I tighten my grip around his throat but he pushes my arm away, his strength outdoing mine. “I’m going to fucking kill you!” I yell, meaning it.
“Chill the fuck out!” he counters, shoving me. I don’t relax my grip and we’re soon on the floor. Blue’s weight puts him on top of me but I throw a punch anyway, and another, growling when he pulls out of my reach.
Shocked and pissed off, he hits me.
Fucker packs a good punch.
My head spins to the side as I absorb the pain in my temple, instantly feeling warmth trickling from my brow. “Shit,” he pants as he presses me hard into the ground. “I didn’t want to fucking hit you, Reid! Just, you did this yourself. Calm it, yeah?”
I’m trying to buck him off of me when the door behind the bar opens. I turn my head, totally prepared to find a disappointed Darlene. What I’m unprepared for is a semi-naked girl. She’s buttoning up a black shirt that only just covers her ass and she leaves it loose over her huge chest.
It’s not Darlene. It’s not Darlene. It’s not Darlene.
She looks to Blue, worried. “What the hell’s going on?” she asks. Recognition comes as she sweeps back her long dark hair. She works the bar.
“Nothing, Nina. Go back upstairs, I’ll be two minutes.”
Relief floods my body like I have been doused in a cold stream of water. I am immediately thankful and yet equally appalled, both at his apparent actions and mine. I need to get out of here and hope that my being here never gets back to Darlene.
“See?” he minces, backing off of me as my head falls back against the floor. It’s not her.
I struggle to right myself, feeling a little dizzy, but I eventually stand and attempt to brush myself off. I wipe at my brow, finding a healthy amount of blood.
“My mistake,” I snarl as I walk past Blue, bumping shoulders with lingering anger.
“Big mistake. Why would you think she was here?”
“You’re friends, right?” I reply sarcastically as I walk out the door.
I hear him murmur what sounds like, “Apparently,” and then I feel his eyes burning into me. I don’t care. I should have killed him.
I stand on the sidewalk, unsure of where to go next. I try and call her again but nothing. Passersby give me strange looks at my less than acceptable appearance. A little old lady asks if she can help me but I kindly shrug off her concern.
Walking with no purpose, no destination in mind, I find myself circling the park. The sun is bright and harsh but its warmth is stolen by the sharp breeze. I think about sitting here and enjoying the sound of the fountain in the hope of it drowning out the echoing worries that pound against my skull. I know it won’t though. I turn, planning on going home and waiting for my wife.
I don’t wait long.
She’s jogging around the corner as I step onto the sidewalk.
“Darlene,” I call.
She doesn’t look directly at me, but sighs as she slows to a halt. I don’t know what to say and she offers nothing. Instead, she bends and stretches, controlling her breathing, and then walks into the building. She goes straight to the open elevator and steps inside, holding the doors for me as she looks at her feet. I rush to her side, confused and worried by her silence. Chancing a look at her as the elevator ascends, I can see that she isn’t as calm as she would like to appear. Her bottom lip is being chewed vigorously and she is picking at her fingernails.
We exit the elevator and walk to our apartment down the hall in complete silence. The silence is loud, deafening in fact. I can’t concentrate on anything other than the fact we are not talking. She’s not screaming or crying and I’m not explaining myself.
The door closing behind us acts like a starting whistle as we both turn to face each other. She gasps loudly as she takes in my bleeding eye. I’d almost forgotten about it. “What did you do?” she asks, immediately rushing to inspect it.
“Nothing, it’s fine.”
“This probably needs stitches!” she worries, looking for a clean cloth, finding it, and wetting it. She guides me to a chair before standing between my legs and gently cleaning the wound. I don’t argue, thankful to be sitting after feeling so giddy.
“How did you get this?”
“It was a mistake, forget it.”
“Reid, please tell me you didn’t do something stupid?”
“Is that code for doing something stupid?” she asks and it warms my entire body when I watch her mouth twitch with an almost smile. There’s hope.
“Perhaps,” I admit, almost smiling too. “But it doesn’t matter.” I wrap my hands around her waist, holding her firm as I tell her, “This matters. Let me explain.”
She tries to back away but I hold her firm. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know what has happened with you and…her. I just...I want you to stop it.” Her chin is quivering but she’s determined to hold it in. I open my mouth to talk but she places her trembling fingers over my lips. “If you can stop it then I can pretend it never happened. I just...I don’t want you to leave me.” Her volume drops as well as her eyes. “Please, don’t leave me.”
Soft fingers move round to feather the lightest of touches along my jaw before she leans down and brushes her lips against mine. Her eyelids flutter closed and she intensifies the kiss. My mind is frozen in confusion, unable to react the same way my body can. My hands pin her to me, slipping under the material on her back. Her skin is hot and a little damp with sweat allowing my fingers to glide easily over the dimples at the base of her spine.
I feel a little shudder before she pulls away. Standing tall, she covers her face, embarrassed. She’s crying softly before I can stop her. I pull her hands from her face and pull them to my lips, kissing them before I talk. “You didn’t let me explain,” I say gently.
“I don’t want to hear it. It’ll be too hard.”
“That’s exactly it. There’s nothing to hear. It’s all a huge misunderstanding.” She rolls her eyes before trying to look away but I hold her firm. I explain what happened the night that I met Quinn. She seems dubious at first so I hold out my phone for her to call James to back up the story, or even Quinn herself, but I see the belief in her eyes and what I think is a shadow of her own guilt.
“Do you believe me?”
“Yes, I guess. Maybe I overreacted,” she says, her features pinched as she tries to make sense of everything I have just relayed.
“It was a stupid thing to do, I know. I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I just got...scared.” She’s looking away from me. I can see her mind working double time. She’s thinking about her own infidelity, I know it. I raise the material on her stomach and linger a kiss on her skin, needing to drown out her thoughts. We can’t obsess over what has already happened anymore. I know why she did it. She knows why she did it. What we need to concentrate on now is not allowing our relationship to become so vulnerable again.
“Don’t be sorry. I understand…” I guide her legs around me until she is straddling me. After wiping errant tears from her cheeks I bury my head in her neck. “…I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Sunday night was spent watching television and reading books. The much needed calm after a mammoth storm. My mind felt like it had been kneaded into a doughy mess only to be told I had to separate the ingredients again. I had gone over every different scenario that could have led to that text message and then I had weighed up my many options. What it really came down to was what I would expect if the tables were turned. I can only hope that if ever Reid finds out about my affair he will be able to find it in himself to forgive me and give me a second chance. With that in mind I prepared myself to forgive him. I tried to understand his motives behind his mistake and the ability to empathize came all too easily.
When it became clear that he was innocent after all, stupid but innocent, the guilt came back tenfold. I had jumped to conclusions based on my own actions, not taking a second to think. With Reid’s calmness and understanding came more waves. How could I ever match his character? The love that he has for me is only matched by his patience. I have to pray that if my dirty secret ever airs he will call upon that patience to see us both through.
I came so close to telling him. So close. But I could neither find the courage nor the vocabulary to even begin to explain how I had deceived him, how I had played the deciding part in driving a wedge between us, and how it is only recently, with the strength of his love, that I have found it within myself to call an end to it. I can’t do it. And with my weakness comes the curse of my own distrust.
I’m struggling to keep our issues separated and it’s affecting our marriage deeply. I never thought I would worry about Reid cheating. He’s just not that guy, but I’m not that girl...I wasn’t that girl. Who knows what makes a cheater. I’ve always judged a cheater as someone with no morals or no real love for their partner, but perhaps even the strongest of loves aren’t impenetrable. All I can hope is that the dramas are finally behind us and we can work to restore our relationship as we have been lately.
After a peaceful Sunday Reid has gone back to work and I have spent the majority of the day with Cash. He’s always my first port of call in hard times, well, he was. I find myself digging through my roots, hitting some Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline, my mama’s favorites. I wonder what she would make of my life at the moment. I doubt she would have much sympathy. She told me this move would be a huge mistake. Maybe she was right, but admitting that would surely spell disaster.
In preparation for Reid’s return I am in the kitchen cooking. Well, simmering. The chili is ready and waiting. I am, in fact, staring. The vase that has been home to a variety of flowers of late is currently empty. The last batch was my beautiful sunflowers that Reid drunkenly knocked over. Maybe I should get some more before Reid fills it with another gas station purchase.
Reid arrives with a big smile, telling me to eat dinner quickly and get dressed because we are going out. I do as instructed, throwing questions at him about his plans but he bounces them right back. Whatever his surprise is he is proud. His grin is wide and smug and I can’t help but chuckle as he herds me out of the door.
He remains silent in the car. I know it’s so that he doesn’t let anything slip; he has a loose tongue when he is excited. I don’t know Chicago well, having only prioritized learning my way around the south loop, but when we cross the river I can take a good guess at where we’re going.
Reid parks up and runs around to open my door, taking my hand like a gentleman and escorting me up some steps.
Steps to the Willis Tower.
My smile matches his now, but he is yet to say anything until we reach the elevator. “We’ve been failing as tourists. Apparently, this is a must,” he whispers, guiding me into the elevator with his hand soft against my lower back. Butterflies awaken in my stomach as we travel up and up.
“How far does this thing go?”
“One hundred and three floors.”
My mouth hangs open as we continue to climb. “That’s pretty scary.”
“Why? You’re not scared of heights.”
“No, I’m scared of falling.”
He chuckles lightly, tightening his hand around mine. “I’ll catch you.”
“I know,” I say, although it comes out as a whisper. “It’s quiet here. If it’s a tourist must then you’d think it’d be busier.”
“I may have called in a favor,” he explains before flashing me that lopsided smile and dazzling me with his wicked greens. I don’t have time to quiz him on his efforts because the doors finally open up into an expansive room splashed with orange and black. A huge sculpture that reads 103 is standing proudly in the center and various text litters the walls.
Reid knows exactly where he is going as he guides me through the room. We glide past more art and more text, and even computer screens. I’m unable to explore any of it though as I am hurriedly pulled along.
With a devilish smile Reid teases, “We don’t want to be late.” “Late for what?”
He brings his index finger to his lips and shushes me. I giggle at his playfulness and allow him to have this moment question-free.
We enter yet another elevator and Reid stands behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist. When the car moves, a screen above the door lights up and details the history of the building. I try to listen, I really do, but Reid’s breath is teasing my neck. It’s an act of purpose. He knows that my neck is my Achilles.
The doors open and we enter another large room. No color on the walls and no statues, nothing to distract from the surreal view that screams at us from each bordering window. I jump a little as a man greets us to the right. Reid takes two glasses of champagne from him, handing one to me. I’m speechless. I don’t know how he managed to do all of this and I’m not sure that I want to.
Why ruin the magic?
“Come,” he says, taking my hand and kissing it before leading the way to the main attraction. In front of us is a small boxy room, static, but the size of a slim elevator car. It sticks out from the building, sitting almost half a mile above Chicago. Its walls, floor, and ceiling are entirely see-through and Reid is expecting me to stand in there. I look at him like he is crazy, but he drops my hand and steps out into the box. It’s as if he is walking on air, surrounded completely by the spectacle that is Chicago.
I step tentatively onto the glass floor as if my weight alone is going to send us plummeting to the city below.
“You can never resist a challenge,” Reid says, scooping my hand up again and turning us to face outwards.
“Wow,” is all I can manage. Reid manages even less than that. I don’t know where to look; the floor which makes me feel nauseous, or to the horizon that is so beautiful it leaves me breathless. The sky is turning a little yellow as the sun bleeds out lazily before it leaves.
“You brought me the sunset,” I whisper, feeling a little choked with emotion.
“You know I’d buy you the world if I could.” Reid lowers his mouth to my temple and puckers his lips softly. I turn to meet him, addressing his lips with my own before resting my head on his shoulder and working hard to solidify this moment in my mind forever.
We pick out different landmarks, arguing playfully when our limited knowledge of Chicago fails us. We compare this sky to the other skies we have seen, both separately and together. It doesn’t seem as vast as the sky that sits above the Arizona deserts or as blue as the sky that spans the oceanic width of LA, but mixed so unnaturally with the silvery grey buildings that attempt to climb it, this sky holds its own.
As the day mutates into night a sharp line of orange balances on the horizon. Indigo descends, molding the two extremes and we stand silenced by its brilliance. With the night come the stars, peeking out from the ever present clouds, offering themselves for our pleasure. When Earth looks this brilliant it’s hard to tell where heaven begins.
The world feels so big here, dwarfing me, us, our problems. Everything seems insignificant when reminded of how expansive the universe is. It’s a humbling feeling and I hold onto it as I turn into Reid’s embrace, careful not to spill the last drop of champagne from our glasses. Reid wraps his free arm around me, kissing the top of my head.
“This is so romantic, Reid.”
“Can I propose a toast?” he asks, leaning back to look at me. I nod and smile in anticipation. “To mistakes. To learning from them and accepting them. We’ve both made our fair share but I feel closer to you than ever tonight, Darl. If our mistakes brought us here then let’s honor them. I love you. More than you could ever know.”
We clink glasses and finish our champagne. I wipe a tear from my eye, but before I drop my hand Reid brings my wet finger to his mouth and graces it with a sweet kiss. “No more tears,” he tells me, leaning down to take my mouth.
When he pulls away I find my breath and smile. His healing eye catches my attention and I stroke it with my thumb. “I love you, more than I can ever show you.”
“You being with me is more than enough.”
The sky is completely black around us now. The view before us is illuminated with a million artificial lights fighting with the stars for our attention. We are able to enjoy a few minutes more before it is time to leave. I can’t thank him enough for the gift of this moment but I’ll try.
The ride home is silent but comfortable, more than comfortable. Our ease with each other is played out through soft touching, squeezing thighs, stroking fingers, and brief happy glances that subtly say everything that words can’t match. That ease accompanies us home, to our apartment, to our bed, as we favor familiarity and enjoy the benefits of knowing and loving each other for seven whole years, finally reminding ourselves that such an aged bond is a blessing, not a curse.
“I wrote you a song,” I call the second Reid walks through the door. I didn’t mean to attack him immediately, but the song is fresh in my mind and I’m desperate to sing it for him. He doesn’t look quite so keen. Instead, he looks at me a little shocked before glancing momentarily at his office. I note the armful of bound paper and sink a little in my chair. “I mean, hi.”
“Hi, baby,” he answers, a little quiet. “I have to work tonight.”
I think I do well not to let my disappointment show but he puts his papers on the counter and walks to sit in front of me, giving me that sympathetic look that reminds me how much my acting ability sucks.
“It’s fine,” I lie.
“No, it’s not, but it’s for a good cause. I have interviews for an assistant all day tomorrow and then I’ve persuaded them to allow me a few days off.”
I push aside the shock. “Really?”
He nods, a trace of a smile pulling at his mouth. “I miss the beach.”
My eyes stretch open and air escapes my lungs as if it has been sucked out. I put down Cash and take Reid’s hands in mine, struggling to combat the tears that have been living so close to the surface lately. “We’re going to LA?”
I throw my arms around his neck and push us both to the back of the couch. His lips seek out mine but the kiss lacks intent as neither of us can stop smiling.
“I love you,” I breathe.
“Then sing me my song.”
“Nu-uh.” I sit up, shaking my head exaggeratedly. “I’ll sing you your song on the beach where it deserves to be played.”
He laughs and pulls me back down. “So you’re just going to leave me hanging?” His hips are pressed into mine and I’ve softened my legs around him.
“Oh, I think you’re the tease here.” We both stare down at our joined middles and then his eyes roam hungrily up my body as he flashes me that lopsided smile.
“I’m no tease. I’ll finish the job, baby.” He emphasizes his promise with a soft grind of his swollen erection against my sensitive center.
“I guess I can spare ten minutes.”
“Ten?” I ask, mocking outrage.
“Okay, twenty. Tops.” He regards me seriously before grinning mischievously and dropping his lips to my neck with a loud growl.
Twenty minutes comes and goes.
The flight took four hours but it may as well have been a day long journey for how much it dragged. I have never been more excited to get somewhere in my life.
Despite how late it already is the heat greets me like a deep hug as we step out of the airport. Thank heavens for Reid’s efficiency because I am in a comfortable daze as I soak up the warmth and the feeling of being home. It’s not my home in the sense of being born and raised here, but it’s the place I have lived the best of my life. It feels like home. It smells like home. It is where the majority of my memories live and it’s where I met Reid. Where we began our story.
Reid joins me in my nostalgic bubble during the cab ride to his grandparents, staring out of the window with a soft smile lingering over his features. He pulls me close and I gladly settle against his shoulder, feeling my whole life slipping back into place.
It’s late when we arrive. Gram and Gramps are already waiting on the porch for us. Gram trickles down the stairs with wide eyes and a beaming smile, taking Reid into her arms with a happy sob.
“You’ve lost weight,” she accuses, and then turning to me, holding me at arm length. “And you’re too pale,” she sighs, and then scoops me into her delicate arms. “Thank goodness you got here when you did. Let’s get you two fed and fried!”
We eat and talk, and talk and eat, Reid having much more to say than I. The conversation centers round his work and I find myself zoning out. When we finally turn in for bed neither of us can sleep. We can hear the ocean through the open window, calling us like a fawn to its mother.
“Shall we?” Reid asks, already scooting out of bed.
“Grab Cash!” I whisper shout as I pull on some jeans and shrug on Reid’s white shirt over my camisole.
Reid takes my hand as we tiptoe down the creaky stairs and toward the back door, stopping only for Reid to fetch a six-pack from the fridge; Gramps’ gift to us.
The house is small and quaint, but worth an absolute fortune due to its proximity to the beach. The sand is less than a stone’s throw away down some worn wooden steps. The second the sand pours between my toes I sigh contentedly.
We walk toward the ebbing tide and sit cross-legged on the sand. The moon looks bigger here, brighter too, nothing but the stars to fight with for our attention. Their bluish glow transcends over the lapping water, unhindered by clouds or skyscraping buildings. Not on this beach.
“I can’t wait to see the sunset again,” I muse out loud.
“Me neither.” Reid bites the top off of a beer and hands it to me. “It feels different here now, though.”
“Really? I think it feels exactly the same...warm,” I say, sounding out the addition.
He chuckles and sips on his own beer. “What’s the biggest difference for you?”
I look at him, trying to work out whether he wants a playful answer or the truth. “It’s not one thing. Not really. Sure, I like all the components, but it’s the way it makes me feel that I crave. It feels easier to breathe here.” Reid looks away, toying with the label on his bottle. I try to address the guiltiness this brings me. “I spent my entire adolescence on the move, Reid, so when I finally settled somewhere for more than six months I clung to that notion of home. It’s not really real. It’s idealistic. I pinned this place as my home and it’s going to take some time to accept that it’s not anymore.”
“If ever,” he mutters.
I look at him, a touch annoyed but battling through it. “You know why it’s so difficult to leave here? Because of you. We met here, we fell in love here. Christ, Reid, we married here. LA is filled with a million memories and the majority of them are of you.”
“I know, I get that. So let’s make more memories in Chicago.”
“That’s the plan.” I offer a smile. “My home’s with you, Reid, and if that’s in Chicago then I’m okay with that.”
“I want more than okay.”
“Then you need to give me some more time.”
He sighs heavily and nods his head like it’s weighted. Shifting closer, I wipe the sand off of my hand before looping it under his arm and wrapping my fingers around his bicep. I rest my head against his shoulder before he pulls away enough to look at me.
I attempt my own lopsided smile before reaching for Cash and laying him on my thighs. I take a moment to appreciate Reid, my husband, and how beautiful he is. Be it in Chicago or LA, his attractiveness transcends. His eyes, so dark in the black air, still twinkle impossibly, and his perfectly coiffed hair has been replaced with floppy strands, swept back from repeated runs of his hands through it. The most noticeable of all though is the way that he is looking at me, as if I am the sole reason for his happiness rather than the one thing that has threatened to steal it.
Clapping his hands in a gesture of ‘hurry up’ Reid rearranges himself to face me completely, letting his toned legs fall to the side as he leans against the sand, propped up on his elbow.
I breathe deep, strum once, and begin.
“Cold like my heart when we’re apart,
Sitting all alone in the room,
Empty like promise, trapped in the darkness,
Drowning in the light of the moon,
An empty vase sure conveys the way I feel when I’m without you,
An empty vase out of place without your arms to fall into,
I need you,
The yellow of the sun puts a smile upon my face,
The heat of its glow like the heat of your embrace,
But it doesn’t compare, for when you are there,
I’m blind to everything but your grace.
An empty vase sure conveys the way I feel when I’m without you,
An empty vase out of place without your arms to fall into,
And I need you, like the vase needs filling, darkness is spilling, without
And I want you, like the vase needs color, I want to harbor, the love
that I know.
You’re what I need, what I want, what I need, what I want.
Reid is silent as the last chord fades into the salty air. The song was purposely country, for him, because I know that’s what he enjoys me singing the most, and while it was soft and quieter than I would have liked to have sung, having taken into account the late hour, I hope that the emotion behind it was conveyed, because it said a lot for me.
Green eyes burn my blushing face. I’m not ordinarily so nervous about performing, but when my heart pours out along with my music, and the music is my very own, I can feel the pressure like it’s a tangible force.
I’m about to demand a response from him when he sits up, his eyes unyielding, and he crawls the small distance to me. Taking my guitar without asking, he lays it next to us. His gaze falls to my lips and I feel my insides clench at the intensity of his manner. Sometimes he looks at me like I am an unexplored wonder, like he’s thirsty and I’m his juice, he’s hungry and I’m his meat. This is one of those moments, and when he looks at me like this I will be his anything.
He’s on his knees hovering over me. Bringing his hand to my jaw he tilts my head up, manipulating my mouth to meet his. The pressure is soft but not weak and his breath is warm and heavy against my parted lips. I’m a puppet in his hands as he guides me backwards onto the sand, reaching for his towel to place under my head. He’s yet to say a single word to me and despite his reaction I’m still desperate for feedback.
“Did you like it?” I ask, breathy but stern as I block his kiss with my fingers.
Reid bites them, clamping them together before releasing them with a devilish smile. “Of course I loved it, you’re amazing. So talented, so beautiful,” he half says, half purrs, punctuating his words with brief kisses. Then his smile falters and he holds my chin in his grasp. “But you’ll never feel that way again. You’ll never feel empty again.”
I smile. “Promise?”
Holding his hand out, upright, he waits for my own, and with its contact he says, “I promise.” Our fingers spread and then entwine, lacing together as he embeds our hands in the sand above my head. “I promise,” he repeats against my ear, tightening my insides once more. My legs fall open, allowing his hips room to move against me, two lots of denim between us but the swell of him pressing against my already sensitive area is enough to have me gasping.
As his hand leaves my face to unbutton his shirt that I’m wearing, I shift in the sand, promptly reminding myself where we are.
“It’s the middle of the night, baby. Nobody’s watching us but the stars.” Dexterous fingers have opened the length of my shirt and his hand slips over my aware skin, persuading me in harmony with his words.
Looking either side of me, behind me, in front of us, I concede that there is nobody around. The mound of sand we are nestling against hides us somewhat from the darkened row of beach houses and there is no noise from anywhere other than the waves to hint at an oncoming intrusion. I consult with my conscience but when Reid’s fingertips reach my hardened nipples, teasing them with lazy circles, I disregard any indecision.
My legs tighten around him, bringing him closer still as my hands guide his face to mine. Our tongues meet gently, stroking heavily but slow. Reid pulls back enough for me to bite his lip. He growls as I lift my pelvis, begging for more than just friction.