Can’t Look Away

01: I Know The Look

Lionel didn’t know why he had said yes.

It had been easy to. When Leila had pressed the invitation into his hand, he hadn’t hesitated in telling her that he’d make it, and it hadn’t been until he’d been sat, watching her walk up the aisle, that he had regretted it. It had never been that way between them. Lionel had never looked at Leila and seen his future wife, and he knew that she’d never seen him as the man she’d meet at the end of the aisle, but there had been an ache in his chest regardless, one that had caused him to slip outside in search of a moment of quiet.

He was happy for Leila. Her new husband, Olivier, was a good man, and he knew that he made her happy, but he had only been able to watch them together for so long, acutely aware how far he was behind. Leila had met Olivier only a handful of weeks after their fling had concluded, and nearly three years later, they were married whilst Lionel was still by himself.

Letting out quiet sigh, he loosened the tie around his neck before he plopped down on the bench he’d spotted a little away from the hotel. Unbuttoning his jacket, he shrugged out of it and draped it over the side of the bench. He knew that he couldn’t be gone for long. Eventually, someone, probably Leila, would notice that he was missing, but he had had to get out of there, even if it was just for a little while. He didn’t know how much more of it he could take.

“Are you hiding too?”

Lionel’s head whipped up. “Huh?” he spluttered.

The woman in front of him smiled sympathetically. “You’re hiding too” she mused “I know the look” she added.

Lionel opened his mouth to deny it, but let out a sigh instead.

The woman swung an arm forwards, showing off the bottle of champagne that she clutched. “Mind if I join you?” she prodded.

Lionel shook his head. “Sasha, right?” he prodded “Leila’s sister” he added. They had met a handful of times.

“Right” Sasha replied “You’re Leo. You and Leila are...friends” she added.

Lionel nodded, but didn’t say anything, allowing a silence to stretch between them that lasted until Sasha held the bottle out towards him, a soft smile on her face. Smiling back at her, he took it from her and took a sip before he handed it back. “You said ‘too’” he quipped, watching as she took a sip from the bottle herself.

“What?” Sasha quipped.

“You asked if I was hiding ‘too’” Lionel clarified “Who else is hiding?” he prodded.

Sasha’s expression grew sheepish before she pointed at herself. “Me” she mused “I had to get out of there for a bit” she added.

Lionel nodded his head slowly, but didn’t follow up, something which made Sasha smile ruefully. “She met Olivier through me” she mused “We’d been out on a couple of dates, nothing super serious or anything, but then I introduced the two of them and it was...they’re meant for each other, and as Leila’s sister, I am thrilled, but as Olivier’s kind of almost ex, it’s a little weird” she explained.

Lionel’s smile was small and sympathetic. “I get that” he quipped.

Sasha let out a little laugh, taking another sip from the bottle. “I bet that you do” she mused “You and Leila were...” she trailed off when Lionel’s pleasant smile faltered a little.

“She told you that, huh?” Lionel tried to smile impishly, but it came out as a pained grimace instead.

“She might have mentioned it” Sasha quipped “But don’t worry, it’s not like she told everyone. I am just her little sister” she added quickly.

Lionel reached over, plucking the bottle out of her hand, before he shrugged, swallowing another mouthful of champagne. “It’s not like it’s much of a secret” he mused “I think everyone knows about it” he added.

Sasha nodded her head slowly, watching him for a couple of beats, before she shook her head. “Why’d you come?” she asked.

Lionel lifted his shoulders in a shrug, a rueful expression on his face. “We’re friends” he noted “Just that, before you ask, and it would have been weirder to tell her that I couldn’t come” he added.

Sasha’s lips quirked upwards. “You’re not secretly in love with her, then?” she prodded “That’s not why you’re hiding out here?” she added.

“Is that why you’re hiding from Olivier?” Lionel countered.

“No” Sasha replied quickly “We weren’t like that. We met on an app, went out a couple of times, and then he met the love of his life who just so happens to be my sister. It’s awkward, knowing I’ve made out with my sister’s husband, but I can live with it. Mostly, I am trying to avoid my parents. They’re in a very wedding kind of mood, and I worry that every time I walk past them, they’ve chosen my husband” she added.

Lionel’s laugh escaped him before he could stop it, something which made Sasha scoff playfully. “Don’t laugh” she quipped.

“How bad could it be?” Lionel quipped.

“These are all Leila’s friends” Sasha replied.

“A lot of them are my friends, too” Lionel countered.

Sasha offered him a non-committal shrug, something which made Lionel shake his head, laughing quietly to himself.

Sasha smiled softly at the sound before she plucked the bottle out of his hand, taking another sip before she settled it down on the floor.

Lionel watched her settle the bottle down before he sighed. “It’s hard to see how she’s moved on” he admitted quietly “Not because I have those feelings for her, but because it’s been three years since we...we were a thing, and I am nowhere near close to having what she’s got. If I am jealous of anything, it’s that she’s where she is now, not that she’s with Olivier” he added.

“You don’t need to justify it to me” Sasha mused with another gentle smile “I’m nowhere close either and helping my sister to pick out her wedding wasn’t my favourite thing” she added.

Lionel smiled at her. “You could be closer than you think” he quipped “You know, if you parents have their way” he added.

Matilda groaned playfully. “Just when I thought I was starting to like you” she teased.

Lionel went to retort, but was cut off by the sound of someone calling out Sasha’s name, something which caused her to roll her eyes impishly. “That pleasant sound is my mother” she teased “I should go back” she added.

“Do you need to take the champagne?” Lionel prodded.

Sasha shook her head. “My gift to you” she mused.

Lionel tipped his head in thanks.

“If you find your way back inside, you’ll probably find me by the bar” Sasha mused “We could have drinks in glasses” she added.

“If your parents haven’t married you off before I get back, I’d love to” Lionel teased.

Sasha’s laugh was bright and warm before she shook her head, her expression, for the first time, growing slightly less sure. “I’d like that” she said “I meant that to sound less...less weird. I just meant that I’d not be adverse to talking to you more. That sounded even weirder, didn’t it?” she prodded.

Lionel shook his head. “I’d like it too” he mused.

Sasha went to say something more, but was cut off by her name being called again. Huffing out a sigh, she turned on her heel and wandered away, stopping only to offer Lionel a little smile over her shoulder, a smile he returned with a little wave that made her laugh and his cheeks flush a light shade of pink.