Cinder Creek

Chapter Fifteen: If You'd Only Talk to Me

© All Rights Reserved


I can imagine the moment
Breaking out through the silence
All the things that we both might say
And the heart, it will not be denied
'Til we're both on the same damn side
All the barriers blown away

- "Come Talk to Me," Peter Gabriel


"There, that should do it," I say as I loop a hair elastic around one of Bizzy's braids. "Now, when you wake up tomorrow morning you'll have beautiful wavy hair."

She turns around to face me, her brown eyes excited. "I can't wait!"

I raise my eyebrows. "But it'll only work if you go right to sleep tonight," I tell her sternly. "The longer you sleep, the wavier your hair will be tomorrow."

Bizzy nods. "Okay." Then her face lights up as an idea occurs to her. "I'm gonna braid your hair too now!" she says. "Then we'll both have wavy hair."

I sigh. "What did I just say about going right to bed…" I mutter. But I give in. I sit in front of the couch and have Bizzy sit on it, so that she'll be able to easily reach my head.

"Okay, three pieces…" I hear Bizzy mumbling to herself behind me. "And then this one goes over this one, and then this one goes over this one, and then this one goes over…"

I tune out her ramblings and let my eyes fall closed. I'm tired after a long day at school and then taking care of things at home. And my sister braiding my hair is soothing, even though she's not very skilled at it and the braid certainly won't stay in.

"Sloane?" Bizzy's voice cuts through my reverie.


"Why don't you and John talk anymore?" she asks, her voice plaintive.

My eyes fly open and I stare at the fireplace across from me in shock. I'm glad I'm facing away from her because I don't know if I would be able to school my expression appropriately. "We do talk, Bee."

"Not usually…" she says.

I can't think what to say. I don't know what she's noticed. It's true that John and I maybe haven't really spoken much to each other lately. But it's not like we ever talked a lot. We're both so busy. One of us at any given time is almost always doing some household task or doing something with the kids. I didn't think there was anything there for any of them to notice.

"Well…" I say, completely ineffectually, "That's not…"

I don't know what to tell her because the heartbreaking truth of the matter is that she's right. My little six-year-old sister, apparently wise beyond her years, is right this time. John and I barely speak lately. What is there to say? Everything I want and need to say I know I can't. I know he wouldn't let me.

He avoids me, I'm almost certain. How many times has John made some excuse to leave the room after I came in? Sprung up from the couch when I sat down next to him? Purposely sat down on the opposite side of the room from me, or avoided my touch or my gaze?

"Are you mad at him?" Bizzy asks me.

"No!" I exclaim.

"Is he mad at you?"

"No," I tell my sister. "We're not mad at each other." It's much more complicated than that.

A minute later John comes into the room, Bizzy's favorite book in hand. "Well, Biz, are you ready for your bedtime story?" he asks her. He doesn't acknowledge me at all.

"Not yet," she replies. "I have to finish braiding Sloane's hair." She pauses, and I feel her hands in my hair stop moving. "It's so hard though. She has a lot of hair. I can't get it to stay."

"Well, not everyone can be an expert hair-braider like me," John jokes.

"You do it!" Bizzy exclaims at that.

John looks confused. "Huh?"

"You braid Sloane's hair!" Bizzy exclaims impatiently. "Pleeeease?" she wheedles.

"No," John shakes his head. "I'm an expert at braiding your hair, Bizzy, not…"

"Pleeeease?" Bizzy asks again. I can't see her face but I know she's using her big puppy eyes look on him. I've been victim to that look myself – it's dangerous. "If you do I promise I'll go to bed right when I'm supposed to tonight, I won't come into the kitchen for water four times like I did last night and I'll stay in my bed, I promise!"

John sighs, and in that sigh I hear defeat. "Well, all right, if you promise," he acquiesces. He walks over to the couch. Bizzy lets go of my hair and scoots over to make room for John to sit next to her.

I slide forward a little in my spot on the floor, creating more space between my back and the couch so that I'm not touching John's legs.

He settles into his seat and I wait, my whole body tense. I can scarcely believe we're just letting Bizzy run the whole show like this, but I don't want to give her any more cause to worry about the distance between John and me.

"Well, braid it!" Bizzy exclaims, annoyed at John's hesitation. A moment passes, then another, then I feel his hands on my hair.

He's tentative at first, barely grasping my hair. I can tell he's trying hard not to pull too hard. Still, it feels good, and I feel some of the tension start to leave my shoulders.

John too seems to relax, and he starts to pull harder. I let out a breath and relax. I find myself leaning back against his legs, hardly knowing what I'm doing. He reaches up to smooth the hair and his nails rake against my scalp. I sigh with pleasure and arch my back against his shins. He does it again.

My hair goes down to the middle of my back but now I curse the fact that it isn't longer, because all too soon I hear Bizzy's voice, "You're done now, John, tie it." John loops the elastic around the end of my braid.

I know I need to stand up but instead I turn to look over my shoulder at the two of them on the couch. This means my head is nearly in John's lap, or it would be if I leaned forward a little. I wish I dared to. Then he could play with my hair all night.

John still doesn't meet my eyes. "Ready for your story?" he asks Bizzy.

She nods. "Sloane listen too," she begs me.

I shake my head and stand up. "I have a lot of things to do…" I start, and I begin to edge away from the couch.

"But you told me you weren't mad at each other!" Bizzy protests. "You said!"

At this, John does look at me, his expression confused. I gnaw on my lip. I don't want Bizzy to start the whole 'Why don't you two talk anymore?' thing again, especially not in front of John. "Okay," I say hurriedly, before she can elaborate. "I'll listen."

Bizzy smiles and grabs my hand, pulling me down onto the couch to sit next to John, and she crawls into my lap, snuggling back into me.

John picks up Bizzy's favorite book and opens it. "Once there was a princess and a tiny, tiny mouse," he begins, and we've all heard this story so many times that I automatically tune it out. I lean back on the couch, absently stroking Bizzy's hair and letting the cadences of John's deep voice wash over me.

I'm so zoned out that I don't even realize the story's over until John shuts the book. He turns to look at Bizzy, then glances at me. He brings a finger to his lips, then points at Bizzy. "Asleep," he whispers.

I raise my eyebrows, scarcely believing our good luck. "Really?" I whisper back.

He nods. It's past Bizzy's bedtime so I guess it's not surprising she fell asleep listening to the story. It's certainly great news for John and me, since now we don't have to go through the usual rigmarole of trying to make her stay in her bed once we tuck her in and shut her bedroom door. "I'll carry her to her bed," he says in a low voice. He sets the book down on the couch and stands up, then leans over and picks Bizzy up out of my lap. John carries her to her bedroom, and I pick up the book and trail after them.

Caleb's still awake, reading in my bedroom with Charlie, so luckily we can keep the light off in the little kids' bedroom so Bizzy won't wake up. I enter the dark bedroom and place the book on the wooden bookshelf John made for Caleb. Then I go over to the bed and turn down the sheets. John gently lays Bizzy down on the bed, and we each take a corner of the covers in hand to pull them up slowly over her.

I lean over to smooth out Bizzy's hair and press a kiss to her forehead. When I look up, John is staring right at me, the longest he's looked at me in what feels like ages.

The room is so dark but I can still see his eyes, the planes of his face. I swallow thickly and feel suddenly like I'm about to cry. I know why he's avoiding me but I wish so much that things were different. I'm so frustrated. "John," I whisper so quietly it is barely more than an exhale. "I…"

His expression is pained and his eyes are pleading. "Don't…please," he begs me. He won't even hear it.

I want to slap him for his cowardice at first. I fume silently. But I know him, I know him better than anyone, and I know why he says it. It doesn't mean I agree. But I understand.

I turn away abruptly and hurry out of the room. I wait until I reach the hallway to reach up to wipe the tears from my eyes.


It's a Tuesday evening at the end of May when the call comes.

I don't even notice it at first. John answers the phone and it's for him, anyway. I'm sitting on the floor in the main room with Caleb and Bizzy, playing cards, and we go on happily with our game. John's in the kitchen, talking in a low voice, but I don't pay any attention. Not until I hear a loud bang from the kitchen, and I lay my cards on the floor and jump up to hurry and look.

John's hung up the phone and is cradling his right hand in his left, a pained expression on his face. He must have just banged his hand on the countertop, creating that loud noise – but why?

"Your hand!" I say, going over to him to see if he's hurt. "Are you –"

When he hears my voice he looks up, and I nearly gasp at the enraged look in his eyes. For a split second I worry that he's angry with me, for what I don't know, but there's no reason for him to be.

He shakes his head slowly. He opens his mouth to speak, but he's apparently too overcome to form the words. He simply shakes his head once more.

"What –" I start, but John starts walking then, goes through the main room, past Caleb and Bizzy on the floor, and he throws open the front door and storms out.

I gape after him, at this outburst that is so unlike the easygoing, calm John I know. I've only seen him lose his temper maybe once or twice before, but at least those times I knew why. Right now I'm at a loss.

"Keep playing without me," I tell Bizzy and Caleb, and then I hurry past them to follow John outside.

He's stopped in the front yard, near the porch, and he's pacing back and forth, looking furious and unstable. My mind races and I connect the dots. Whoever he spoke to on the phone must have made him so upset. I can't think what it could be, but I know that what I need to be in this situation is what John usually is to me. His rock, the calm one, the patient listener.

I take a deep breath and walk off the front porch. The evening sun bathes the entire clearing in a warm golden glow. I approach John slowly.

He sees me. "Sloane," he says, his voice a mess of a million emotions. When he looks at me I see some of the ire in his eyes start to fade. "I'm sorry."

"Shh," I reply, brushing off his apology. "Let me see that hand." I walk up to him and, after a moment's hesitation, I take his right hand gingerly in both of my own. When he doesn't protest, I bring it up and look down at his knuckles. There's no obvious injury, though it might bruise later. It takes everything in me but I resist the urge to press my lips to his hand. Instead, I stroke over his knuckles with my thumbs soothingly.

After few moments, John finally speaks. "That was a lawyer. On the phone, just now. A defense lawyer, down in Kenosha."

His hand is so rough, so large it dwarfs mine. I'm fascinated, too, by how long he's let me hold it. I don't dare speak.

"And she wanted to know if I'd be a character witness for…" he breaks off, finding it hard to speak. "For Thomas Christiansen. For – my father."

At this I look up at his face, surprised and bewildered. "What? But I thought he was in jail –"

"He was," John says. "That was the last I'd heard of him. Apparently he's been living down in Kenosha County lately, after finishing his sentence. But now he's done something else – I don't know what exactly, some kind of battery. The lawyer said they're charging him with a felony."

"That's good, isn't it? Not that he assaulted someone, of course, but that he should be going back to jail soon?"

John's mouth is set in a grim line. "You'd think. But the defense wants to try to say that this...this shit is out of character for him. That he's a good, nonviolent, upstanding man." He laughs derisively. "Can you believe that?"

I shake my head, unsure of what to say.

"So that's why she called me. She wants me to be a character witness. To get up there at his trial and lie and say he was a good father, that he'd never hurt a fly. That he didn't beat and threaten me and your mom and your grandma every damn day of our fucking lives." At this, he wrenches his hand from my grasp and paces a few feet away from me, breathing unevenly.

I ache for him. I have to help him, have to do something, but I don't know what. If only I could go over and embrace him, try to take away his suffering even just a little.

"And then…and then you know what this – what she has the gall to say next? To say to try to convince me?" He heaves a breath. "That if I do this, if I testify on his behalf and he gets off, then maybe when it's all over Thomas could come and 'help me' with…" he trails off, overcome with emotion. After a pause, he tries again, controlling himself. "That he heard I'm taking care of his stepdaughter's children, and that if he doesn't have to go to jail for this charge then he could come take over the work." After that, he finally turns back around to face me. He looks furious and terrified and miserable all at once.

I draw my eyebrows together, unable to stop myself from being a little scared too. "But surely no court would grant him custody," I say. "Right?"

John shrugs. "I would hope not. But who can say?"

"But he's a criminal! He's been convicted before!" I point out.

"I know, but Thomas can be very charming when he wants to be. It's how he got my mother and then Lotte to marry him, by pretending to be something he wasn't at first. And he's older and richer and more established, and I'm only 23…" John's face crumples. "I think you're right. I don't think it could happen. But it might. And even if he didn't get custody of them, if he were out of jail he could track us down. He could come find us." And then a fierce expression comes into his eyes as he says, "But he wouldn't come near any of you. I'd kill him before I let him. I swear it, Sloane, I won't let him." It's an oath, his eyes blazing, his fists clenched.

I don't like to see John like this, so unsteady, so angry, so fragile. It hurts. It makes me want to go back in time and protect the little boy he'd been from Thomas' beatings.

"I'm gonna go down there," John declares.

I look at him in confusion. "What?"

"To the courthouse in Kenosha. I'm gonna be a character witness, all right, but for the prosecution. I'm gonna testify to everything that bastard has done and make sure that he gets convicted."


John is adamant about his desire to go and testify against his father. He gets in contact with the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting Thomas' case and explains his desire to serve as a character witness. And according to the ADA, though they hadn't thought to seek John out, if the defense introduces character evidence in favor of Thomas, then the prosecution is perfectly able to call on character witnesses against him.

And very quickly, it's all arranged. John is set to drive down to Kenosha, where the trial is already in progress. It's over four hours away, so far southeast it's practically Chicago, so he'll have to stay in a motel.

He's leaving tomorrow morning, bright and early, before the sun comes up. Now, tonight, he's in the kitchen making himself some sandwiches to take on the road. His face is set in the same determined expression he's worn since he got the call from Thomas' lawyer.

I worry for him. I feel like he's barely sleeping. He doesn't like to talk much about the upcoming trial, so I try not to press. In front of my siblings, of course, he's his usual self. He doesn't let them see his worry, his fear for them. We told Caleb and Bizzy the most minimally detailed version possible of why John's going away for a couple days. Charlie we told more.

John lays out slices of bread on a plate, and I go over to the cupboard to get the jar of peanut butter down for him. I walk over and set it down on the counter in front of him, then I take a breath and steel myself for what I want to say. "Take me with you."

I've wanted to ask him all weekend but I haven't known how to. Now, with only a few hours left before he gets on the road, it's my last chance. I know he won't want to say yes, but I don't think he should be alone for this. He has too many painful memories associated with Thomas. This trip and the ensuing trial are going to dredge up his unhappy childhood, there's no way around it. And it's going to be intolerable for me to be here, stuck in Cinder Creek, worrying and wondering and waiting anxiously while he's there. I care about him too much to let him go through this alone.

At my words, John looks up at me, surprised. "What?" He smiles a little, clearly amused, to my annoyance.

I stare back, deadly serious. "I mean it. I want to come to Kenosha with you."

He laughs. "But –"

"I know we'll have to stay overnight but don't worry, the kids would be fine. I can ask Ella, or Matty and his family, to watch them. Or even Nina and the Dahls. And they're at school most of the day anyway," I try to convince him.

He realizes from my earnest proposal that I'm being serious, and he levels a cross gaze back at me. "For someone so intelligent, you're sure not acting like it right now," he says. "What makes you think I would ever let Thomas catch even a glimpse of you in that courtroom?" He's clearly angered by even the idea of me coming. "I don't want him to know what you look like. I don't want to give him the chance to speak to you. I don't think you understand how dangerous this man is –"

"Well then I won't even go anywhere near the courthouse!" I protest. "I'll stay in the –"

John shakes his head, cutting me off. "It doesn't matter, it's still too risky. And anyway, who knows how long I'll be gone."

If he says that to try to convince me to stay, it backfires. For almost eight months now, I've seen John every morning when I wake up, said good night to him every night before bed. It's funny how ordinary days can suddenly seem extraordinary gifts in the face of possible loss of them.

My face must fall at that, but I can't help it now. "But…it's just…" I don't know what to say. How can I let him face this all alone? "I'll be here, and you'll be so far away."

He gets a strange look on his face then, and he leaves the bread to make three slow steps around the counter, until he's right next to me. I look up at him, eyes wide. His mouth has a funny set to it and his gaze feels like a woolen blanket. "I want you there too," he says. "Of course I do. I always want you with me." John says it so matter-of-factly it's almost as if he hasn't just illuminated my universe.

I try not to beam at him but I think the tiniest of smiles still gets through. He pauses, and his hand comes up to rest near my head, his thumb hovering just a centimeter away from my lips. His fingertips are barely brushing my hair and it's takes everything in me not to lean my cheek into his palm. He's so close, he's so near, I can feel the tingle down my spine. But I stay perfectly still. My eyes are almost certainly already betraying me, but how can I not look at him like this?

"But please," he speaks again, and then his hand does run through my hair for a split second before he drops it to his side again, "please understand. I would never – will never – put you any closer to Thomas than I can help."

I think John's being unreasonable, but I know better than to fight him on this of all things. I don't think I'd be in any danger, but he's clearly terrified of it, and I have to respect that. When it comes to his father, he refuses to take any chances, and there's no use trying to change his mind.

When I wake up the next morning, he's gone.


The first day that John is gone, the world seems to be conspiring to keep me busy enough that I don't have time to dwell on my thoughts, which isn't entirely unwelcome. I get assigned a mountain of homework at school, and I have to help Nina brainstorm a plan so that she can sneak out of her house at night without her parents knowing. Caleb and Charlie get into a blowout fight that evening, and mediating it takes hours.

The next day is okay too, until we're all at the dinner table and Bizzy says something particularly silly and adorable. My eyes slide of their own accord over to John's usual place at the table, ready to smirk at him, but of course he's not there.

I miss my nightly conversations with John before bed so much that on the third night, I can't help myself from sitting on the couch in the main room that doubles as his bed. I know he's on the other side of the state but maybe if I sit here long enough, reading my book where he's sat so often, it won't feel so far.

My eyes fall on the blanket he uses to sleep at night and I reach out and grab it, hugging it to myself and pressing my nose into it so I can smell it.

Charlie comes in from outside then, staring at me, and I drop the blanket hurriedly. "What are you doing, freak?" she asks, laughing at me.

"Hey, who are you calling a freak, Little Miss I'm-Wearing-a-Toy-Boat-on-my-Head?" I retort, because upon closer examination, my crazy sister actually is wearing one of the kids' toy boats upside down on top of her head like a hat.

She smirks. "It started drizzling outside. Found this before a raincoat. It's called creativity, jeez, Sloane," and we chase each other laughing into our bedroom.


On the fourth day, John calls me in the evening. His voice sounds elated and relieved. Thomas has been convicted, he tells me. He's going to prison and we don't have to worry about him. And John's coming home tonight.

That surprises me a little, as I thought there might be more for him to take care of in Kenosha, but we don't have any more time to talk. We can't afford too many minutes per month on the cell phone. It's not meant for us to have long conversations. It's really just for emergencies. Or exceptional cases like tonight.

There's school tomorrow, so I put Bizzy to bed on time. (She misses John almost as much as I do. "He's the only one who can do the good voices for the princess and the mouse story!" she whines.) Then Caleb follows her, and finally Charlie, until it's so late that it's past even my bedtime.

But I don't want to sleep. I've been waiting days for John to come home. I want to hear about his trip, about the trial, about what it had been like to see Thomas again after so long. But mostly I just want to hear his voice, to see his messy dark hair fall over his ears, his broad shoulders straining the fabric of his threadbare shirts. The way the skin by his eyes crinkles when one of the kids does something silly or I tell a joke. The way he seems to take up half a room with just his quiet, calming presence.

So I stay up in the armchair in the main room, working on my homework for a few days in advance by the lamplight. I listen to the clock tick and steal glances out the front window.

I'm engrossed in a particularly tricky math problem when I hear the front door creak open. I startle a little in my seat and look over. John eases his way in the front door, setting his duffel bag down on the ground as he slides out of his shoes. At the sight of him, I set down my notebook and pencil and rise to my feet unthinkingly.

He looks over his shoulder and his eyes widen when he catches sight of me.

"Hi," I breathe. The sight of him after his time away is affecting me more than I'd expected. My memories of John are nothing compared to the real thing, to how he makes every neuron in my body sing.

He turns to face me, gazing at me almost in wonder. "You're up late."

I shrug. "I couldn't sleep."

He nods.

"You must be tired after that long drive," I say. "It's so late. I thought you'd stay –"

"I didn't want to stay in the motel," he explains, his eyes raking over my face. He shuts the door and takes a step toward me, then another. "Not again. I didn't want to spend the night away from –" he cuts himself off abruptly and swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing. "The kids," he finishes after a moment.

I arch an eyebrow and try not to grin with joy. I nod. "Of course," I say indulgently. "Well, 'the kids' really missed you," and I don't care anymore if I'm more transparent than glass.

John looks down at the ground then back at my face hesitantly. "I missed them too…" he begins, trailing off feebly, and then he gives a derisive little shake of his head. "I missed you, Sloane," he says, much more forcefully.

And then we're both moving at the same time, his steps long and purposeful, mine ebullient and quick, on a path straight toward each other and into each other's arms.

"God I missed you," he says raggedly as he embraces me, and I reach around him and squeeze so tightly that he couldn't move even if he tried. I burrow my face into his shoulder and breathe in deeply. Laundry detergent and sweat have never been as satisfying as they are right now. I clutch at the fabric of his shirt, wanting to never let go.

John pulls me closer to him with one of his arms. He presses his face into my hair, which he is gripping with his other hand, and kisses the top of my head. He murmurs so softly I can barely hear it, "I never wanna lose you."

I nuzzle my face into his shoulder, the worn fabric of his shirt dragging against my cheek and I take a deep, steadying breath. He's never let us get this close for so long before, and he doesn't show any signs of pulling away soon. His scent up close is intoxicating, it overwhelms my senses, and then for him to go and kiss my hair like that, unbearably tenderly – and to say that! It makes the prospect of having to go on pretending afterward almost unbearable.

I feel dizzy, lightheaded with emotion, and though it's near impossible to leave his embrace I know I have to. I can't think straight like this, with his strong arms around me, his body so close.

When I pull away he looks startled, his hand still tangled in my hair, which slides through his fingers as I take a step back. It takes a few seconds for his arms to fall to his sides. He's staring at me, his expression bewildered and overwhelmed, and it's all I can do to focus on breathing regularly.

He stares at me a moment more, then looks away, going over to sit slowly and unsteadily on the couch. His hands grip his knees tightly, and his eyes dart around the room, though they come to rest on me every couple seconds. He looks dazed, like a lost puppy. And as I look over at him, this gentle, humble man who tries so hard to do the right thing, my head clears. I know I'm thinking straight even if I am emotional.

I walk over to him and with my heart in my mouth I sit slowly in his lap sideways, so I can see his face. John's hazel eyes widen and he stares at me, shocked into speechlessness. But I just smile softly at him, knowing it can't be wrong to feel this way, to feel so good and whole like this. I know he's torn, and I wish I could make him see it the way I do. I reach up and gently brush some of his hair away from his face. My hand on his face, I can feel the stubble there after a long day. It's rough against the skin of my palm. "John," I say, a caress, a prayer, a promise. I lean over and kiss him, very softly at first, so that our lips just brush. And then again, more insistently, my hand guiding his face so it fits perfectly against mine.

His hands come up and grip my arms above the elbows, trying to stop me. But from my wonderfully cozy position in his lap, I'm close enough to him that it doesn't matter. I pull away for a moment then kiss him again. I half-hear, half-feel an inchoate noise begin in his throat, and then his grip on my arms slowly, ever so slowly, softens. His thumb traces an agonizing half circle on the bare skin of my arm and then his lips move against mine and he's kissing me back.

John's kissing me back is all I can think, almost delirious with joy. It doesn't feel anything like I'd imagined it, all those times, because it's so much better. One of his hands slides around my waist, pulling me closer, and his other hand tangles in my hair. He starts slow, letting me lead still, and soon I can't think coherent thoughts at all anymore because all I want is more. I slide my tongue into his mouth and he makes a little groaning noise that I have to hear again. I feel wonderfully powerful, completely in control, and it's such a liberating feeling that I can't help but let myself go. I run my hand all over his torso, reveling in the chance to finally, finally touch him like I've wanted to for months. Months it's been, months of austere self-control and lustful gazes and the agony of forced distance. After all of that, all I want is to be as near to him as possible. I've pushed him against the back of the couch and I twist in his lap, desperate to be closer. As I turn into him I rotate so that my legs are on either side of him, and it's such an exhilarating feeling that I may as well be flying.

"God, Sloane," he gasps when I straddle him, looking down at me so sexily I have to bite my lip. His pupils are blown huge and his hair is rumpled from my hand and the way he's looking at me, God, it's almost reverential. I smile at him, my lovely boy, and lean in once more to kiss him. But then he takes over, pulling me against him, kissing me so thoroughly all I can do is cling to him for dear life.

He kisses my jaw, and then trails down to my neck. His kisses there feel so good that I whimper, helpless to speak. I arch against him and it brings my crotch against his and we both make a sound then, mine needy, his low. He murmurs something unintelligible against my neck and I tangle my hands into his hair desperately, tugging him closer. I feel one of his hands slide under the hem of my T-shirt and up the skin of my back. I shiver at the feel of his rough hand against me.

And then he pulls his head away from my neck, leans back a little to look me in the eyes as his hand glides around me to my stomach, his thumb stroking the smooth skin there. We're breathing in unison, chests heaving, and I don't think twice before rolling my hips over him again. After that, he nearly glares at me, clearly distraught, but I just smirk wickedly back at him. I do it again and his head falls back. I grip at the front of his shirt. "Please John," I ask. "Please."

John pulls me forward and on top of him, his hand sliding down my stomach, so slowly, so painfully slowly that it makes me moan. "Please," I breathe into his mouth again, as I feel his fingertips reach the top of my underwear. I shift in his lap, desperate for friction, desperately needing more.

"Fuck," he curses against my lips. "This…no, stop that, fuck, Sloane." I shift against him again and he pulls away, panting. "I can't, I can't, I can't, shit." He takes his hand away and reaches up to my arms again, trying to hold me back and away from him. "Come on Sloane, please get up, you know we can't, you know."

I narrow my eyes at him, frustrated and irritated, and I make to reach for him again but he holds me at arm's distance. His hair is a tousled mess and his lips are swollen, his cheeks flushed. God he looks so good like this. Why is he making me stop?

His hands come around my waist and I look at him happily, thinking he's changed his mind, but then he lifts me up and sets me down on the couch beside him. I lean over, into his side, but he slides away, his head in his hands. "I'm sorry, fuck, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry, Sloane."

I stare at him, disbelievingly and even angrily. "What do you mean? Why would you be sorry? I want this, I want you, don't you dare –"

He shakes his head, his face still pressed into his hands. "No. This isn't right. Please go to bed, just go into your room now, dammit, please Sloane," he begs, his voice distressed.

There are too many emotions warring in my head right now. If I reach out a hand to lay on his back he'll push it away. I'm angry at him but at the same time I want to hug him and tell him everything's going to be okay. I don't want to argue with him right now.

I sigh, and then I stand slowly from the couch. I refuse to plead with him. "Good night," I say in a low voice.

He looks up at me through his hands and he looks wretched. I turn and walk down the hall to my bedroom. It's not fair, none of it's fair. But then I remember what it felt like, that flying feeling, and I can't help but smile softly to myself in the dark. Because now I know. Now we both know, and we can't go back.


Notes: Happy October everyone! Thank you all for your support!

Apologies for lots of the legal details being a bit sketchy – I am the farthest thing from a legal expert. Though I have to say, if you're looking for an in-depth, technical insight into Wisconsin's probate law or its criminal justice system, this may be the wrong story for you. ;)