CHAPTER TWO

He kept his arms firmly crossed over his chest, incidentally holding his jacket tight against him, and half-glared at the people around him. "I don't want to," he insisted.

"Please, Idlewile, we talked about this," Mingh said. Her words may have seemed pleading, but her tone was one of command.

He pressed his lips together. "No, you talked about this and I said it was something I was unwilling to do."

She stepped in front of him, her high heels clacking on the floor, and he couldn't help lowering his head. Her finger was hard and cold under his chin when she tilted his face back, staring down at him, forcing him to meet her china blue eyes. "We signed an agreement," she said. "If you refuse to do this, we will lose a lot of money, some of which we have already spent. You agreed that you would do this, don't you remember?"

He did. She'd kept at him until he'd finally, reluctantly agreed. She'd practically forced the promise out of him, but she'd got it.

"Yes," he whispered, reaching up to push her hand away from his face. "I'll do it."

"Good." There was satisfaction in her tone.

To keep from saying anything, he clasped his hands together and twisted his fingers so tightly that his bones hurt. It was a real battle to keep his cool when all he wanted to do was throw a screaming fit and storm out.

But he knew better than to test Mingh that way. She had a mean pinch.

Idle sighed and began to strip off his leather jacket, then pulled off the long-sleeved shirt he wore beneath. He shivered a little under the combined discomforts of an AC turned up too high and the eyes of everyone in the room being focused on him. Even as his skin prickled with awareness, he wanted to duck away and hide.

"Well, well, look what you've been hiding." Mingh's stiletto heels made a sharp sound on the floor as she circled him, her black skirt brushing against her knees with a "swish-swish" sound. "I wasn't expecting you to be so... developed."

Idle casually crossed his arms. "Can we just get this over with? I feel very uncomfortable."

"Oh, of course." She turned toward where the photographer had been waiting semi-impatiently. "Julio! He's ready for you now."

Julio Mendes had been talking to one of his people, his hands waving furiously, but he broke off at Mingh's voice and turned around. His eyes went wide when he saw Idle. "Oh wow. That's... wow."

Idle shifted from one foot to the other and refused to meet anyone's eyes. "I am not taking off my pants," he said firmly.

"That's fine," Julio said, hurrying over to tug Idle's arms away from his chest. His dark brown eyes made Idle feel completely naked. "You're a little powerhouse, aren't you? That's hot, hot, hot."

"Yeah, okay." Idle knew he was pretty fit, but there was no reason to make a big deal about it.

He let himself be pulled across the room toward the set that had been built for his photo shoot with "FasHonesta Magazine." It looked like some kind of high-class drawing room with a billiard table and plenty of dark paneling.

Considering he was wearing black jeans and no shirt, he really had to wonder what they were about to do to him. It made him nervous.

Julio nudged him in front of the billiard table, then pushed and tugged him until he was half leaned back over the table edge, his right arm splayed out expansively and his left arm crossing over his stomach. He felt like a life-sized poseable doll.

"There. You stay just like that," Julio ordered, then rushed toward where his assistants had been busily setting up his camera.

Idle focused his eyes on a spot high up on one of the walls and tried to imagine himself somewhere far away. The snapping whir of the camera made him shift to one side, half-turning away, and he heard a murmured, "Good, that's so good. God, you're a natural," but he ignored it.

The photo shoot seemed to take forever and all he could do was follow the commands he was given and repeat over and over to himself that it was going to be done soon. All he had to do was splay his legs a little wider, let the scantily clad women in their metallic looking bikinis rub their oiled limbs against him, and pretend to play pool. It wasn't that bad, really it wasn't.

Then it was finally over and he gratefully snatched his shirt from Mingh's hand and pulled it down over his head. It felt as though he could breathe again.

"I'm gonna go now." He refused to meet anyone's eyes, afraid of what he might see there.

He grabbed his jacket off the back of a folding chair and strode quickly toward the door. It probably made him look pretty rude, but there was nothing he could do about it. He had to get out.

Idle pushed open one of the double doors and Honda came up out of his lackadaisical slouch. "I wanna get out of here," he said, pulling a pair of fashionable sunglasses out of his inside jacket pocket. He flicked them open with one hand, then slipped them onto his face.

Honda didn't say anything, just walked in front of Idle toward the outside door.

The zero-grav was parked on the street and it made a little "bleep-bleep" sound and the lights flashed when Honda depressed the button on the keyfob. He stepped ahead and opened the back door for Idle, his eyes watchful for anyone coming too near. He really didn't like it when Idle was in such a crowded area.

Idle climbed in the backseat and slid all the way over to his accustomed spot. He liked to be able to see Honda as they drove, and that didn't work so well when he was constantly staring at the back of the man's head.

"Did you want to go to lunch?" Honda asked in his smooth, deep voice as soon as he'd climbed into the driver's seat and had buckled his seatbelt. His head was turned a little toward Idle, though only the side of his face was showing.

"I want to go home," Idle said, snapping his seatbelt on and crossing his arms. He stared out the window.

"Okay." Honda started the engine and began to pull out onto the street, maneuvering until he could merge with the swiftly moving traffic.

Idle chewed on his lip, then leaned forward toward Honda. "Take us through a drive-through," he said. "I'll take something home."

"Do you have any preference?" Honda asked. He drove with a neat efficiency and zero fear. Idle could only envy him his confidence.

"Anything's fine," Idle said, turning back toward the window. "I won't mind being surprised when I get home."

He slouched down in his seat and closed his eyes. It was bright through the window, but the sunglasses turned his whole world dark. It made him feel lazy and stupid, his thoughts running slower and slower as he just let himself feel the motion of the car around him.

.

There was the slam of a car door and he jerked and sat up, blinking and rubbing his eye beneath his sunglasses. He licked his dry lips and unclipped his seatbelt. He wasn't sure whether he had actually slept or not.

The other passenger door opened and Honda stepped back so Idle could see him. "We're home."

"Oh. Thanks." Idle smacked his lips a little and licked his front teeth. He felt better than he had before he'd fallen asleep, and that was worth having a gross taste in his mouth.

They were in the parking garage attached to his building and Idle followed Honda to the private elevator that opened up directly into his apartment. It needed a key and a number code to work, so he wasn't too worried about someone trying to break into his place; there were cameras everywhere too.

Idle waited until Honda got in the elevator and the doors had closed, then punched his code-95652-into the number pad, then stuck the key he slipped out of the necklace around his neck into the lock, turning it and pressing the Enter button on the panel.

The elevator dinged and began to move upward. He pulled his key out and slid it back into the rectangular clay tile hanging around his neck from a thin silver chain. It was a glossy black color and had an intricate letter "M" on the front in metallic looking red dusted with bronze. There was a narrow slit in the top that he'd discovered was the perfect size for the small key.

He figured it was some kind of metaphor or something.

"What did you get?" he asked, taking a sniff of the food smell escaping from the bag in Honda's left hand.

"I thought you said you wanted to be surprised?" Honda sounded amused.

"That doesn't mean I can't be curious," Idle said. He took a few more deep sniffs, trying to figure out if he recognized any of the smells, but all he knew was that it smelled delicious and he was definitely hungrier than he'd thought he was.

The elevator door opened and he followed Honda through the living room to the kitchen, climbing up onto one of the tall stools at the breakfast counter. "You're going to feed me now, right?"

Honda gave him a speaking look, but set the bag on the stove and reached up to open the cupboard and took out two plates. "There's a good chance that if I wasn't here, you would starve to death."

"But you are here." Idle slumped forward, laying his chin on the cool marble. "I've had a terrible day. Feed me."

Honda gave a deep sigh, but rolled up his shirt sleeves and began fixing two plates. He moved with an easy kind of grace around the kitchen, long familiarity lending an almost dreamy smoothness to his motions. It was almost hypnotic for Idle to watch and he felt his eyes going heavy-lidded.

"Don't fall asleep," Honda ordered.

"I'm not." Idle sat up though, just in case. "I don't even know why I'm so tired."

"You've been up since very early in the morning," Honda said. He picked up one of the plates and a fork he grabbed out of the drawer and held them in front of Idle, waiting patiently until Idle moved his arms.

Idle slid his hands out of the way and the plate made a faint sound as it was set in front of him. He accepted the fork with a grateful, "Thank you."

Honda nodded and turned to pick up his own plate before coming to sit next to Idle. There knees came centimeters from hitting each other as Idle couldn't resist rotating his stool back and forth as he ate.

Shiny lo-mein noodles stir-fried with carrots, celery, broccoli, snow peas, and cabbage. Three slightly wrinkled looking steamed wontons. And a perfect mound of barbecue pork fried rice-it looked like something out of a magazine, it was so perfectly round.

Idle ate with his usual meticulous care, a remnant of his childhood in the orphanage. There had never been enough food then, and state funding was always being cut, which meant there had been times when the older kids had been left to go hungry. He had resented it then, and even now he looked back on those hungry days with a faint sense of bitterness.

The head of the orphanage had been corrupt and had skimmed money from the food budget to line his own pockets, which was something Idle had only found out after he'd left the Home. When he was a kid, all he'd known was that his belly ached with hunger and no one wanted to adopt a boy as old as him.

He shook the bleak thoughts away and focused on his food. There was no room for melancholy, not when he had so much to do.

Honda was a warm, silent presence at his side. Just having the man around made him feel less isolated, and he appreciated the fact that he wasn't required to talk.

There were times when the words just escaped him and he'd never been very good with other people.

He was just chasing the last grains of rice around his plate with his fork when there was the carrying "Bing-bong-bing" chime from outside, giving the ten minute warning before curfew went into effect.

"I hadn't realized it was so late," he said, glancing at his watch just to be sure. But it really was 9:50 at night.

"You had a pretty busy day," Honda said pragmatically. He held his fork in an awkward looking manner, all of his fingers curled around the handle as he used it more to scoop up mouthfuls of food, rather than poking with the tines.

"Hm." Idle stood and carried his plate to the sink, carefully rinsing it under hot water so there wasn't a single speck left. He washed his hands and dried them on a paper towel. "Mingh wants me to go on tour, but I said no. I like being able to come home at night."

He waited a moment, but Honda didn't say anything. Idle shrugged slightly and walked into the living room to flop down onto the white couch, reaching out to grab the book he'd been reading from off the table.

Most people used readers, but he'd always had a fondness for paper. It was more expensive-a lavish luxury really-but he could afford it and there was just something so real about holding the solid weight of a book in his hand and having to turn the pages himself.

He kicked off his shoes and wriggled around into a comfortable position before he let himself be sucked into the world of Vereint and Warrick, two men with the power of gods, and he could feel himself relaxing, the last of his tensions seeping away. It was only when he was finally relaxed that he realized just how tightly wound the photo shoot had made him.

He hated feeling exposed, and that's what Mingh had made him do. He didn't want to resent her for it, but he kind of really did.

Idle read until he felt his eyes getting heavy and his blinks were lasting so long that he was forced to acknowledge that they weren't blinks anymore.

Honda had slipped away to his own room at some point and Idle wished the man had at least told him "Good night," but it was one of those things he had come to expect. Honda was most definitely the strong silent type, which meant he was always there in the background of Idle's life, but for all intents and purposes Idle was alone.

He sighed and headed toward the master bedroom, passing by Honda's door as he went. He was feeling tired and lonely, never a great combination, and there was no room in his life for making stupid mistakes.

Idle quietly went to bed like the good little toy soldier he'd trained himself to be.

.

The sound of the phone buzzing woke him from a series of disturbing dreams he couldn't quite remember, but he was relieved to be awakened. His heart was fluttering fast and his breath was coming in little puffs and he just knew that part of the nightmare had been the fear that he was never going to wake up.

Rolling on his side, he reached for the phone, fumbling the handset off the charger and to his ear. "Hello?" his voice sounded gruff.

"Idlewile?" a familiar sounding female voice asked, though Idle couldn't put a name to it at the moment.

"Yes. Who is this? How did you get this number?" he asked rudely. He was a bit irritated at the idea of having to change his phone number again. It wasn't the kind of fun he wanted to have twice, and this would make it about the fourth time in the past year.

"This is Jessica Turan, darling," she said, sounding terribly amused, "I am so sorry to wake you up on the wrong side of the bed. I was just calling to ask if you wanted to have breakfast with me this morning."

Idle sat up and rubbed his face with his hand, then squinted at the digital display of his clock. Seven o'clock in the morning, a time of day he rarely ever saw unless Mingh was out to make him miserable. "Breakfast?" he said dumbly.

"Yes. I'm going to be all alone today, so I figured I might as well call you and see if you wanted to come and keep me company." There was a childish squeal in the background and Jessica sighed deeply, a sound that somehow sent a twinge straight through him. "I hate to eat alone, don't you?"

"I guess so," he said.

"So you'll join me?" There was such a hopeful note in her voice that there was no way he could possibly refuse her.

Somehow he found himself digging around in his clothes from the night before for his phone, then plugging her address into his GPS. And as easy as that he had a breakfast date.

.*. .*. .*.

There was definitely something going on, though he was a bit reluctant to ask any questions. The catlike grin on Jessica's lips usually meant trouble, and Chris was so over all of that.

It was one of the biggest factors in their divorce, though not the most important one.

Finally he just couldn't take it anymore. "What are you planning?" Chris asked.

Jessica flashed him perfect white teeth. Her golden blond hair was in spit curls today; the ringlets looked jolly and bounced when she talked, giving her a delightfully winsome look. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Please, I've known you for too long for that to work with me." Chris gave her a flat-eyed look and she laughed.

"Fine, fine," she waved her hand, "you've caught me. There's no reason to bring out the torture or anything." She rose up on her stool so she could crane her head around and see what Mattie was doing, but the little girl was sitting at the low coffee table coloring a picture of a horse on her Desk. The colors pink and purple were very prevalent, matching the ponies dancing around on the television screen.

Jessica tapped her manicured nails on the counter with a clicking sound. "I've invited Idlewile to breakfast."

"Why?" Chris heard the hiss of the coffee maker finishing its brewing and turned to fill his mug. He added a splash of milk and a heaping spoonful of sugar, then stirred it briskly and took a sip. He dropped the spoon in the sink and held his mug cupped in his hands as he leaned against the sink and looked at Jessica. With the coffee in his hand he felt a bit more fortified to face her. "How did you even get his phone number?"

"I have my ways," she said, "and he's a very charming young man. He makes excellent company."

Chris squinted his eyes at her suspiciously. "You're not going to try and seduce him, are you?" he asked, taking a drink from his cup.

She scoffed loudly. "Please. He has terrible mommy issues and there's no way I'm stepping into that minefield. No, I just think that he's a nice boy and he needs a bit of feeding up. He could really do with a good home cooked meal."

"But you don't cook," he said.

She just smiled at him, shark-like and pointed.

.*. .*. .*.

Idle didn't quite know what he had expected Jessica Turan's house to look like, but for such a famous woman he expected grander than what he got.

Her house was a beautiful modern design tucked away behind a tall security fence that had twenty-four hour guards controlling when it was allowed to open. It was large, but not as large as some of the other celebrity homes he had come across. It wasn't a palace, but a house where people lived and ate toast and drank tea.

Part of him wanted to tell Honda that he didn't need him to come with him, that he was perfectly capable of going alone, but he knew the man wouldn't accept that. The bodyguard code of honor meant that he always had to go everywhere with Idle. Plus, Mingh would probably have Honda killed if she found out, and she was a lot scarier than Idle could ever hope to be.

He waited patiently in front of the door after Honda had pushed the doorbell, and soon there was the faint sound of footsteps then the door opened.

"There you are, right on time." Jessica's smile was bright and welcoming.

"Hello," Idle said. He held out the bottle of cran-pomegranate juice he'd had Honda pick up. "I brought this."

"Oh, thank you." Their fingers brushed slightly when she took the bottle. "Why don't you come in?"

She stepped out of the way and Idle walked into her house, trying to be subtle about looking around at everything. It was beautifully decorated in bright hues and comfortable furniture. There was nothing stilted or fake; this was a house that people really lived in, and he found himself liking it better than his own coldly impersonal apartment.

"You have a very beautiful home," he said politely.

"Thank you." Jessica led him past a large living room and through an arched doorway that opened up on a large cheery kitchen.

Chris Hart was standing at the stove with a white apron around his waist and a spatula in his hand as he fried what smelled like real sausages. There was a little towheaded girl sitting at the circular table fingerpainting on her Desk with absolute concentration, the pink sliver of her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. Both looked up as Idle came in and he was struck by the similarity of their expressions, obviously marking them as father and daughter.

Idle remembered that there had been a big spread in StyleFabulous Magazine a few years before about Jessica Turan and Chris Hart marrying and having a baby. Everyone had been very interested in the relationship of the movie star and the Drama King, Chris Hart's nickname in the media. He'd appeared in so many dramas that people just took it as a given that he would appear in everything they watched.

"You know Chris," Jessica said, "and this is our daughter, Matilda."

"Mattie!" the little girl said cheerfully. "That's what everyone calls me." She peered up at Idle. "I recognize you. You're Idlewise. You're my favorite singer. I'm your biggest fan!"

He couldn't help laughing. "I'm sure you are," he said.

"Mom said she knew you, but I didn't believe her." Mattie looked at Jessica. "I'm sorry, Mom. You were right. He is very handsome."

Jessica made a "shushing" gesture toward her daughter, but she was laughing at the same time. "You're not supposed to say that kind of thing right in front of someone."

Mattie covered her mouth with her hand and shot Idle a guilty look. "Oops!"

"What do you have to be sorry for?" he asked. "You've given me a compliment. I should be thanking you."

She grinned at him, revealing a missing front tooth, then ducked her head in sudden shyness. "Is it true that all the tickets for your next concert are sold out?"

"I guess so," Idle said. "I don't really handle that kind of thing."

"Oh," she said. She held up her Desk. "Do you want to paint with me?"

Idle glanced at Jessica, who shrugged. "It's going to be a few minutes until breakfast," she said.

Idle smiled at Mattie. "Sure, I'll paint with you." He walked over to the table and settled onto the chair next to her.

It had been a long time since he had last colored and he had always thought he was pretty good at it. So he figured his skills must have atrophied due to lack of use.

He poked the color palette at the bottom of the screen and chose a bright red that he began sweeping across the picture of a poppy in full bloom. Mattie was busily filling in the sun with swirls of cheery yellow and gold. She finger painted with all the seriousness of a doctor performing dangerous surgery and it was a battle to keep from laughing.

He had forgotten how easy it was to hang around a small child. There was none of the expectation to perform and be Idlewile that he got from older people. He could simply sit and color and that was enough.

It was almost disappointing when Chris suddenly announced, "Breakfast's ready. Mattie, why don't you put your Desk away in your room so we can eat."

"Okay, Daddy," she said cheerfully. She slid out of her booster seat and grabbed the Desk. "I'll be right back," she told Idle. "Don't move."

"I'll be here," he said mock-seriously, then watched her scurry out of the room. He thought for a second that she was going to fall when her socked feet slid around, but she didn't even slow down.

"Kids always think they're immortal." Jessica shook her head and accepted the stack of four plates and silverware Chris held out. "I wonder when that feeling leaves-is it some sudden change, or a gradual one?"

"Do you need help?" Idle made to get up, but Jessica waved him back down.

"I was the one that invited you to breakfast," she said, setting a plate down on the placemat in front of him. "Besides, there's really nothing I need you to do."

He sat and watched Jessica and Chris bustle around the kitchen in comfortable familiarity and couldn't help a small flare of envy. He had never had anyone that he was so completely easy with as these two were with each other. It made him wonder why they had ever gotten divorced, though he would never ask them.

Mattie came racing into the room and clambered back into her chair with the clumsy grace of any small child. "I'm real hungry," she announced, "you better give me a lot."

Chris carried a large platter of sausage, pancakes, and hash browns to the table. "We'll keep that in mind," he said, sharing an amused glance with Jessica. She just shook her head and used a large slotted spoon to begin filling a plate with child-sized portions of everything.

Idle couldn't help watching the way her hands moved as she cut a pancake into bite-sized pieces, then added a thin, golden drizzle of syrup. It made something ache in his chest and he wondered if his mother had done that kind of thing for him. It was the not-knowing that was the worst.

"Don't forget the eggs," Chris said. He set the chocolate brown pottery bowl on the table with a dull "thud" within Jessica's easy reach. "I made them just the way you like," he told Mattie.

She flashed that gap-toothed smile again, then looked at Idle. "I like them really fluffy. Daddy makes the best eggs ever. They're like tasty clouds."

Idle smiled. "It smells really good," he said.

Mattie nodded. "They taste even better."

Jessica finished with Mattie's plate-adding a half-scoop of eggs with a neat turn of her wrist-then placed the plate in front of the girl. "There you go, sweetie."

"Thank you," Mattie said, then folded her hands politely in front of her. It was obvious she wanted to dig right in, but she waited with fidgety patience for everyone to be served.

Jessica sat down on Mattie's right side, and Chris snagged the bottle of juice off the counter and settled down into the chair next to Idle. Their knees bumped in passing and Idle was kind of surprised that he didn't get that skin crawling sensation he always seemed to feel when people got too close.

There was just something so relaxed about this homey family scene that he didn't get that feeling of being on the brink of peeling out of his skin. It was nice.

"Help yourself," Chris said, gesturing toward the food. "There's plenty."

"Thank you," Idle said. "You didn't have to invite me."

"Nonsense," Jessica said, "everyone needs to eat and you make good company."

"Thanks for the juice, by the way," Chris said, filling three glasses and one plastic mug with a cartoon cat face on the handle. "It's so expensive these days that it's a rare treat around here."

Idle shrugged. "Mingh recently signed me up for a commercial deal, so I get a big discount. It's kind of nice."

"So you're the one that got the FruitWow campaign," Jessica said. "I am very jealous."

Idle shrugged. "I haven't had to do anything yet. Maybe it's going to be completely awful."

Chris sipped from his glass, his eyes falling half-closed. "For more of this juice, there's a lot I would cheerfully do."

"I do like the discount they're giving me," Idle said. "I'm just a little nervous because Mingh's being very closemouthed about what I'm going to have to do."

"Whatever it is, it's totally worth it," Chris said.

Jessica tasted her own juice and nodded her agreement. "This is delightful. I really am very jealous now."

Idle didn't know how to respond to that, so he cut a sausage link in half with his fork and popped it into his mouth. Greasy, fatty, and delicious-sausage was one of those foods like vat-chicken that Mingh had pretty much forbidden him from eating. But what she didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

"This is really good," he said, eating a forkful of egg. They really were like clouds.

"I told you my dad is the best cook ever," Mattie said through a mouthful of hash browns.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Jessica admonished. "It's very rude."

It wasn't even said in a mean way, yet Mattie drooped sadly. "Sorry," she mumbled, poking at her food.

Jessica met Idle's gaze and rolled her eyes. "She's our little drama queen."

Mattie sat up straight. "I am not," she objected. "I'm really sad. You hurt my feelings."

"I blame Chris," Jessica said. "He's the one with the drama genes."

"And what did you bring?" Chris asked.

Jessica didn't hesitate, "Grace and beauty."

Chris snorted a laugh and shook his head. "Ridiculous." He looked at Mattie. "Stop with the dramatics and eat your breakfast. You're giving Idlewile a bad impression of you."

Mattie flicked her eyes toward Idle, then heaved a large sigh and went back to eating her breakfast. She still gave off an air of wounded dignity, but she didn't seem to be trying to garner sympathy any longer.

"So, what have you got planned for today?"

Idle quickly swallowed and looked at Jessica. "Excuse me?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Do you have anything planned for today?"

He shook his head. "It's my day off."

"Good," she said, but didn't elaborate further.

He watched her for a long moment, but she just calmly went about eating her breakfast and he followed suit. There was just something so nice about being here, a forgotten sense of family.

"So, we don't know that much about you," Jessica suddenly said, startling him into dropping his fork with a clatter. "Oh, sorry." She laughed. "You don't have to look at me like I'm about to eat you."

Idle shook his head. "You just surprised me, that's all. What did you want?"

"I was just being curious," she said. "For such a famous name, there's really not a whole lot known about you."

Idle shrugged. "There's not a whole lot to know." He stared down at his plate so he didn't have to meet anyone's eyes. "I was raised in a state orphanage until I was recruited into Anathema. We were together a few years until Blayden died, then I started pursuing my solo career. There's not a whole lot other than that."

He snuck a glance at her and caught her pursing her lips thoughtfully. "You certainly do make your life sound very uneventful," she said.

"It's not like I have to try all that hard to do it," Idle said. "My life really hasn't been as exciting as people like to imagine it being."

"You lived in an orphanage?" Idle gave Mattie a surprised look. She seemed so horrified.

"It really wasn't that bad," he assured. "It was a bit as though I had dozens of brothers and sisters and we had a lot of fun during our activity days." He tried to make it sound fun and keep his tone upbeat.

She was too young to be burdened with the realities of life in the orphanage. All of the kids-him included-had desperately wanted out of there and the infighting had been something fierce. Especially since the orphanage had been run by a group of corrupt government officials that had only seen the children as a paycheck.

Even now, he still wondered at the kind of person that could treat children the way he and the others had been treated. It had been a bit of a scandal when the Poppyseed Home for Children had finally been audited and all of the irregularities had come to light. Many of the employees were even now still working off their sentences in Hard Labor camps.

It still made him feel a bit bitter that Director Carruthers had gotten away. Not only had he been the head of everything, he had been the worst one. Kids had died under his watch.

Whenever Idle thought of his childhood in the orphanage, he got a sick, trapped feeling in his stomach. It was one of the reasons he avoided his past with such fervency.

"It was no big deal," he said. "I mean, it was hard not having any family, but I got through it all right."

He stuck a forkful of egg in his mouth, hoping the little girl wouldn't ask anymore questions. He had a harder time being rude to children than anyone else. Probably because he remembered a time when all he had ever heard from an adult's mouth was a lie. Truth had been largely nonexistent in his world.

Mattie gave him a doubtful look, but went back to eating her breakfast. Every now and then, he'd catch a hazel eye glancing at him, but she didn't say anything. She was a smart little girl.

"I've got Mattie for the day," Chris said, breaking the silence. He rested his elbow on the table. "What are you going to do without us around?"

Jessica flicked a glance toward Idle before smiling mysteriously at Chris. "Oh, I have some plans."

Chris raised an eyebrow, then shrugged and looked at Mattie. "Hurry up and eat. We've got very important plans for our day."

"What?" Mattie asked.

"You finish eating and I'll tell you," he said. She gave him a thoughtful look, then hurriedly began gobbling down her food. "Don't choke," he warned.

Mattie rolled her eyes, but slowed down and actually chewed her food.

Idle caught Chris' eyes, then hurriedly looked away. He'd been watching their interaction with all the wistful fascination of the lonely kid he used to be. If there was one thing he'd desperately wished for in the past, it was a family. Something he had never gotten for all his years of silent wanting.

"There, done!" Mattie put her fork down with a clank and turned toward Chris. "What are we doing today Daddy? Can't we stay with Idlewile?"

"Nope," Chris said. He gave Idle a smile. "No offense, it would be great if we could stay around," to Mattie, "but you and I have some very important plans." He held up his hand before she could speak. "Let me finish eating and you finish your juice, then I'll let you know the surprise."

Idle swallowed the emotion blocking his throat. There was just something so overwhelming about being part of such an idyllic family scene.

Finishing his own breakfast, Idle glanced across the table to see that Jessica had finished as well. He lifted his own plate when he stood and walked around to grab Jessica's plate.

"Oh, Idlewile, you don't have to do that," she said.

He smiled at her. "You invited me to a lovely breakfast where I was fed a delicious meal. The least I can do is wash a few dishes."

She caught his eye for a brief moment, then smiled and relaxed back in her chair. "Who am I to object when a handsome young man decides to wash the dishes?"

"Good." Idle went to the sink and set the plates down on the counter before rolling up his sleeves and switching on the water.

It was such a homey task, watching the bubbles form as he scrubbed the dishes. It had been one of the few chores from the orphanage that he had actually somewhat enjoyed. The quiet rush of the water and a straightforward task that allowed him to think of other things as he worked-it was the closest to freedom he'd experienced as a child, though it had taken years for his growth spurt and he'd been too short to reach the sink without a step stool.

He couldn't resist the way his shoulders tensed when Jessica came up behind him, but she was just bringing him more dishes. There was the quiet clink of china as she scraped the plates into the garbage before offering him the dirty dishes.

"Thank you," he said, reaching out with his wet hand.

"No, thank you," she said. She went back to the table and began closing up the jam and syrup, and cleared off the table.

"I'm done," Chris said.

"Yay!" Mattie cheered. "I'm done too. What's the big surprise?"

"Why don't you carry your plate to Idlewile and I'll tell you?" With his back to them, Idle could only listen to their voices and the sounds of chairs being pushed back and dishes being gathered.

"Here you go." He glanced down into Mattie's open face and smiled as he took her proffered plate. The top of her head barely reached his hip.

"Thank you," he said, earning himself a cheeky grin. She was a very cute kid, looking a lot like Jessica in miniature, though her hair was more brown than golden and she had her father's dimples. She was a good mix of the two stars and someday she would be a real heartbreaker.

"No one's gonna believe it when I tell them you came to my house and washed the dishes," Mattie said. "It's gonna make me real popular."

"Well, that's why I'm doing it." Idle scrubbed the dishes clean with easy grace. "I'd let you take some pictures of me doing it, but people would think they were fake."

She grinned, flashing that missing tooth. "You're silly."

"And you're blocking the road," Chris said, appearing behind her with his own plate. She "eeped" and ducked out of the way so Chris could pass Idle his plate. "Thanks for coming to breakfast with us. We should do this again."

"Thank you for having me," Idle said. "You're a much better cook than me."

"Well, considering Jessica believes food comes from people on the other end of a phone call, I had to learn how to cook," Chris said, glancing over his shoulder at Jessica where she was wiping down the island counter.

"And people wonder why we're not still married," Jessica said in a tone of long-suffering amusement. "Though I will admit that you do things with eggs that I could only ever dream of."

"Turning Syntheggos into fluffy deliciousness is a Herculean task," Chris nodded, "but it's a skill I worked hard to possess."

Idle rinsed the last glass and set it in the strainer to air dry. He shook off his wet hands and turned to accept the towel Chris waved at him. "Thanks."

"It was great having you over for breakfast," Chris said. He turned toward Mattie. "Well, come on Tiny, it's time for us to hit the road."

"Ah Daddy, do we really have to go?" Mattie gestured toward Idle and pouted. She'd climbed up on a bright pink child's stool next to the wide kitchen window and was poking at a fuzzy-looking green plant in an earthy brown pot.

"Yes, we have to go," Chris told her firmly, then gave Idle an apologetic look. "I got us tickets to 'The Huggy Bears Go To Space' and there's no way I'm going to pay for them twice."

"Really?" Mattie jumped off her stool with such exuberance that her socked feet made a thudding sound when they hit the floor. "I'll go grab my shoes!"

Idle watched her run off and laughed. "My biggest fan has just dumped me for a bunch of cartoon bears."

"Not just any cartoon bears, but Huggy Bears," Chris said. He shook his head and sighed mock-regretfully. "It really hurt me, the day I realized I wasn't the most important person in her life. It's sad when you find out that some singing, dancing bears are more popular than you."

Idle couldn't help laughing silently. There was so much warmth in Chris' expression that it sent a burst of happiness through him. Chris was such an obviously devoted father that it was nice to see.

"I'm ready!" Mattie ran back into the room, pulling on a bright red jacket with shiny black fur trim. She had tiny black saddle shoes on her feet that clattered loudly on the tile floor.

"Well look at you," Chris called. "I guess you're really enthusiastic about seeing the Huggy Bears, huh?"

"Boy am I." Mattie hurried over to Jessica and wrapped her arms around her for a good hug. "Me and Dad are leaving. We'll see you later. Come on Dad."

Chris shook his head. "See what I put up with?" He walked toward the door. "Come on, poppet. We'll see you later Jessica."

"Have fun." Jessica pressed a kiss on the top of Mattie's head, giving her a quick, "Be good," before letting her go.

"Bye Idlewile!" Mattie waved, then grabbed Chris' hand and dragged him out of the bright kitchen.

Jessica chuckled, then walked over to the cabinet to pull out two ceramic mugs she poured coffee into. "Let's have some coffee before we decide what we're going to do today." She carried the steaming mugs to the kitchen table and gestured at the spot across from her. "Come sit down."

Idle pushed away from where he was leaning against the sink and grabbed the milk and sugar out of the refrigerator. "Did you realize the sugar bowl was in the fridge?" he asked, carrying both to the table.

Jessica laughed. "It doesn't surprise me. We're all such scatterbrains in this house that we put things in the strangest places. That's half the maid's job on the days she works-finding everything we've put away in the wrong spots." She leaned forward and lowered her voice, incidentally adding two spoonfuls of sugar to her coffee. "Honestly, I'm not the one that doesn't know how to properly put things away. Chris is the one that does that, so whenever he comes over I'll always find one or two things in a different place. He's kind of a hot mess."

"He seems like a good guy," Idle offered.

"He's a wonderful man," Jessica said, "but he needed something different than I could offer.

Idle looked at her and bit the inside of his lip. She sounded so sad that he didn't know what to do. So he said nothing and just started preparing his own coffee with milk and sugar until it was an even tan.

Jessica suddenly laughed, her face brightening. "He seems so much happier now." She glanced at Idle, then raised her mug to her lips for a sip. "It was really hard for both of us, but it was probably the best decision we could make. Letting go was better than just holding on until it all just crumbled apart."

Idle licked his lips. "Mattie's a great kid."

"Yes, she is. She's the best reason why I don't look back on our marriage as having been a mistake." She sighed and gave him strangely soulful eyes. "Chris is one of the best people I've ever met in my life and I'll always love him. I just think we confused close friendship for romantic love and that's why it all fell apart."

Idlewile didn't know what he was supposed to do with such maudlin talk and Jessica seemed to understand because the mood changed as easily as that.

"I'm kidnapping you for the day," she said, "and we will have a fabulous time. The legendary Jessica Turan and her man about town."

"I don't know when I became a man about town, but I'm feeling a little nervous about it."

"Don't be nervous, darling," Jessica said. "I promise you that I'll be having a wonderful time."

"Thanks," he said dryly, taking a drink of his coffee.

She just laughed and pushed her chair back. "You finish your coffee and I'll be back in just a few moments." She left her mug on the table and strode out of the kitchen.

He probably should have been upset by her manipulative behavior, but instead he found himself smiling as he breathed in the scent of coffee and the fresh orange scent of the cleaner she had used to clean the table.

Idle sipped his coffee and fished his phone out of his trouser pocket. Pressing down the Quick Call button for Mingh was nearly instinctive. She was the one constant in his life, the person he counted on the most.

"Idlewile," her voice was like frozen diamond. Rather than chilling him, it was soothing to his ear. She naturally soothed the worst of the clamor that filled his mind.

From the first moment he met Mingh Cheney he had trusted her. She didn't try to get him to like her; she was what she was and treated him as though he was intelligent enough to make up his own mind about her. It was the kind of thing he had learned to appreciate in a life filled with adults that had lied to him and tried to twist every bit of use out of him.

"Mingh," he said. "I wanted to ask if you could get me a couple of tickets to my concert. VIP backstage passes if it's possible."

"You know the concert is all sold out," she said, though it was just an observation of fact and there was no rancor in it.

"Can you get me a couple of tickets?" he asked. "One for Jessica Turan and one for her daughter. The best seats you can get, as close to the front as possible."

"I'll arrange them to be couriered," Mingh said. "Do you want them sent to you or directly to Ms. Turan?"

He sipped his coffee. "Send them straight to her with a note saying, 'To Mattie, my biggest little fan. I hope you and your mother enjoy the concert,' and sign it from me."

There was a moment of silence where she was most likely making arrangements. "I'll make it happen," Mingh finally said. "I've also ordered a concert basket suitable for a young child. She should have an amazing concert experience."

"Thank you." Idle smiled. Mingh only needed a small amount of information to read any situation. He'd never asked her how she did it, content to leave her the mystery of her omniscience.

"I'm glad you called me," she said. "I was going to call you and this way I can just tell you." Mingh sighed down the line. "I've made some arrangements that I'll have to handle personally. I'll be out of town for a few days."

Idle squeezed the phone in his fist. "How long are you going to be gone for?"

"I'm planning for less than a week, but I can't be sure," Mingh said. "I've sent an info packet to Honda so he can keep you on point. He will make sure you keep all of your appointments and I want you to listen to what he says."

"I always do," Idle said. His throat felt dry and tight. Every time Mingh was out of reach he would feel a bit as though he had been abandoned forever, and not even the thought that she was coming back made him feel better.

"It will be fine," Mingh said firmly. "I'll only be gone a few days and Honda will keep you on track. There's nothing very large on your schedule and I'll make sure your calendar is kept updated."

"What are you going to be doing?" he asked. He swirled the last of the coffee once in his mug then swallowed it down.

"I'm trying to put something together that I think you will find exceedingly interesting," she said. "I don't want to say anything now and get your hopes up in case we end up disappointed later, but I guarantee you'll love it if it goes through. I'll give you all the details if my work pays off, but I need to concentrate on this for a few days. Will you be able to handle things by yourself for until I come back?"

Idle bit the inside of his lip for a few seconds. "I can take care of myself."

"Good," she said. "I might be out of touch here and there, but I promise to call you when I can manage it. And you know that Honda will keep an eye on you. Promise me you will listen to what he says."

"I promise," he said.

Perhaps he should have hated the way she treated him like a child, but it comforted him instead. She was the first person that had ever shown him any care. Before he'd met her he had been floundering through the world helplessly. She had allowed him to set down some of his burdens and he knew that she honestly cared for him. Though she rarely said the words, her actions were all the proof he needed. He'd never trusted words much anyway, not when so many people tried to feed him their lies.

"I will call you later," Mingh said, and there was a dinging sound behind her along with what might have been an announcer's voice too far away to be clear. "I have to go now. You work hard and behave yourself, understand?"

"Of course," he said. "Have a safe trip."

"Thank you," she said. "I will make sure those tickets are sent out. Have a good day, just please don't let Miss Turan corrupt you too much."

Idle tried to make his voice as deadpan as hers, "Of course not. There will be no corruption and no loss of virtue of me or anyone by me. Pinkie swear."

Her tone was cool silk. "I will accept your pinkie swear as your bone. Please do not disappoint me."

"I won't." Idle cradled the phone against his ear and listened closely for every sound from her end of the line. "I'll miss you."

Her tone was just as clipped as ever, "And I you. Be safe and I will contact you as I may."

"Goodbye," he said, then heard the sound of the line disconnecting. He sighed heavily and slipped his phone back into his pocket.

He folded his hands together on the table and relaxed himself. It was a pose he'd held many times in his life and he drew comfort from the familiarity.

"Sorry I took so long," Jessica called, breezing back into the room. She was wearing a green dress with short puff sleeves and a flirty bit of black lace at the hem. Her blond hair had been captured in a smooth chignon that left the elegant length of her neck bare. She had a black crochet satchel slung on her shoulder.

When Idle stood he found that they were roughly the same height. She wasn't wearing her usual high heels, but a pair of black flats on her long, slender feet. He couldn't help a faint smile at the thought that she had thoughtfully considered his lack of height and put them on equal footing.

"You wouldn't tell me," Idle said. "Where are we going?" He straightened his shirt and fixed his hair with the comb he carried in his pocket.

She smiled at him fondly, her green eyes focusing on his hands in his hair. "We are doing some shopping."

He froze for a second, then forced himself to calmly fold the comb shut and tuck it back into his pocket. "I don't think that I can join you. I don't... I don't enjoy shopping."

Jessica made a moue with her pink rosebud lips. "I can tell you don't like being hassled by fans," she said. "I don't like it either and that's why I don't put up with it. Come with me and I promise you that we will have a great day. And if you still want to go home, I won't hold it against you."

"But you will hold it against me if I don't go with you now?" Idle stuck his hands in his back pockets and kept his expression as controlled as possible.

She cocked her head. "You know what, I just might hold it against you. It shows you don't trust me and you're not willing to even give me a chance." She had a bracelet that shone like a strand of gold on her wrist when she pulled a pair of fashionable sunglasses out of her satchel and put them on top of her head. She looked casual and beautiful and as vivacious and charming as he'd always thought she looked on the big screen. Only she was right in front of him now and he couldn't resist the Presence she exuded.

She was Jessica Turan. Who was he to deny her anything?

"I'm sorry," he said. "I just really hate going out amongst large crowds of people. I wasn't trying to offend you."

"Then you're coming with me today," Jessica said firmly. "I promise on my honor that I will protect you from anyone that tries to get too close, though the chances of anyone bothering you will be largely nonexistent."

He couldn't help the dubious look he gave her, but at least he tried. "We're both too recognizable. There's no way we'll ever be left alone."

"You leave it up to me." Jessica's smile was all luminous beauty; there was no resisting such an expression.

"Okay," Idle said slowly, wondering if he was going to be disappointed. He wanted to believe her, but believe had never done him much good before.

"I'm all ready to go," Jessica said. "I've called for my car and we can leave right now."

Idle tugged his shirt straight. "Let me grab Honda and we can go."

He'd tried to get Honda to join them for breakfast, but the bodyguard had refused with the excuse that it wouldn't be appropriate. Nothing Idle had said would change the man's mind and Honda had joined Jessica's Security in the backroom where they could keep an eye on everything through the house system while they played cards and shared a platter of finger sandwiches and glasses of dark soda.

It was only a matter of moments to gather up Honda and Jessica's Security, then they were on their way in two dark cars.

After climbing into the back of the armored luxury car, Idle buckled his seatbelt and wiped his sweating hands on the sides of his pants. He didn't want to offend Jessica, which is why he was doing this, but the thought of being mobbed by a crowd of screaming fans made his stomach flip-flop uncomfortably.

"Don't be so worried," Jessica said. She opened a storage compartment built into the seat. She dug around a moment before holding out a pair of dark sunglasses. "Here, you can wear these."

Idle took the glasses and turned them between his fingers-expensive black lensed sunglasses. "These are nice," he said.

"They're Chris'," she said. "He left them in here."

"He won't mind me using them?" Idle slipped them on just to see how they looked on him when he flipped open the mirror above the door.

Jessica waved her hand negligently. "Chris doesn't care about that kind of thing. He loves sharing, though he does get a bit prickly if his things aren't returned."

"I'll return them," Idle said. He admired himself for a few seconds longer, then flipped the mirror back up. "These are nice. I'll have to get a pair of these for myself."

He glanced at Jessica and had to wonder about the quirky smile she wore. The way she looked at him sent an odd flush of warmth through him and he didn't know what to say to fill the silence, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as he thought it should be.

He folded his hands in his lap and waited with easy patience. After a moment, Jessica leaned forward and switched on the radio. The car filled with the soft strains of classical music, all instrumental without the interference of a human voice.

Idle sat quietly, listening to the music while occasionally glancing out the window to see where they were going. Jessica hadn't told him their final destination so he couldn't help but to wonder where they were going.

He didn't ask.

There was something exciting about heading into the unknown. Anything could happen and he felt as though he were pulling a great prank on someone, maybe himself.

"I heard you're doing a new Diana Halberd movie," he said. "Is it really true?"

Her lips tilted up at the corners. She really was very beautiful and he couldn't resist admiring the look of her-a beautiful golden goddess with realms of smooth skin and slender legs and he knew she had amazing abs from her last movie. She was everything he loved to look at, the perfect kind of art for the man that refused to commit to anything long-term.

"I really do love Diana. she's this great character and there are times that I wish I could be her for real." Jessica looked wistful. "There is going to be one last movie and I am signed on for it. I read the script and it's absolutely fabulous. The only thing I'm dreading is the workout regime I'm going to have to follow. I love food and the diet portion of getting into the role has to be the hardest part."

"Still, a new Diana Halberd movie." Idle grinned at her. "It might mean work for you to get into the role, but I'm really excited about there being another movie. I've been waiting a long time."

Jessica sighed loudly, but a smile hovered around her lips. "I should have known you'd be a Halberd fan. Out of all the great roles I've done, Diana Halberd is the only one kids remember."

Idle ducked his chin with a smile. "I'm not a kid."

"I wish I could still be called a kid," Jessica said, "but age comes creeping in no matter what you do. All the creams in the world can't completely wipe out all wrinkles."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said. "You've only gotten more beautiful since the first movie I ever saw you in. 'Spires of Jupiter' was a great movie, but you looked like a kid. Your face wasn't as refined as it is now."

"So I was uncooked bread dough, huh?" She laughed, a bright bell-like sound that made his heart lift.

Idle covered his mouth with his fingers when he huffed a laugh. "I wouldn't have phrased it quite like that, but yes. You hadn't grown into your face yet and it showed. You're more beautiful now than ever before."

Jessica cupped her smooth cheeks with her hands. "You're making me blush," she said, sounding pleased. There was a sharp sparkle in her eyes even as she fluttered her lashes.

Idle covered his smile, the soft bristles of his beard prickling against his fingers.

The car came to stop and there was the sound of doors opening.

Idle unbuckled his seatbelt and was ready when Honda opened his door. He slid out the door, tugging his jacket down as he straightened up. He stepped out of the way when he realized Jessica was coming out behind him.

He admired her grace as she exited the car. She was all long legs, a brightly colored dress, and golden hair. Just looking at her sent a wave of satisfaction flowing over his skin. She was everything he'd hoped she would be-friendly, funny, and she didn't make him feel strange in his own skin.

He looked around, the world taking on a monochrome quality from the sunglasses. They were parked in front of an extremely popular department store. The kind of place he couldn't shop at anymore because he'd gotten too famous.

"Come along." Jessica wrapped her arm around his. They were nearly the same height and every time she turned her head he'd get a whiff of her green apple shampoo and clean skin.

He matched her stride as they walked toward the main entrance. The doors had been pinned open and there were two pretty girls, one standing on each side. They wore black slacks and dark red uniform shirts and wrist-length black gloves.

"Welcome!" they chorused and waved them through the doors.

As Idle let Jessica lead him passed the girls, he couldn't help catching the eye of the brunet. Her smile was bright and happy and she practically jittered with barely contained excitement, though she was too professional to do anything more.

Idle looked around as they entered the store and was momentarily surprised to see they were the only customers.

"You closed down the whole store?" he asked.

She lifted her shoulder in a shrug and tugged him toward the children's clothing section. "It's very easy to do," she said. "We should probably autograph some promo stuff before we leave though."

Idle felt as though he should resent her for making decisions for him. He was amused instead.

He listened to her cheerful chatter as she put together a couple new outfits for Mattie, holding up this or that shirt or pants. She would wordlessly ask his opinion as she talked about something completely different.

He had fallen into some kind of daze, but didn't want to be pulled out of it. Jessica Turan was so vibrant and bright and he'd been so down for so long that he couldn't resist being pulled in her wake. She made him feel alive.

They moved from the Girls' section to the Womens' and he allowed himself to be positioned on the couch outside the dressing room. An attentive salesman brought him a cup of milky tea and a plate of cookies imprinted with a somehow elegant doily pattern.

He nibbled on the cookies and sipped his tea while listening to the music piped through the overhead sound system.

A wide rack of clothes was trundled into the dressing room by a couple of saleswomen. Jessica flashed Idle a grin before darting in after them, the hem of her dress flipping cutely.

After that he was treated to an impromptu fashion show. He'd never been one for lying, so he gave her an honest critique of her various outfits, which ranged from severely cut business attire to scanty bikinis. She seemed to appreciate his honesty, though he was trying his best to be nice.

Her smiles were bright and frequent as she mugged for him. She quickly amassed a mound of clothing and accessories the salespeople immediately delivered to the front counter. Being with her was absolutely effortless as she carried him along with her and never seemed to expect more than he could give.

He didn't even experience the discomfort he usually felt when shopping, which let him agree that she could dress him. He even modeled for her, pretending he was on the catwalk and pirouetting gracefully in front of her. He couldn't help laughing when he saw her sipping tea and eating cookies, sitting in the same pose he'd taken earlier.

She picked out more clothes for him than he knew, as they were taken to the front before he came out of the dressing room after one of his numerous costume changes.

Honestly, he was grateful that she was picking out his clothes for him. He hated shopping and never knew what he should get. Which was why he stuck to his few preferred outfits and let his stylist figure out the rest. But he trusted Jessica not to purposely make him look like a fool, and she had a definite eye for fashion.

Idlewile watched Jessica and his heart felt full. She was so bright that he nearly felt seared by her.

He wanted to stay in this moment forever.

.

After their shopping was done, he helped carry the shockingly large amount of bags to the cars. Then he let Jessica take him out for a late lunch at an expensive cafe where they shared an appetizer and he ordered the salmon while she ate an avocado burger with great gusto. They sipped wine and he enjoyed the sound of her easy laughter as she told stories about her life with Chris and Mattie.

She made him feel as though he were a part of her family.

Afterward, they drove back to her house and he and Honda took his bags and loaded them into their vehicle. It was only at the last second that he remembered the sunglasses that he was still wearing and hurried to put them back in the console of her car. He'd worn them all day, slipping them on top of his head when they'd gone indoors, and he felt strangely naked without them.

"I had a lot of fun today," he said, ducking his chin.

Her hands were warm under his jaw as she lifted his face and pressed a kiss against his forehead. "I had fun too. We should do this again soon."

"Whenever you want," he said, unable to meet her eyes.

She laughed and nudged him toward his vehicle. "Such a charmer."

He climbed into the zero-grav and let Honda take him home. He was proud of himself for not gazing out the back window at her like a child as they pulled away.

Back at the apartment he took a quick shower and crawled into bed, feeling happy and relaxed. For the first time in a long time he'd spent a worry-free day, and that was all thanks to Jessica.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face.