Playing House

By Eleine Kruez

Part 20

Sinjun woke to the sound of keyboard tapping. Nicki was seated on the desk, most likely working. She took the opportunity to study him since he didn't seem to have realized she was no longer snoozing.

He was wearing a pair of faded sweatpants and he occasionally glanced at the papers on his left as he typed. A smile bordering on lecherous touched her lips. Thank God last night hadn't been a dream. She liked how he was naked from the waist up. She liked looking at him. She liked sleeping with him.

A dark thought came over her. Did he like looking at her? Did he like sleeping with her? After what happened between them, what now?

She must've made a sound or a move that gave her away because Nicki looked at her and their eyes met briefly before darting away. She was suddenly very aware of her nakedness beneath the cotton sheet. Would it look too weird if she tried to crawl underneath the covers?

"Afternoon," Nicki said, looking up from the screen to give her a brief smile. "If you give me a few more minutes I'll be done with this report then we can head out for some grub."

"You, uh, feeling better?" she asked, ignoring the break in her voice. Man! Trust her to be all flustered when Nicki can go right back to work after last night. She was torn between relief over him not being weird and awkward and irritation that he wasn't the least bit fazed by what happened. Had she been that crap a lay? In the background she could hear her phone ringing. She debated whether or not to answer it. Allowing herself to be smothered by the bedspread seemed like a capital idea.

"You gonna answer that?"

Before she could respond though, someone started ringing the doorbell. Followed by pounding on the door. They both frowned at the intruder. Her mobile stopped ringing and the landline began trilling. More pounding.

"Open up, darnit! I only have a few minutes' head start!" Though muffled from the other side of the wood, they recognized the voice as Penelope's. Then everything quieted down. Sinjun was wondering if the older woman simply decided to wait, when they heard the door burst open. "Yoo-hoo~"

Nicki cursed under his breath and sprang from the chair, striding toward the front door. Sinjun would've followed except she remembered she was still pretty much naked. She scrambled into her shorts then grabbed the first shirt she could get her hands on. She didn't get her clothes on or leave Nicki's room fast enough though. Pen poked her head into the room, walking past her frowning cousin and let out a whistle. "You've got Nicki's shirt on backwards, hon."

Sinjun felt herself flushed under her smirking grin. Nicki strode into the room and tried pushing her out. "What the hell, Pen. Breaking and entering?"

She snorted. "Yeah, right. My calls and knocks should've given you 'nuff warning. Besides, you can't call it B and E if I've got a key, hmm?" She twirled the ring of keys in her finger in front of Nicki. Then she blanched. "Fudge. Forget about that. I came here to warn you guys—not that you're very appreciative of the gesture," she rolled her eyes. "Grandma's rounding off the girls for last minute slave work. I'm hiding out here in case she tries to rope Sinjun in."

They didn't really get to ask her what she meant before the doorbell rang again and Pen jumped. She eyed Nicki's closet and he stepped in front of it meaningfully. She made a face. "Oh, sure, throw me under the truck, eh?" She sighed as the doorbell rang again. "She's not gonna go away." She looked at them. "And she's not gonna believe you're too sick not to go either. We're all in this together."

With that, she marched toward the front door and opened it with a bright smile. "Grandmother!" She hugged Leticia and kissed her cheeks. "Guess what, Nicki's feeling so much better and he won't take no for an answer. He and Sinjun would love to help out at the Garage sale!"

Sinjun just looked at Nicki and he shrugged. It slipped his mind that with the GGS opening today she would be looking for victims to draft into slaving away for her, as was her MO every year. He always managed to avoid the garage sale until after opening because of work. He kissed her cheeks as he welcomed her to his home and invited her to sit on the couch.

Sinjun kissed her cheeks as well, still a little cowed by the matriarch. "Um, would you like something to drink? Water, tea, soda? Coffee? How 'bout something to eat?"

Leticia waved her offerings away and turned to her granddaughter instead. "Why haven't you been answering my calls, Penelope? You weren't trying to avoid me, were you?"

"Wha—Grandmother, you know that can't possibly be true! My phone's been a bit iffy lately, maybe that's why I haven't been getting your calls." She sat next to her and smiled at husband and wife. "Grandmother, what're you doing here? I thought Lori's driving you to Wrex?"

The Wrex Building was next to the Grayson Public Library and adjacent to the Millway Park. It housed a small theater and several rooms that can be used to classes. It also doubles as a youth center. Leticia usually hosts the Grayson Goodwill Garage Sale in the Baxter Hall in the building. And Penelope usually had the dubious honor of chauffeuring her grandmother during that time.

"Poor baby. Got diarrhea at the last minute. And since I couldn't contact you, I thought I'd get a cab to get here and your cousin can drop me off." She turned expectantly at her grandson. "I heard this silly rumor you were sick, but looking at you now, you just look swarthy. A shower will do wonders for your health, my boy."

Nicki flushed and Sinjun tried not to laugh. The grey eyes zeroed in on her. "And don't think I don't notice how you're wearing his shirt inside out, young lady!" Penelope snorted and Sinjun's cheeks weren't faring any better than her husband's.

Leticia sniffed. "Since you obviously have all that energy, I don't see how you can't channel some of it to helping me. Penelope, since you're here, accompany me to Lori's. I want to see how your cousin's doing. I want to make sure it's nothing serious. Then we can go to Wrex." She turned to the two. "I expect to see you helping at the Wrex when I get there."

They mumbled the affirmative as she stood up, her driver following suit. Nicki walked Leticia out while Pen grumbled alongside Sinjun. "Ten bucks say Lori's faking."

"Pen, really. No sympathy for Lori? For all you know she's dehydrated from all the bathroom runs," Sinjun said, trying to look disapproving.

"Yeah, right. More like dehydrated for marathon sex. Have you seen her new beau?" Then she grinned. "Then again, you'd know about marathon sex, eh?"

Sinjun swatted her on the arm. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Just as I have no idea where you got that hickey on your neck." She chuckled when Sinjun's hand shot up to the side of her neck.

"You've got another on the other side too," Pen positively crowed. "Don't take to long to show your mugs at the Wrex now!" She called over her shoulder as she hurried after her grandmother.

Nicki looked at her. "What was that about?" Her response wasn't needed, however, because his attention was caught by the purplish spot on her neck, the one that wasn't covered by her hand. He smoothed his thumb over it. "Sorry 'bout that," he mumbled, looking a tad sheepish.

She smiled. The look she gave him was equal parts tender and potent. Ignoring the voice in her head to thread carefully, she stepped closer and looked at him in the eye. "I'm not."

She stood her ground even when her instincts were shouting for her to flee. She couldn't read the expression that flashed Nicki's face before he looked away. She could take it back, pretend it was just a joke on her part and save herself the heartache, but she wouldn't. She's made her move. It was his turn now. Face her declaration or turn tail.

She was losing her resolve in Nicki's silence. She was thinking it'd be better if she just stepped into the apartment and slammed the door to his face when he looked at her and grabbed her wrist to pull her closer.

"Me neither" was all he said before closing the distance between their lips and kissing her. It was nothing like the gentle kisses she liked from their earlier encounter. It was harsh and hot and it robbed Sinjun of her breath and mind. All she could do was hold on to him and meet his lips in each fevered brushing. His hand crept up to her hair as he cradled her head and angled it better to meet his kiss. His tongue traced the seam of her lips until they parted and slipped into her mouth. Sinjun wondered if this was what hell felt like because she felt so hot. Her arms wrapped around his neck, pulling him closer. She couldn't tell if the moan was from her or him, only that she wanted more of it. Her girl parts were certainly clamoring for his boy part, and who knew how long what would have stayed there, had it not been for the wolf whistle that rent the air.

"Wooh, Mrs. T! Get a room!"

Their heads broke apart, but their limbs were still entwined. Jason was grinning from the bottom of the stairs leading to the second floor. "Not that I mind you going like teenagers on your front door, but there are actual teenagers in the area. And they'll be more than happy to watch."

Nicki hid his face at the crook of her neck, blushing 'til the tips of his ears. This never happened to him before. A few ardent kisses here and there, some possibly in public, but never to the point where he would've all but taken her against the door.

"Now I definitely need the pool to cool off," Jason said, ignoring the embarrassed couple. It wasn't everyday one caught Mr. Straight-laced Detective looking so human, after all.

"Run along now, Jason," Sinjun called out, embarrassed but amused. "Show's over, pervert."

"Oh, says the puddle of lust against the door" was the reply, but he did turn around. "At least take it inside, you sickos! Not all of us are into man-woman action!" He laughed at his own quip then began walking toward the pool, his towel swishing behind him.

"Well, that was embarrassing," Sinjun muttered, smiling a bit against Nicki's neck. He shifted away so they were no longer leaning against each other, but his hand was still on her waist. She looked at him. Clearly, she wasn't the only one feeling lust here. But was that it for him? It certainly wasn't for her.

"We better get ready to go to Wrex." His hands fell from her waist.

She tried not to get hurt by his tone. Really she did. That was a very distinct possibility right from the start, but she still couldn't help it. "Right," she said coolly, turned away, putting distance between them and reaching for the door. She was halfway to her room when Nicki grabbed her wrist and she merely raised an eyebrow.

"Look, don't be like that, Sinjun." Nicki looked at her in the eye for a second then dropped his gaze to her chin. Not his proudest moment right now. But what did she expect? That they'd wake up magically in love with each other? His insides twisted in knots. It wasn't that he didn't like her, but love her?

She held up a hand, forestalling what he had to say, not that he had any idea what would come after 'sorry.' "I'm trying really hard not to knock your teeth in, Nicki." She stared at him then sighed. "Let's make it easier for both of us, okay? We're both adults. Let's just pretend nothing happened. Would that make you feel better? Help you sleep at night?"

"Dammit, don't make it all my fault," he frowned. "It's complicated, alright? I like you, I do, and it's not just the kind of like where I only like you in bed. I like you as a person, a friend even. And you're my wife, but you're leaving in four months so what the hell? What do you want me to do?"

"How 'bout not making me feel cheap when you look at me?" Sinjun's eyes showed the hurt his brush off caused, and it was like someone was squeezing his heart. "I like you too. Call me stupid, but I do. Even when you treat me like a kid all the time. Maybe you're right, fucking certainly messed things up, not that they were going that well to begin with, but what the hell. Let's just forget about it, okay?" She shook her head at him and stalked toward her door.

The door almost hit her nose when it banged open. She whirled around and Nicki stormed in after her. "How 'bout we don't? It happened, Sinjun, and you know it will happen again."

She snorted in disgust. "Confident much?"

"No, just honest," he replied, pulling her to him despite her attempt to move away. "This isn't the best idea, and I know I fucked up earlier, but tell me truthfully, you feel it, too, don't you?"

She closed her eyes and ignored the shivers his voice was sending up her spine. "Are you gonna be an asshole after every time then?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said, his thumbs rubbing circles on her shoulders as if to soothe her. "This just caught be off-guard. I wasn't lying when I said I like you. I don't want this to mess things up."

Is there even anything to mess up? But she didn't voice the question out loud. She didn't know what his answer would be and she wasn't prepared to hear it just yet. She opened her mouth as if to respond, but closed it again because she didn't know what to say.

For someone who lived for the moment, seizing whatever joy could be had in a particular second, fragments weren't enough anymore. She wanted more. The whole picture. Not just right now, or today, but also tomorrow. Beyond six months.

But her earlier courage had already deserted her. She couldn't form the words to let him know how she felt. What she wanted.


So she settled with today. Tomorrow will be different. If not, then the day after tomorrow. And the next.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and smiled wryly at him. "Let's just admit we're screwed. Our situation just got more complicated. We just slept together. We'll probably do it again. Several times." She stepped closer toward him, never once breaking eye contact. "We're divorcing in a few months. The question is, what're we going to do now?"

"Kiss, that's my guess," he said softly, and he did just that. She closed her eyes and kissed him back. It wasn't the confession of undying love she hoped for, but he didn't say forget about everything, so she would take it. Hearing Nicki's nonanswer was better than the answer she didn't want to hear. She still had time.

As always, she would love him now and worry about tomorrow later.

Nicki looked at Sinjun from across the room. She was helping a woman make a decision over the pink sweater or the light blue dress. Beside him, Paolo was handing out drinks. Not to him, no, but to the people who paid $50 for First Pickings. The garage sale would be open to the public starting tomorrow, but to kick things off, there were tickets for the first hundred who could scope the best deals before anyone else.

And since all this was being done in the name of charity, Leticia eschewed caterers and didn't hire helpers. That was what her offspring and their offspring were for. He and Paolo were manning the refreshment table at one corner while his other cousins and their family were playing sales clerks. At least he hadn't been assigned clean-up this year since he made it on time.

As usual, refreshments (included in the fifty bucks) were mostly ignored. Their sale was only good for two hours (to keep things sporting for everyone else) so until eight, when the last purchases have to be rung, they'd be pretty idle. Penelope sidled toward his side, snacking on the hors d'ouvres she was supposed to serve on the adjacent table.

"Deviled egg?" she offered, then finished it off before he could answer. "Pao, don't you get bored with this sap, just gazing at his wife?"

The older man chuckled. "I try not to judge. I was a newlywed once, too."

"Back to your table, wench." Nicki tried to nudge her, but she wouldn't stand still. She "pssssst-ed" to Sinjun, who looked up and was beckoned over. The brunette gave a subtle nod then held up a finger before going back to the sweaters.

Nicki glared at Penelope. "Grandmother assigned you to the hors d'ouvres. Go back to your station." He looked down at his clothes, checking to see if there were any stains.

"Yeah, you're welcome," she rolled her eyes. "Pao, cover for me. I'm gonna look around." With that, she flounced off, neatly snatching a scarf from another woman's fingers. The woman wouldn't be denied the scarf, however, and they proceeded to fight for it.

They watched the exchange in amusement. Someone really had to rein Penelope in. Sinjun walked up to them and smiled at Nicki. "This punch spiked?"

Her husband returned the smile, but shook his head. "Alas, this event is 100% alcohol-free."

"Good to know you can't knock me out and have your wicked way with me," she quipped, stopping by his side.

"Who says I need alcohol?" He pulled her closer to him, wrapping an arm around her waist.

"Lord, you guys make my teeth rot. But, hey, like I said, no judgment here." He grinned at the couple. "I'll be by the hors d'ouvres." He left them with the alcohol-free punch and politely looked away even after he got behind the deviled eggs.

Nicki smiled at Sinjun. Though it was too humid for turtlenecks, she was wearing one to hide the hickeys on her neck. As part of this evening's ensemble, she had paired it with a peach skirt and low-heeled shoes. She would've worn a little hat that was nothing but a bit of lace and ribbons, but it kept falling off her head. When he asked her about it, she said she called it her "L. McD Look," whatever that meant. He found her ensembles cute; she was like a kid who never tires of playing dress up.

She grabbed a glass and sipped none-too-delicately. At his look, she shrugged. "It's a warzone out there," she said by way of explanation. Not that there was a need. Nicki had seen how three women had all but shoved one another for a Hermes bag. And several other items. This year's First Pickings was getting a good deal. They didn't have as much designer stuff last year, and he knew who they had to thank for that.

He motioned one of his older nephews who came in early for clean up duty. Fourteen-year-old David moseyed to the table with a cautious "yeah?" and an appreciative smile for his wife. Nicki stifled the urge to dunk the teenager's head in the punch bowl. It wasn't David's fault Sinjun was young, pretty or a celebrity. But he should remember she was married to his UNCLE.

He stepped closer to her and put an arm over her shoulders. "Twenty for taking over 'til closing?"

David scowled at his uncle. Life just wasn't fair. A stick in the mud like Uncle Nick wouldn't know what to do with a gem like Sinjun. What does he know about making her happy? He's boring and old. Sinjun needs someone who'd fly her to Paris just because. Or charter a yacht to watch the sunset in Santorini. That's what Eric Sanders did in Princess and Sinjun loved it. They looked perfect and happy together as their yacht glided off to the horizon. But Uncle Nick? She'd be lucky if he took her out to Look Out Point.

Still. Twenty bucks would go a long way, especially since he plans on asking Mina out next week. "How 'bout twenty-five?"

He sighed. "Fine." He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and handed him the money. He started to pull Sinjun away, his hand dropping to her waist. She just smiled at him. They walked around the room, bumping into other cousins who had managed to foist their posts on someone else.

Sinjun stopped in front of a rack of men's shirt. Her head was cocked to one side, a slight frown on her face. She pointed to s familiar dark blue apparel. "Isn't this yours?" She wouldn't even have noticed it, thinking it was just a similar shirt of the same color and style, if not for the faint smudge at the bottom. A smudge which looks suspiciously like a pointed top of an iron. A quick perusal of the rack confirmed her suspicions. She turned to him.

"What? I outgrew them!" She continued to stare at him. He stared back. Then she sighed. "I'm getting you new shirts and you're going to smile and accept them."

She seemed to expect an argument from him. And maybe few days ago he would've said no. But the idea of wearing something Sinjun picked out especially for him made him smile. "Just don't get them in pink." He could see she was trying to control her smile and his grin grew at it. "It's okay."

"What's okay?"

"You can smile," he replied, stopping the crease from forming between her eyebrows by kissing her forehead and chuckling when she pinched his arm.

"Do you know, I think you'd look lovely in pi—oof!"

"Sorry, sweetheart," a voice claiming testament to years of nicotine use rasped from behind them. "But flirting in front of the sales racks ain't good either." Then she stopped and squinted at them. Or more accurately, at Sinjun.

Nicki pulled her to him, casually angling his body to cover as much as hers that would seem normal. "Sorry," he said, nodded once then turned to walk away. Sinjun was frowning as they moved toward the assorted toys on display.

"Well, I suppose we were kind of blocking the way," she commented, but she still bristled at the older woman's rebuke.

"Stay away from her."

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh, my God. Don't tell me she was an ex?" Her nose wrinkled. "Eww."

Nicki, despite the brief alarm at the woman's presence, laughed. He stole a glance around the room and was relieved that the bespectacled lady was terrorizing, as it happened, Penelope. They seemed to be arguing over a purse. "Lord, no! That was Rita Aswell, dedicated tabloid columnist."

Sinjun blanched. Anything or anyone connected to the paparazzi and tabloids tended to do that. Her being able to move around town without blinding flashes and hot scoops had been short of miraculous, but she didn't think it would continue if she crossed paths with that woman again.

"Don't worry, she didn't notice. Pen's distracted her now." She glanced around the room and saw he was right. "And if anything happens, I'll take care of it."

It was at the tip of her tongue to say, really? What would he do, arrest her? But she just nodded and basked in the warmth of knowing he would. No matter what, she knew he'd take care of it. Of her. "Would your grandmother kill us if we leave early?"

"Nah. Just threats. Wanna split?" But he was already inching toward the doors at the other side of the room, tugging her with him.

Sinjun figured they'd go back home and order in. They didn't have much dinner aside from the sandwiches Agnes brought before opening. So she was surprised when Nicki drove past the left to their neighborhood and continued east.

"In the mood for the best burger in town?"

They ended up in East Grayson, outside a diner called Bubble Dancer. Nicki smiled. "The owner used to be a dishwasher."

"I see," she said, though truthfully, she didn't. The exterior of the diner wasn't anything special, even a little dingy, but she loved it for the simple reason that Nicki brought her there. The bell over the door announced their arrival and Sinjun noted the cry of greeting from the stout man behind the counter. "Check the ice!"

"Evening, George!" He led her to a booth near the counter. The stout man nudged the waitress poring over a crossword to take his place behind the counter as he made his way to their booth bearing menus.

He carefully laid the menu in front of Sinjun and she was a bit discomfited to know how close George was watching her. She smiled at him. "What would you recommend?"

"Hockey puck wi' frog sticks." He peered closer and Sinjun's smile wavered. Didn't he like her? Almost everyone likes her! Granted, her L. McD Look didn't seem to be blending in with the sea of jeans and polyester that was his client base, but was being well-dressed enough to warrant dislike?

"He means burger and fries," Nicki explained, scowling at George. "Leave her alone, George. What you're doing can be construed as harassment. I'd hate to arrest you."

George stopped invading her personal space and frowned at him. "Now, that jus' ain't right, you arrestin' me after I've fed you all these years, boy. 'Sides, I was jus' lookin' at 'er. Must be special if you brought 'er 'ere."

Sinjun's eyes darted to Nicki, whose cheeks colored slightly. He turned to her. "Ignore him. It's the grease talking." Then he turned to the man. "The usual, make it two."


"Black and white for both."

George called out their order and Nicki smiled at Sinjun's look. "The lingo takes getting used to."

"From what I've heard, you've had ample time to master it," she replied, smiling from across the table. "Is this where you bring your dates?"

"Jus' the special ones," George replied from behind her. He stood next to the scowling Nicki. "An' 'cause it's been too long since he brought the last one, this one's on the house," he said, winking at Sinjun. "He brought none as pretty as you, Miss."

She loved George. "Maybe I'll drop by without him and you can tell me about them."

Nicki groaned. "No, you will not. Think of your poor heart."

"Din' stop you from coming ev'ry day when you was younger," the older man smirked. "The girls, they came 'ere first for him, then my food."

The bell signaled the arrival of more customers and George reluctantly left their booth. Nicki smiled as he watched George take orders. He'd been a permanent fixture at the Bubble Dancer since he was in high school, even after when he was home during breaks in summer.

"So how many women have you actually brought here?" Sinjun asked impishly, unable to resist. There was no avoiding the jealousy she felt for the past women he had brought here, obviously a special place to him, but it was eclipsed by the simple delight in being among their ranks.

He was spared from having to answer by the arrival of their food. In truth, he wasn't sure if he was expected to. Did she really want to know? She savored the meal and sincerely complimented George who found ways to stop by their booth every minute or so.

Sinjun finished her chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream and ordered another one, delighting George further by saying "another black and white, please."

"Next time I'm taking you to Pizza Hut," he grumbled, but his heart wasn't in it and he ordered a white cow for himself.


Update! Sorry it took me months and a new year for the next part to come out. I struggled with The Morning After, then the Garage Sale. (Which is the same as saying I struggled with the whole part XD) I hope it turned out well. Tell me what you think, eh?

Thanks to Jeff, my beta, who helped in the prodding department, so Id suck it up and write. Also, thank you to everyone who left comments and sent private messages. It really helped a lot to spur me on. =)

And really, why is fp's formatting always screwy? It happens every time I upload. One minute it's intact, punctuations and all, the next it's..not. It even happens in parts posted way back. It's frustrating the heck outta me.