my name, I know.

Because she loves me. Me.

Just the way I am.

"Just The Way You Are" - Lyrics and music by Billy Joel, on album THE STRANGER

Read the sequel, Warm.