New Year’s Eve, Pacific Standard Time, 2011
When it got close to twelve, I’d get my sparkling cider from the fridge and borrow one of my roommate Celeste’s flutes to drink in the New Year. Chinese takeout, popcorn, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and sci-fi—did it get much better for a winter night in?
Only with someone to cuddle.
Side-stepping that mental route, I put in the next film.
At midnight, I paused the movie to watch the ball drop in
replaying Jacob’s message for the third time.
I could barely hear him say, “Happy
New Year, baby. I’m comin’ home,” over the crowd, but it meant a lot he
tried. After toasting the TV and my
phone, I finished the sparkling cider and resumed play of Empire Strikes Back. Reaching
for my phone, I typed a text message: I
don’t know if you’re home, yet, but if so, I’ll see you in the morning. I love
When your boyfriend is finally coming home after two months away, you don’t sleep much the night before. Aside from two hours and fourteen minutes of Return of the Jedi, I tossed in bed because my brain wouldn’t shut up. We had a great Christmas reunion, but what if…well, I was the queen of obsessing about “what ifs”. Now it was January, we were coming up on a fourth month anniversary, but two months of it had been spent apart. I worried.
When I couldn’t stand lying in bed any longer, I started getting ready.
Hair straight or curled? Make-up or no make-up? Glasses or contacts? I did a full face and washed it off for trying too hard. If he was happy to see me, it wouldn’t matter what I looked like, but my closet caused similar angst. Pants or a skirt…how cold was it? Be practical, Beth, or he’ll know you were freaking out.
It was nearing ten by the time I got in my car and left
sweaty, my hands slid on the steering wheel.
When I pulled into his driveway after getting through the gate, they
were shaking. By the time I stood on the
front step waiting for someone to answer the door, butterflies danced in my
stomach. Knocking gained no reply, so I
rang the bell. Santa
January 1st, 2012
Bloody buggerin’ fuck—someone was ringing his doorbell at—Jacob opened one eye to peer at the clock—10:00AM?
He groaned and rolled out of bed. At some point of the night he’d somehow stripped to his boxers, so he did the zombie shuffle to a drawer, pulled out sweats and a hoodie from his uni days, and dressed. The doorbell rang again.
“Coming.” Ow. His throat was raw from breathing through his mouth while he slept.
He went downstairs, shielding his eyes from sunlight.
“Dammit, Curtis, whatever it is can wait until I’ve had one day off. One!” He disabled the security system, unlocked the door, and opened it, prepared to give his assistant a piece of his mind. “What?”
But it wasn’t the PA.
“Beth,” he whispered.
A step and she was in his arms, her body fitting against his like a missing puzzle piece, tasting faintly of mint from her toothpaste and her silky hair carrying his favorite scent in the world. His girl, live, in the flesh, and sighing into his kiss. He had her inside and pressed against a wall without realizing he’d moved.
For two long months, he dreamt of having her to himself and all alone, and now he didn’t know where to start first.
“Scratchy,” she said when he let her breathe, then moaned when he bit the spot on her neck that drove her crazy. He faintly recalled he hadn’t shaved since Christmas. “Good morning.”
He cupped the back of her neck. “God, I’ve missed you.” Starting to run his fingers through her hair, his bracelet caught on a few strands.
“Ow.” She reached up and tugged her hair free, then grabbed his wrist. “You still have this?”
“What?” Oh. She gave him the leather cuff for Christmas mere months before they broke up nine years ago. “Worn it all tour.”
She stared at the bracelet as she turned it on his arm. “I can’t believe you kept it.”
“You gave it to me at a time I needed encouragement. Though there were years I didn’t wear it, the message wasn’t tainted. I didn’t quit.”
When she looked up at him, her smile was watery. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
Kissing Beth again, he lifted her up to wrap her legs around his waist, the evidence of his desire pressed against her center. He might pop like a virgin from wanting her so much, but he didn’t care—all day inside her soft body wouldn’t be enough. His muse, the love of his life, his best friend. With the tour over, they could finally start building toward forever.
She unzipped his hoodie. He pulled her sweater over her head and tossed it away. She wore one of those flesh-tone t-shirt bras designed to blend in, but right now it was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. He kissed and nibbled a trail down her neck, collarbone, and—
He sneezed on her chest. She froze. “Sorry!” He started drying her off with his sweatshirt.
“All better. Now where were we?” He leaned in to kiss her again. Her hand covered his mouth. “Hey.”
“Are you sick?”
“I’m fine.” His lungs itched, a tickle developed in his throat, and he had to turn his head away and cough, a wet rasping noise betraying his cold.
“Jacob, that sounds awful!”
She slid down to her feet. “You should be in bed.”
“I was planning to,” he said, and tried to kiss her again. His lips hit her cheek. “Love…”
She picked up her sweater and shut the front door. “The runny nose and wheezing: not so sexy.”
“Says you. I haven’t seen you in days. Missed you, Bethie.”
“I missed you, too. Where’s Maria?”
“Still on holiday.”
“Do you have any medicine in the house?”
He shrugged. “Dunno.”
She felt his forehead and cheek, then picked up her purse. “Here, take these.” She handed him a plastic baggie. “I’m going to see what Maria has around the house.”
He sighed. “Okay.” Now she was in caretaker mode, the mood was broken. “What’s in here?”
“Immune system boosters.”
He backed into the kitchen and started making tea. The kettle was whistling before she came back. She set a box of cold and sinus meds on the counter.
“Have you been coughing much? I can go to the store.”
“Just sit, love, okay? I can take time to be sick.”
“I’d feel better if you were tucked in bed.”
“Missed me that much?”
She shook her head. “How can you be horny when you can barely breathe?”
Shrugging a shoulder, he said, “I’m male and you’re hot.”
“You’re not my mum, so relax.”
“You should be resting.” Crossing her arms under her breasts, hip cocked, she wasn’t budging. He raised an eyebrow, challenging her to move him from the chair. “Fine. Sit in front of the TV, then. Where does Maria keep extra blankets?”
“In the linen closet, I suppose.”
“Yes, but where is that?”
He shrugged again. “I dunno. My name’s on the deed, but it’s not really been my house, yet, has it? Been gone too much.”
Sighing, she rolled her eyes. “Fine…”
He laughed, which set off another round of coughing. Closet and cabinet doors were opened and closed, then she returned with a blanket and tucked it around him on the sofa.
“I wasn’t cold…but thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She sat down. “Any idea what’s on?”
“Nope,” he said, flipping channels. He finally settled on a black-and-white Cary Grant film.
She laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back.”
He leaned into her. “Me, too.”
“Did you see a doctor?”
“Tour medic listened to my lungs. I’m fine.” He stroked her hair. “Quit worrying.”
“Um, have you met me?”
He smiled. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“Then you should sleep.”
“And miss time with you? Never.”
Moments earlier, Larry aimed his telephoto lens between the fence posts, gaining a straight shot to the front door. A brunette had just arrived, so he figured this was the girlfriend the boss wanted him to get photos of.
Jake Lindsey really knew how to tell a lady good morning, wink-wink. Larry click-click-clicked through the whole scene while the couple sucked face. The jackpot? When they started shedding each other’s clothes. It was a real shame the door closed when it did. The girl was a bit skinny for his tastes, but skin was skin.
Now, off to the boss to collect his payday. This paparazzi gig was going to change his fortunes.
When Jacob fell asleep on my lap, I muted the volume of the TV. Lightly stroking his hair, I savored the quiet. He was so rarely still, I needed to be on my toes to keep up with his energy, and I could count the times I’d watched him sleep on my hand. His hair was longer and he hadn’t shaved in a few days. His body probably didn’t know what time zone it was in, yet. Poor guy. He didn’t get sick often, but he was always a big grouchy baby when he did…though maybe this time would be different now he was older and more mature.
I didn’t know how he would take the news of me moving in with Celeste. What if he gave me the key hoping I’d want to move in? Just because he didn’t say so… No use wondering. This house wasn’t me. Prettier than the last place, warmer, but not me…not us. He’d have made it cozier if he felt so, too, I think. Anyway, I lived further away now and knew he wouldn’t like that, but it didn’t seem right to tell him long-distance.
“Mmm, feels wonderful.” He opened those ocean-blue eyes.
“Did I wake you?”
“Nah. Sorry ‘bout this cold. Not how I pictured our reunion.”
“It’s okay,” I said, smiling.
“I’ll make it up to you.”
Still stroking his hair, I asked, “When did you get sick?”
“Today’s the first?” He scratched the stubble on his right cheek. “Twenty-ninth, I guess. My throat was killing me by the end of the gig. Thought it was just fatigue, you know, from tourin’ for two months. Wasn’t ‘til I woke yesterday to fly home that I felt like this, though.”
“Meds helping now?”
“You’re helping now.”
Awww. “Did you eat yet today?”
“Nah. You woke me with the bell.”
“Up. I’ll make you some soup.”
“But I’m comfy.”
“You won’t get better without nourishment. Don’t make me dump you on the floor.”
He sighed. My butt was stiff when I stood and walked into the kitchen. Even on a plush leather sofa, I still felt the lack of my own padding. I’d lost weight over the past two months. Thought I’d be a bit lost in the big kitchen, but Maria had stowed everything in the same places as the last house and I soon had homemade pasta fagioli thawing in the microwave. She always made it in winter.
Turning the heat on under the kettle for more tea, I grabbed the bowl of soup, a spoon, and a napkin, and brought lunch back to Jacob.
“Gonna make me eat alone?” he asked.
“I—” My phone buzzed. “Sorry. Beth Lawson. Hey, Nathan. Uh-huh…uh-huh…yeah, it’ll be ready to pick up first thing in the morning.” My boss hung up. “I gotta go.”
“Well…pretty much, yeah.”
He stood. “I just got back.”
“That was my boss. I have to go.”
“Thought you’re still freelancing.”
“I am, sort of. Independent contractor would be more correct. Look, I’d love to hang out, but I need to get a shipment out with the first morning pick-up and those prints aren’t going to frame themselves.” I kissed his cheek. “Go back to bed.”
He grabbed my arm when I turned to leave. “Hey, you don’t get to run out without a hug when I haven’t seen you for a week.” He wrapped me in his long arms.
“I love you. Call me?”
When I got out to my car, I realized I was relieved for an excuse to leave. Seeing him again was different than I expected. While he was away, I had to keep busy, so it was kind of like we were starting our relationship from scratch again. With even more history.
I went home first.
“You’re back early,” Celeste said.
“Nathan called. And Jacob came home with a cold, so he’s a little gross right now.”
“Aw, I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. I’m going to change, then I’ll be downstairs the rest of the day if you need me.”
It was the following afternoon when I got back to Jacob’s again. The door was unlocked. Letting myself in, I heard piano music. The grand piano sat at the far end of the living room. Jacob played it now. He didn’t notice me, his view obscured by the piano top propped open. It had been a long time since I heard him play like this.
The music stopped. “Beth? I didn’t hear you come in.” He rose from the instrument and moved to close the top.
“What were you playing?”
“A little Gershwin.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Thought I was alone.”
“I just got here. Is this a bad time? I could—”
“No… No.” He didn’t look much better than yesterday, except he’d shaved. “I’m glad you stopped by.”
Slipping my hands in my pockets, I said, “I wanted to see how you’re feeling.”
He grabbed a tissue from the box on the coffee table and blew his nose. “Sorry. I’m drippy. Bloody annoying.”
“I’ll bet. Is Maria taking care of you?”
He rolled his eyes. “Grown man, love. She’s always helpful, but I can do for myself.”
“Good…that’s good. I should… Um, I wanted to check in, so…”
He caught my arm. “Beth…is something wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s…it’s a little weird having you here, okay? Accessible. Not bad-weird, just… Life still happened while you were gone.”
“Okay… Well, I am here now, so, catch me up.”
“How was the tour?”
“Great crowds. They were excited to hear the new stuff live. Mum dropped by when we were in
. She sends her
“Ah. Andrew and Darcy liked you, by the way.”
“They were nice. She’s an excellent cook.”
“Yeah, that’s why my brother is fifteen pounds heavier than before they met. Darcy basically raised her little sister, so she learned out of necessity. She’s a great mom, too.”
He nodded. “Kid’s a cutie. You can sit, you know.”
S’pose I could, if I wasn’t so jumpy. “I’m mobile when I talk. Are you hungry? I could go get takeout.”
“Beth…please…” Sighing, I knew I wasn’t acting right, and kissed him. He made a surprised sound, then gently pushed me back. “I am incredibly confused.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe I should go.”
“Just tell me, love.”
“It’s only my stupid brain. I warned you I’m a nutcase.”
He smiled and tucked my hair behind my ear. “So you did.”
“Well, I mentioned I have a new job. Kind of. Case-by-case basis, so my schedule is still fluid, but Nate’s been so helpful with referrals and stuff—”
“A friend. My boss. Anyway, Celeste and I moved in together, and I have a gallery—tiny, nothing special—and a cat, Celeste’s cat, and I’m going to New York for a week in March, and—”
“You moved out of your dad’s? How long ago? Why didn’t you mention it?”
“About a month ago… Yeah, a month. Right after Thanksgiving. It’s a two-story condo above business space in
I wasn’t sure about living at the beach, but it’s grown on me, and Celeste was
totally right about the location being good for sales. She’s kind of my
manager, even though she still works full-time at the magazine. Her cat, Cesar,
is this grumpy old fur ball, but kind of sweet in his way, too. Hates men, though, with a passion. He
was mad for two days when she brought him over because he could smell the
movers. We have an option to buy, but neither of us is thinking that serious
about the place. Am I rambling?” Santa Monica
“Little bit. What brought on the move? How’s your dad taking it?”
“He’s supportive. I see him at least once a week. We always knew my being back home was temporary. I don’t know… Celeste happened to see the place and love it, and Nathan gave me a great commission for the first project, so…” I shrugged. “It happened.”
He frowned. “It’s a lot to take in.
is more of a commute.” Santa Monica
“To here? Yeah.” Awkward? Nooo… I didn’t know what to do with my hands.
He sat on the sofa. “Anything else I missed?”
“Only the little stuff. Everyday inane stuff.”
He sighed. “What should I do with you?”
“Take me to dinner?” I needed to make this up to him.
He blinked. “You want to go out? Here in
“Unless you don’t want to.” I sat next to him.
“No! I just wasn’t expecting that. Are you sure, love?”
“Yeah. Doesn’t matter where. A normal date would be nice. Do you want to stay under the radar longer?”
“Whatever you’re comfortable with, sweetheart. My concern was always for the effect on you. I live in this world every day, but your privacy is important to you. Tomorrow alright, provided I’m not hackin’ up a lung?”
“It’s a date.”
“Good. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“So, can you stick around, or do you have to run off to work again?”
Cuddling into his side, I said, “I think I have a little time.”
He stroked my cheek. “You won’t let me kiss you right now, huh?”
“Patience. I can’t risk you being contagious, but it’s nothing personal.”
“Can’t you take a couple days off, love? We have time to make up for.”
“Pouting doesn’t work on me. I know you too well. And my schedule is fluid, but I can’t afford to postpone work. My clients will go elsewhere. I’m still here. We can talk every day.”
“Yeah, fine.” He stood and crossed the room to the entertainment unit. “Movie?”
“Sure.” It was our go-to distraction.
He took my news better than I expected, but I still felt guilty, which didn’t make sense when I’d done nothing wrong. He’d already been gone for four weeks when I moved and communication was spotty at best. Going with him on the tour and being out of work for two months was never a consideration. I worked too hard to build my reputation as a local photographer.
We watched the film, ordered Chinese food—spicy for him to clear his sinuses—and he told me more about the tour, then I went home. Everything would be fine once we established a new normal.