If I had to pinpoint when this whole thing began, I guess I'd have to say it all started the day that Janie moved out of the glorified shoebox we called our Brooklyn apartment. I'd come home exhausted after working a ten hour shift for a measly ninety bucks in tips, only to find that my couch, my flat screen television and my girlfriend were all long gone.
I can't say I blamed her, really. We barely saw each other anymore. She got off of her nine to five corporate job just as I was stepping off the train that took me to the Manhattan bar where I worked, passing out booze to the happy hour secretaries and our regular steady drunks until four in the morning. Janie nagged me for months to find another job so we could spend more time together. I guess if I'd truly been in love with her, I would have. Still, did she really have to take the dog with her, too?
"Good riddance," said my best friend Dave from his bar stool while the hum of Springsteen's rumbling growl trickled out to us from the jukebox in the back. He lifted his pint of Guinness for a sip, and then licked away the thick, tan foam that lingered on his curved upper lip. "I hated that bitch."
"You hated Janie?" I asked from behind the counter, blinking in surprise at his blunt, unexpected declaration.
"Not Janie; that damn dog," he told me with a roll of his baby blue eyes. "What an ugly, yappy little mutt that was."
"David Harlow, ladies and gentlemen," I groaned, shaking my head at him, "the king of compassion."
"Aw, I'm sorry, Nate. Would it make you feel better if I provided you with some break-up clichés?" he asked me, and I could see his lip twitching as he tried his best to stifle a smirk. "There are plenty of fish in the sea. Everything happens for a reason. It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
"Gee, thanks, pal," I told him, but found myself chuckling at his typical teasing in spite of my shitty day. "You're a huge help, as usual."
"Ah, don't stress too much over Janie, man," he finally said in a sigh, setting his pint back down on the bar. "You have to admit, you guys have been fighting like cats and dogs lately. It was only a matter of time before you two split up. The girl had a fucking killer ass, no doubt about that, but she was kind of a snooze if you ask me. You're better off without her."
"Easy for you to say," I responded, raising an eyebrow at him and folding my arms across my chest. "My sex life, as dwindling as it may have been, just got completely shut down. Meanwhile, you get to go home to a woman that looks like Lor."
For once, Dave's smart tongue offered no dispute. You see, Dave's wife, Lorena, is so damn beautiful that any straight, red-blooded man would gladly sell his soul just for the chance to make love to her. Dave is both well aware and quite proud of that fact.
I'm not talking about the type of beauty that you see in Playboy lying on some bear skin rug, or prancing around on MTV in a mini skirt with fake tits and beauty salon blonde hair. Lorena Harlow isn't "hot" and she most definitely isn't "cute." She doesn't giggle or flip her hair. In fact, she won't even smile at you if she doesn't truly mean it. Her face is unearthly, almost haunting in its beauty. She's got these ebony eyes that are so dark and deep that it's impossible to tell what she's thinking unless she tells you.
Her bronze skin, full hips, overly-generous breasts and bee stung lips are the only gifts she ever received from the mother who'd abandoned her, an incredibly gorgeous Latina prostitute whom Lorena never knew outside of the single photograph she carries in her wallet.
I once heard Dave say that the woman he'd married is "fucking luscious," and that's exactly the right way to describe her. Lorena is luscious. No, she's fucking luscious. She's all woman, every last bit of her, sensuous and voluptuously shaped in a way that some catty girls with a subscription to Vogue might call fat but most guys would abandon their families for without ever looking back.
I guess by now it's fairly obvious that I'm nose-over-tail in love with her.
My infatuation with my best friend's wife honestly never concerned me all that much, not usually. I'd loved her for so long that it was just something I learned to live with, like a limp. Dave always knew how I felt about her, even though we never talked about it. Janie knew it too, in her heart. If I'm being honest here, Lorena is probably the real reason I found myself with no girlfriend, sofa, TV or dog. In the weeks before she left me, Janie had been interrogating me about my feelings for Lorena in bed, usually after she'd drank one too many glasses of that disgusting pink champagne she always kept in the fridge.
Obviously, I denied that I ever looked at Lorena as more than a friend, but that didn't keep Janie from utterly despising her. I guess a woman can usually see it in her man's eyes when he loves someone else. Plus, Lor was always pretty bitchy to Janie.
Let me be clear - it's not as though I was pining away for Lorena like a lost little puppy. Hell, we were only eighteen when Dave and Lorena got married. Janie was only the most recent in a long line of girlfriends over those ten years. As deeply as I loved Lorena, I always knew she belonged with Dave and I never resented him for it. Lorena is a complicated woman who's always desperately needed taking care of, and I don't believe anyone could've done a better job of that than the man she married.
Dave and I had been best friends since we were little kids. We grew up together in the St. John's Home for Boys, where I'd spent most of my life in between unsuccessful stints with foster parents. When we were sixteen, we were both sent to live in a new foster home in Queens with a Wall Street banker named James Sawyer. James was a good-looking single guy in his mid-thirties, and as far as I could tell, he had pretty much zero interest in being a foster father other than the income the program provided him with for taking us in. This suited me just fine, as I'd been looking out for myself for most of my entire life without anyone giving a shit about what I did or where I went.
Lorena had already been living with James for well over a year by the time we arrived. She, Dave and I formed an incredibly tight bond almost immediately, and that bond grew into a deep love over the course of that year. We related to each other in a way that only three teenagers who'd never had a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle to take care of them really could. With every day we spent living in James' house we grew closer and more protective of one another, creating our own little version of a family in the attic bedroom we all shared.
It will probably sound strange to you, but she belonged to us both back then. We never questioned that she loved us both equally, and neither of us ever tried to claim her for ourselves. I guess when you have a childhood that's completely lacking love and affection, you don't feel the need to set rules when you're finally blessed with some.
She had frequent nightmares; at least, that's what I always assumed. She'd often wake me up in the middle of the night by climbing into my bed with me, and she'd always be shaking all over, like she was freezing. She used to nuzzle her face into my chest and I'd hold her close, squeezing her until the trembling calmed. Once in a while, not always, our lips would melt together as we lie with our legs tangled up. I'd whisper the words she needed to hear into her sweet mouth between chaste, gentle kisses until she was finally asleep in my arms.
If she didn't end up in my bed, I knew she was in Dave's. Sometimes I could hear Dave's soothing murmurs in the silent hours of the early morning, and the soft, quiet smacks of their kissing lips. It honestly didn't bother me. Usually I was just glad to get a decent night's sleep without my arms going numb from holding her so tightly. I knew that he was promising her the same things I did; he was telling her that everything was all right and that we would never let anyone hurt her.
See, most people think of Lorena as icy, guarded and untrusting. They see a poised, beautiful woman with a tongue so sharp it can break skin. But Dave and I both knew her as a girl, and we know better.
Looking back, we probably should have known that James was fucking her.
It had been going on the entire time she lived there. Even now, I can't believe how oblivious Dave and I were. We never suspected a thing, even though he always seemed to find ways to get her alone. Maybe if we'd paid more attention to the craving in James' eyes when he looked at her or the way he'd lick his lips whenever she bent over, things would have played out differently.
I guess it's fortunate that Dave was the one who'd finally walked in on them instead of me, because Dave Harlow and Nate Morgan are two very, very different men. I'm fairly certain that I'd be serving a life sentence for murder if I'd been the one who'd gone for a glass of water at two in the morning and had instead found James with his face buried in between Lorena's thighs as she lie naked on the kitchen table.
Like I said, it was Dave who'd caught them and not yours truly, which is why the house wasn't burned to the ground and no one's dick was chopped off. I'm sorry to report that James and his dick are still taking up space in this city somewhere, probably banging some other teenage girl who needs to be cradled in order to fall asleep.
Dave said he just stood in the doorway, patiently waiting for that motherfucker to realize he'd been caught with his pants down and his mouth...busy. When James finally jumped to his feet in what I can only hope was pure panic, Dave calmly told Lorena to go pack her things while he and our dear old foster "father" had a little chat.
Dave never told me exactly what he'd said to James in that kitchen, but that sorry prick handed over the three hundred and twenty two dollars he had in his wallet and Dave said we didn't have to worry about him trying to find us. I guess he told our caseworkers that we just ran away and, since we were almost eighteen by that point, no one bothered to look for us too hard.
We used the money from James' wallet to rent a cheap hotel room while we tried to figure out how we would make ends meet. I had my beat up pickup truck, so I took a job delivering pizza. It paid practically nothing, but I was able to use my delivery route to sell weed (which definitely paid better), and they let me take home dinner every night for free. It wasn't too long before Dave found steady work with a construction company that came with medical and dental benefits, and we were finally able to scrounge together enough money to rent a place of our own - just barely.
I'd been so furious to find out she'd been sleeping with James for all that time that I hardly spoke to her for weeks, even though the three of us were living together in that tiny one-room studio apartment. Lorena only slept in Dave's arms after we left James' house; she never crawled into bed with me again.
As the nights rolled by, I began to hear their hushed whispers and innocent kisses eventually give way to long, smothered moans and sharp gasps of breath. By the time I was finally ready to forgive her, I knew that Lorena was no longer our girl...she belonged solely to Dave.
Five months later, on Lorena's eighteenth birthday, they got married at City Hall and I moved out.
My anger may very well have cost me the love of my life, but there was nothing I could have done to change that. I was an angry young man back then with a lot to prove, and I couldn't stand that she'd let James use her body that way. Yes, I was jealous, but it was deeper than that. She had turned me into a liar by making me promise I would take care of her. What pissed me off the most was that she didn't even seem to understand how wrong the whole thing had been. Frankly, it still drives me crazy.
I remember that not too long before Janie dumped me, the four of us went out to dinner at our favorite Italian place, something we usually did a few times a month. Janie had gone home early that night, claiming a headache which I'm sure was just an excuse to free herself from Lorena's company.
After she left, Dave, Lor and I went a bit heavier than usual on the wine, and we found ourselves on a rare stroll down our rocky memory lane while sitting amongst the three empty bottles we'd polished off over dinner.
I don't recall if it was Lorena or Dave who'd said James' name, but I growled something nasty under my breath, and Lorena had smirked at me in the flickering candelight.
"You are too cute," she said. "Even after all these years, you still get so grumpy whenever we talk about my relationship with James."
I stared at her across the table as though she'd grown a second head.
"Relationship?" I spat out, and I could hear the pure disgust dripping from my own voice at the very mention of that asshole. "Is that really what you're gonna call it? You were fifteen years old when he started getting in your panties, and he was supposed to be your foster father. That wasn't a relationship; that guy was a fucking predator, Lorena."
She flinched visibly when I said this, as though my blunt words had stung her. Then she crossed her graceful legs, leaned forward and narrowed her perfectly arched eyebrows at me over her half-full glass of deep red wine.
"Nathaniel, honey," she purred in that breathy, haughty, maddening Lorena voice of hers that always grabs me by my balls and squeezes, "don't be ridiculous. That man used to make me come so damn hard, I would hear angels singing."
If she'd been a man, I swear I would have knocked her out. I know she only says shit like that to push my buttons, but I fall for it every fucking time. I had to go outside to get some air at that point, before she and I got into a huge fight like we always did when the subject of James Sawyer came up.
After a few minutes, Dave left Lorena at the table and joined me outside. He silently handed me a cigarette and we stood beside each other, quietly smoking in the dark summer night. Finally, I turned to him.
"I don't understand how you can sit there and let your wife talk that way," I said to him.
Dave looked over at me, his blue eyes ever soft and full of that memory, still so vivid though it was ten years before.
"What am I supposed to do, Nate-o? Would you like me to tie her down and force her to say she never wanted to have sex with that douchebag? Do you want me to tell you she was fighting him off when I caught them fooling around in the kitchen? I'm sorry, buddy, but that'd be a lie."
"Dude, to hear Lorena talk about it, you'd think they were involved in some star-crossed love affair," I said. I was still seething from what she'd said about James at the table, even as I felt the nicotine rolling through my system. "It makes my stomach turn."
Dave had let out a deep, heavy sigh. We could both see Lorena through the glass of the restaurant's picture window, admiring her own exquisite reflection as she touched up her lipstick in a hand mirror.
"Nate, no matter what she says, deep down, Lorena knows that a thirty-six year old man doesn't give head to a teenager on a kitchen table because he wants to make her feel good. If she'd honestly wanted to be with James, she wouldn't have left with you and me that night."
He pitched the cigarette out into the street and put his arm around my shoulders.
"Maybe you need to hear her admit what that son of a bitch did to her was wrong, but I don't," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, she never has to say it out loud. You remember the way we'd have to hold her when she couldn't stop shaking in the middle of the night? Well, she doesn't do that anymore. In fact, she hasn't done that in ten years, not since the night we got her away from him. That's more than enough for me, Nate."
And that, right there, is how I know that Dave and Lorena belong together. He's in love with her because of her flaws, and not just in spite of them. Since the day we met as three lonely orphans, Dave has done everything he could to provide Lorena with the happiness and security she'd never known growing up.
He nearly broke his back working that construction job, six days a week for twelve hours a day to keep a roof over her head. He married her when he was only eighteen so that she would be covered under his healthcare plan. He put her through four years of college while he lifted and lugged and sweat to pay her tuition. Most of all, he's always adored her - deeply, truly and with all of the passion a woman like Lorena deserves.
That's why I was so shocked by what happened later that night at the bar.
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