“You feel so good, Reid. You’re amazing. I love you so much,” she cries, her ode a staccato with sharp groans of pleasure.
Everything I have is focused on not coming, not coming, not coming.
I’m not that guy.
Her, her, her.
Reaching down between us, I rub light circles around her, needing her so desperately to let go. With her oncoming release she’s clenching around me, only making my resistance even more difficult. I clamp down on her nipple and move my fingers with more aggression until with an almighty cry Darlene comes apart in my hands. Her hips lift so violently from beneath me I have to hold onto the counter for fear of falling off, all the while pushing hard into her in the depths of my own release. She milks me for all she can until I am a sated heap on top of her.
Darlene giggles lightly as I kiss my way over her chest to her lightly panting mouth. I bring my fingers to her cheek, happy that it is I who has elicited that melodic laughter from her kiss swollen lips.
The happiness dies sharply as I see red smeared across my fingers and consequently, Darlene’s cheek.
“Fuck,” I breathe, lifting enough to look between us.
“What’s the matter?”
“There’s b-blood,” I stutter. “You’re bleeding.” I pull out but I don’t back away. Guilt cloaks me as I play back this whole moment, wondering how I’ve hurt her and inwardly cursing myself.
“W-what?” Sitting up, Darlene looks down between us. Horror evident before relief consumes her. “My period.” Her eyelids flutter shut and her shoulders relax with a deep sigh. I mirror her relief for a different reason; I didn’t hurt her.
The sheer magnificence of her relief is so telling. I know that she wanted to wait to start a family but the joy she is feeling right now is from more than just timing concerns. She was just as worried about the paternity of that child – that non-child – as I was. I knew that already, but to see it so blatantly is a little sobering.
I was prepared to go down that path without knowing what the outcome would be. I was prepared to take on another man’s child for the sake of my wife, my marriage, my happiness. That doesn’t need to happen anymore. This is it for us. The last remnants of that affair have been buried and we are free to carry on as we were. I’m elated, but I can’t show it. Not when Darlene knows how much I’ve wanted a child. This happiness will have to remain as much a secret as everything else between us.
“It’s my period,” she repeats, relief radiating from every pore.
“For a second I thought I’d hurt you.”
She offers a smile. “No, that was amazing.” Bringing her face to mine, she’s about to kiss me before she remembers the blood on her cheek, my hands, everywhere. “Shit. I’m sorry,” she mutters, her cheeks reddening even more.
I shake my head. Only Darlene could apologize for having her period. “Shower?” I ask, helping her down from the counter. She nods. “Go warm it up, I’ll clean up here.”
Alternating a look of disgust between me and the counter, her nose pinched and impossibly cute, even with gross blood against her ivory skin, she says, “You don’t have to do that. It’s my...I can do that.”
“I know you can, but I will.”
She offers me a thankful kiss before walking naked, aside from the skirt bunched at her waist, to the bathroom.
I need a moment.
Reid permits me a few minutes to sober up.
I’m not pregnant.
It’s not over.
The secret is still very much a secret.
If I was alone I would have fist pumped the air and sang my damn heart out, but even the subtle relief I allowed myself seemed to dampen Reid’s mood. Or maybe that was the icky blood.
Great timing, Mother Nature.
The door opens just as I’m about to step into the now heated shower. Reid offers a small smile but there’s something a little off about his reaction. He’s been acting so down lately that I just assumed he was of the opinion that a baby right now would be disastrous. But maybe he wanted me to be pregnant after all.
Taking his hand, I bring him into the shower with me. We proceed to wash each other in a comforting silence. The soft suds over Reid’s firm chest do wonderful things for him, but I can’t feel sexy right now, even as he lathers a washcloth and cleans between my legs. I do the same for him. He’s semi-hard in my hand but I have no intention of goading a repeat performance from him. He’s tense and I want to know why.
Using the shampoo from the shelf, he begins lathering up my hair, his fingers running gentle circles into my scalp, feeling so soothing that I close my eyes and brace myself with my hands on his waist. After rinsing out the last of the suds he works to condition it. Embracing the feeling of being looked after once again, I allow a little hum to escape my mouth.
“Stop that, or we’ll never get out of the shower,” he says, low into my ear. I open my eyes to find my favorite lopsided smile. It’s a reassurance, and in its presence I find the ability to ask what I should have asked the night I told him my period was late.
“Did you want the baby?”
I attempt to keep my features smooth and my words weightless, but his brow furrows in response. It’s clear he’s thinking about what I’ve said and he’s struggling to form a reply.
Sometime later, he manages to say, “I want to be a father.”
I wait for further explanation but it doesn’t come. Where his voice fails his eyes tell me everything I need to know. The earthy greens are on full display, pupils large and with the added water his eyelashes are thick and pointed. They are unyielding on mine. I see love and I feel the warmth. Having finished on my hair, his hands are stroking delicate lines up and down my back, caring for me, soothing me.
This man before me would do anything for my happiness.
And I him.
Winter has come and gone and we have survived. No longer shrouded in the cold and dark, we are racing toward a happily ever after, and included in that is the family that we have talked about for so long. With our impending happiness comes the inability to deny him anymore. What excuse do I have for postponing it now? And what’s more, I don’t want to. I’ve been tested, and in that I have been reminded of everything. I love this man with all I have and it’s clearer now than it has ever been. Only after weeks in darkness could I fully appreciate the light.
“Okay,” I say, shrugging my shoulders as if it’s no big deal.
“I want you to be a father too. I want to give that to you. Not immediately, but maybe when I’m settled into my new job? We could look for somewhere with a garden, and where we could see the lake? I mean, it’s not quite the Pacific but...”
Fingers fly to my lips, cutting my words and igniting a gasp. “Stop talking.” Leaning in until we’re sharing the same heated breath, Reid’s focus flits between my eyes and mouth. “Are you saying you want to start a family?” he asks. I nod, his fingers pressed against my mouth, unmoving. “I love you.”
Tears spring to my eyes asI accept his love and return it. “I love you, Reid.”
The next couple of weeks are seen with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. I am reminded of our love every time I see those flowers, every time I am flashed that devastating smile and every time I find myself singing for no reason at all.
The last few weeks have been survived and more importantly, forgotten. Well, as best they can. Days are spent on my own, but not alone because I reminded of Reid and his love everywhere I go, and it’s not long before he is home, work-free, and lavishing me in his time.
We spent one night sorting through our old photographs, images that tell the story of our time together from our beginning, trailing the bars around university and attending gigs and festivals, to our intimate marriage and even more intimate honeymoon. Having never gotten around to it in the previous few months here, we finally began decorating our apartment with our memories.
We laughed, I cried, we kissed.
Deep into our refreshed life, the weekend approaches and a much anticipated get away. Not another trip back to LA, not yet, but an overnight stay at a lodge down in Pike Country. Reid found us somewhere as similar to our honeymoon destination as possible, with the rolling hills and the horses to explore them.
I can’t wait for that sunset.
I’ve not long finished packing for our early morning departure tomorrow when Reid gets home. “In here!” I call, sitting on the case to close it rather than remove that last pair of boots.
Reid stops in the doorway, laughing at my predicament. “Need a hand?”
Finishing the job of zipping up the case, he lifts me from my squatting position and pulls me straight into his arms.
“At ease, soldier,” I joke as Reid’s mouth immediately finds my neck and his hands slip under the waistband of my jeans. It’s become habit lately that the moment we are together again we fall into each other’s arms, and consequently, the bed. His fingers toy with the material of my thong between my cheeks and it takes everything I have to stop his exploration. “Dinner will be ready any second, baby, and I’ve worked too hard to see it ruined.”
Reid growls in response as I free myself from his arms. I can’t help the smirk on my face as he follows me to the kitchen. I’m in the mood to play. Bending over to pull dinner from the oven, I bend at the waist rather than the knees and arch my back a little in the knowledge that Reid is watching me.
“If this little game you have going on is foreplay then I can’t wait for the main,” Reid says, his tone heavy before he clears his throat. “What are we eating anyway?”
I turn to him with the oven tray in my gloved hands and throw him my sexiest smolder. “Pork.”
Reid’s eyes widen and fall to the spiced chops in my hand before he lets out a cute chuckle. “You’ll be the death of me.”
Dinner is eaten with speed under the promise that, for my efforts, Reid would have me for dessert. He wasn’t kidding. I have barely swallowed the last of the accompanying salad before Reid has stripped me of my jeans and is working on my thong.
People say that if you love someone then you should let them go. I call bullshit. If you love someone then you will do anything you can to keep them. And I will. If that means fighting for her and helping her see that she has a way out of the sorry mess she’s in, then I will do just that.
This moment has been too long coming. Why have I been torturing myself over something that’s easily solved? Darlene is only staying in this sham of a marriage because she feels trapped. Trapped by her duty, trapped by her circumstance, and God knows what else. Reid has a hold over her, I’m sure of it, and I need to break it and set her free. Free to be with me. I can make her happy if she would just allow me the chance.
The chemistry between the two of us is undeniable; it’s been there from the moment we met. I’ve never felt that tied to someone before, and I’ve had my fair share of women, some that I’ve allowed to stick around but none that I could imagine wanting to spend the rest of my life with. The music we could make together has endless possibilities.
She gets me. I get her. I can’t let her go.
The last time I saw Darlene I was blinded by her tears. I believed in the aforementioned notion that to let her go would be the kindest love I could give her. But I’ve wised up. After just this short amount of time apart I have turned into a pathetic mess. No woman has been enough to help me forget her and Lord knows they’ve tried. No amount of booze quenches my thirst for her and the music that once saved me only reminds me of our brief but amazing time together.
My dad used to say that if it can’t be solved with booze and blues then it couldn’t be solved at all. He was a jackass.
I can solve this.
The corridor that leads to her apartment is long, but not long enough for me to counter a clear plan. I stop, hands in my pockets, and I lean my head against the wall. Water from the rain outside drips to my feet, but the wetness does nothing to chill the fire in my resolve. Banging my head several times knocks no sense into my thick skull, so biting the bullet, I decide that playing it by ear is as good a plan as any.
My hand hovers over the door, stopped from knocking by the sweet sound of Darlene’s laughter. It seeps through the door and surrounds me, giving me that hard kick up the ass I need to see me through his.
Two sharp thumps on the door sees the giggling silenced. I hear a relay of voices, one definitely being Reid.
Good, he’s there.
The door swings wide open, revealing Darlene smiling bright. That smile lasts even less time than it takes for her to shut the door. Not all the way, but enough to hide me from Hubby.
“What are you doing here?” she bites.
Even pissed she’s cute. Barefoot, she’s tiny and her hair is piled high on her head. Pink cheeks and bare legs let me know what the giggling was about and I’m both sickened and hot. Her legs are uncovered all the way up to her thigh, where a long sweater hides her panties. With eyes so big and clear I’m sure she can see right through my bullshit. So why bother.
“You know why I’m here. I need to speak to you.”
“Ever heard of a phone?” she snaps.
“Would you have answered?” I snap right back. She rolls her eyes, defeated.
“Who is it, baby?” a voice from inside calls, annoyance ringing out so obviously. Darlene looks like a deer caught in headlights, especially with those big old Bambi eyes. I almost feel bad for my intrusion, but no pain no gain.
“Nobody, it’s...” The door is pulled open and Reid glares at me. As if that wasn’t territorial enough, his arm immediately wraps so tightly around Darlene that I’m surprised she can breathe.
“Blue,” he says, although the way he speaks it, it sounds more like a curse. I notice a faint scar on his left eyebrow and immediately feel gratified.
“Can we help you?”
“Can I come in?”
“We’re a little busy at the moment,” he explains, planting a telltale kiss on Darlene’s temple. She accepts it with a tight smile before looking back at me guiltily.
“Well, I guess we can always talk here.” I make sure to slip Darlene a look that tells her I mean business.
She cracks. “No!” Ducking from Reid’s arm, she moves away from view. She comes back just a moment later wearing jeans and a jacket and pushing her feet into those damn cowboy boots.
“We’ll take a walk. Five minutes, tops. And then we can...carry on.” She slows down enough to issue Reid with a loud kiss on his lips. He offers nothing in return. No, he’s too busy burning me with hatred.
“Hurry back,” he mutters as she walks through the door. She stalks off down the corridor, expecting me to follow. I do, obviously.
“Elevator’s out,” she calls, taking the stairs. What a crock. I came up in that elevator. I know damn well why she doesn’t want to ride in it with me. Temptation.
Not stopping at the bottom of the stairs, she carries on over the road, battling the rain with little more than the hood of her jacket. It’s suddenly clear where she’s going. The park. No words are said. No looks exchanged. I can’t gauge her reaction on anything other than the heaviness of her feet on the wet pavement. She’s not happy.
Turning sharply, she faces me, her features shiny from the rain. I don’t have time to stop. Chest to chest we stand, but only for a second before I am harshly pushed away. Two hands hard against my stomach attempt to thrust me backwards. There’s no real strength behind them, but I humor her and back off.
“There had better be a death, a fire or an equally serious reason for you to have intruded on us like that!”
“Okay, calm down.”
“NO!” A sharp finger jabs me in the chest before she throws her hands in her hair. “I thought we’d said our goodbyes and agreed not to speak again?”
“We did. I tried. I can’t.”
“I can’t,” I repeat, stepping closer. She steps back. “I can’t stay away from you anymore. It’s too hard and I’m too weak. I want you, for keeps.”
“Delusional, in love. Same thing, right?”
Sitting down on a bench nearby, tired or defeated, she shakes her head. “Blue, you’re not in love with me. You need to stop saying that shit.”
“Yes, I am. And you feel it too. If you didn’t then why would you risk your marriage like that?” I ask, moving closer as I feel the anger subsiding with the rain.
“Because...I’m selfish, I was in need. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. You were nothing more than a stand-in, Blue. I’m sorry.”
“That’s bullshit.” “That’s the truth.”
I’m staring into the very eyes that have beckoned me to bed, the lips that have branded my own with kisses that I’ll never be able to forget, trying in vain to see a fault in her words. Nothing.
“You’re either a really good actress or...”
“I’m a terrible actress.”
Shaking my head, fighting the outrage that comes with her persistent denial, I throw my hands behind my head. “You’ve ruined me.” “You’re being dramatic.”
“I gave you everything and you took it again and again!” My pumping blood is loud in my ears and my face is impossibly hot. I’m embarrassed and enraged that it has come to this and she still pushes me away.
“I know that, Blue, and I’m so grateful and I’m so sorry.” “I don’t accept that.”
“You have to,” she pleads, standing and unleashing those powerful blues on me.
“No, I can make you happy, Darl. Just give me the chance.”
“I’m already happy!” she lies. I know she’s lying. She has to be.
Desperation consumes me. I can’t let this last opportunity slip by. Needing to remind her of our connection, our chemistry, our love, I take her face in my hands. Still fighting, she tries to pull away from me. It only makes me hold her tighter.
“Stop fighting me,” I order, my teeth clenched to combat the hurt.
“No, Blue.” Her fists hammer at my chest like ping pong balls, with aim and intent, but no strength. My lips are drawn to hers easily but I’m thrown off by a roaring voice behind me.
“Let. Her. Go!”
Immediately placing a voice to a face, then a face to a name, my suspicions are confirmed by Darlene’s wide eyes and trembling chin.
“Reid,” she breathes like his name is a relief in itself. Pushing one last time, she frees herself. Shoving past me, she moves to stand between us. “Reid, let me explain. Nothing’s going on.”
“Don’t lie,” I contest, turning to face them both.
I’m defeated. My hopes for a future between Darlene and I has been trampled on with cute, but very real cowboy boots. Nothing I can do or say can resolve this. Persuasion has failed and romance has died. While Reid is still an option I will never be her first choice. However, if Reid doesn’t want her then I guess that ups my chances.
I’m not too proud to win by default.
“Blue,” Darlene warns, her defiance annoying the hell out of me. Why does she insist on protecting him from this? He’s an ass who has given her nothing but pain since I have known her.
“Enough, Darlene. Enough bullshit!” I look to Reid, standing there without a jacket. His thin shirt is all but see-through from the constant rain. A puffed out chest and clenched fists don’t bring me an ounce of worry. I could take this fool with my eyes closed. Again.
“Darlene and I? We’re together.”
“No,” she cries.
“We were together.”
“Oh my God,” she whimpers, crouching to the floor and hiding behind her hands like a child. You can’t hide anymore, Pilgrim. I steadily walk toward Reid, expecting fireworks but finding only restraint. Pretty good fucking restraint.
“It’s been going on for weeks,” I push, wanting a reaction. “I love her, and she loves me.”
My jaw is knocked unnaturally to the right, sending a sharp pain through my entire face. More contact square on the nose and I’m blinded, flying backwards and falling over something, or someone. Darlene. I shake my head trying to clear my blurred vision and manage to make out Reid towering above us. Darlene scrambles over me with a chorus of no’s, halting Reid from his assault. I don’t know what hurts more, my face or the fact that I have been floored by this asshole.
“Please stop, Reid! Don’t listen to him, just let me explain!”
“You don’t need to,” he grinds.
“I do, I do,” Darlene cries, standing to plead with Reid. My vision clears enough for me to focus on her. Her hood has fallen and the rain is already coating her face with her escaped curls. Desperation controls every part of her; her trembling hands, her tear-ridden eyes, and her quivering voice. You’d think her clear need to make this okay with Reid would be enough to make me see that she wants him. Instead, it only makes me want her to feel that way about me.
Clawing at his wet shirt as she waits for him to say something, anything, she waits a long time. The slackening of his shoulders comes with a loud sigh, but his fists remain tight. I stand, wobbly, preparing to pounce when Reid finally speaks.
“What?” Darlene asks for both of us.
“I already know. I’ve known all along.” Reid’s voice is only a whisper but it echoes over the pounding rain and Darlene’s soft sobs. Her hands drop from his shirt and she steps back in a daze. I catch her shoulders before she walks into me. Reid stiffens once more at my touch. Stiffen all you like asshole, you won’t touch me again.
“I don’t understand,” she says, shrugging out of my grasp.
“I don’t want you to understand. I just want you to know that I know, and that it’s fine. We’re okay.”
I fucking knew it!
His hatred for me always seemed unjustified. I should have realized when he came storming into the bar that day looking for Darlene. He knew then and he was expecting her to come down the stairs, not Nina. Ha! I bet that easy lay confused him.
Darlene is rendered speechless. Me? Not so much.
“You’re sick. You knew all this time and you were just fine with it? With your wife screwing another guy?”
Reid winces at my words before stepping closer, menacingly. Darlene places a firm hand on his chest and it seems enough to placate him. He looks at her. He’s a broken man. That much is obvious.
Darlene finds her voice. “I don’t understand…”
“Then let me explain…”
“No.” She glances at me briefly. “We’ll talk about this inside. Alone.” She stalks away, heading back to the apartment. Reid throws me a smug look before following her. Then, stopping dead, Darlene turns slowly and pads toward me, arms folded as if only now does she feel the chill that came with the rain.
A flicker of hope sparks in my gut as I imagine her choosing me. Even now I can delude myself with ideals. Her eyes stay fixed on the floor, hiding what she is feeling, what she is about to throw at me.
At that word, that name, that reminder of our brief but impassioned history, her eyes lock with mine. Moments pass, wordlessly, but the silence says more than any words could. I see regret, I see anger, I see vulnerability that makes me want to shield her from the world and Reid. But most of all I see disappointment. I don’t know what I could possibly do or say to remedy that.
With a resigned sigh Darlene opens her mouth to speak and I no longer hold onto any hope. “Goodbye, Blue.”
Reid is already pacing the room by the time I make it back to our apartment. He has a towel in his hand, which when he sees me he tosses for me to catch. I take off my soaked through jacket and take a seat on my favorite chair. With the towel pressed hard against my face I try to sift through what has just happened, how it came to be that my life got flipped upside down.
“When did you find out?” I ask, working the towel through my hair.
Looking at me as he removes his wet, clingy shirt, he raises his eyebrows. “Does it matter?”
“Yes,” I answer without missing a beat. “I’m confused by this all, Reid. I don’t get it…I…you’ve known for how long?”
“Darlene, all that matters is that I don’t care,” Reid says, dropping his voice as he steps closer, but I step back. He doesn’t care? He doesn’t care that I’ve been having an affair, that I’ve slept with another man and had feelings for someone that isn’t him?
What does that say about our relationship?
“Look, I’ll explain, okay? I’ll tell you everything but you need to hear me out. No interruptions.” He waits until I nod before he continues, returning to pacing the room like he’s running tracks through his mind. “I’ve known since I got back from New York. I came to watch you perform and I saw it, the two of you gorging on each other from across the room. I waited around and saw you kiss.” He runs his hands harshly over his face, pulling at his eyelids, his mouth. “I thought it was over between us. You’d done the unthinkable.”
As Reid collapses onto the couch, his elbows supporting him on his knees, I think back to that very night and what he must have seen. I’m humiliated and so incredibly ashamed.
“I was waiting to confront you the next day and I...I couldn’t. We argued, you remember? And I realized how much of a role I had to play in it...in the affair.” He says the words like they’re painful to speak. They’re painful to hear. “I all but wrapped you in a bow and gave you to him. How could I blame you without blaming myself?”
“You should have told me. Straight away. I would have finished it.”
“Exactly. But you wouldn’t have wanted to. You would have finished it because you’re a good person and because that’s what would have been expected of you.”
“I would have finished it because I love you.”
“Not enough. And that’s my fault. I had to win it back.”
“You had to win my love back?”
He nods again and I feel sick.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, it is me who is pacing now. Confusion is making way for upset and anger that for weeks we have been lying to each other. While I know it is I who is in the wrong I can’t shake the feeling that his reaction lessens what I thought we had.
With unconcealed irritation I ask, “Was this a competition?”
“You and Blue. It was a pissing contest the moment you first met. Was this just an extension of that?” My voice is high and broken by the restrained lump in my throat.
“No, this was about me deserving your love again. About you making the right decision, not the forced one!”
“I don’t believe you. I think this was more about your ego than it was about me.”
“You’re wrong, Darlene. If it was about my ego I would have left you!”
“You should have! You should be mad at me! That you have been able to live a normal life with me despite knowing what you know makes me wonder if you really love me at all. How could you be so calm about me sleeping with someone else? Weren’t you upset? Weren’t you angry? You get pissed at me for forgetting my phone but this you can overlook?”
His eyes burn with his own fury and I welcome it, I encourage it. I need to feel something from him, anything other than this coolness. “Trust me, you fucking someone else has not been overlooked.”
“Really?” I bite on an eye roll.
I can almost see the red flush over him as he interjects my pacing. He grips me by the shoulders so much that I wince. Those eyes, so emotive and telling, speak of weeks worth of frustration and I find myself believing him before he even speaks.
His voice loud and broken, he yells, “You want to hear what I’ve been through? You want to hear what has been going on in my head? I’ve fought with the image of you fucking like rabbits every time I close my eyes! I’ve dealt with questions that no husband should ever have to deal with! Does he make her scream like I can? Does he appreciate how amazing she is and not just how amazing she is in bed?…Does she love him?”
Tears pool in his eyes and it breaks me to see him so beaten. He looks up to the ceiling in anger, trying to control his emotions, but he’s failing as much as I am. “I am a broken man, Darlene, and the only thing that has held me together is the hope that we can work through this. I had to believe that we could work through this because I wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t. I hated you…”
I shove him with all I can but he holds me tighter, shaking me enough until I stop struggling. I can barely see him through my abused, wet eyes, but I can feel his power, his desperation.