More. More is what I'm begging for. –Jackson Killian
I couldn't escape the flavor of wine. The idea of it. The reek of it. The rust of it coated my tongue and colored every breath a rotted red. It turned my stomach to sewage, my head ached with it. My dreams were awash in it.
I woke with my frenetic heart pounding, my hands shook when I reached for the glass at my bedside. I sucked in a sliver of water as it splashed against my upper lip.
It was wine, disguised.
I smashed my face back into the bed. It smelled like fermentation; it hurt. I thought of Jack. I blew hot air into my pillow. I thought of Quinn. I threw back the covers.
Every step into the kitchen was unstable, my legs weak and bendy under my weight. All I could seem to think was that the world was chaotic enough, if I needed a reminder of why not to overdo it. Over and over again, on repeat. This is why. This is why. Last night is why.
I used to relish how I could warp reality with drugs and drinking. I didn't understand that person, now. The escape made reality unbearable in every way. Today would be unbearable.
Learn this lesson, Kate.
That was the thing—to not hate myself for last night. To not let my insecurities and weaknesses take hold of me, but rather, to learn from them.
There was a note on the kitchen table.
I took Quinn. Text me when you're up.
The clock on the microwave told me I could go back to bed. I didn't. I ran the shower cold and stood under it, trying to freeze my mind back into place. Trying to expel the hot weakness from my muscles. My knees burned and reminded me of just how ludicrous my behavior had been, how embarrassed I should be. I brutalized myself with the scrubby, scrubbed and scrubbed and tried to loosen the shame that clung to me. Let it run down the drain with the clean white suds.
I worked myself into jeans and a t-shirt. My skull was too small, my heart too big, my shoulders bound together and my spine had all the sturdiness of a flower stem. I shook as I texted Jack.
But then I lay on my bed and fell back asleep.
I woke to Jack sitting on the bed.
"Hey," Jack said softly. "I thought you were up."
"False start," I mumbled. "What time is it?"
"Nearly ten. How do you feel?"
I sat up slowly and considered the question. My head was like the inside of an ancient empty wine barrel, musty and cavernous. A big, echoing bell that clanged and clamored in time with the urge to throw up. My ribs—corroded, bent bars that shivered and flaked against the churn of my sloppy wine-riddled heart. A scared snake for guts and a gunshot belly.
"Like I lived through a battle."
Jack chuckled. "I think maybe you did."
Soft Jack, being gentle with me. "Where's Quinn?"
"Out there. Watching that horrendous program he loves."
I nodded then stretched my neck, pressing my chin to one shoulder, then the other. "Ugh. I think I've ruined rosé. My mouth has been tarnished by it. My whole self."
"That's… that sounds like a hard drunk."
I swung my legs over the side of the bed. Looked at my toes, wiggled them. "A hard drunk is pretty right."
Jack didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," I said to my knees.
"I don't know if you remember it, Kit, but I told you last night. I don't want your apology. Not for that."
"I remember it." Sadly, too well. "What do I need to do, to make it right?"
I couldn't look at him, but he was so close I could feel his warmth. I could feel his head shake.
"To make it right?" He repeated slowly. "I wonder, Kit… what do you think would make it right?"
I fought the lingering fog, hid my face with my hands in the hope that darkness would help me think clearly. "I…?"
The mattress shifted and I lifted my head to find he'd cocked his knee up onto the bed so he was facing me. "If it were you, if roles were reversed, what would you want… from me? This morning?"
I dug my heels into the bed and pushed myself back against the pillows, getting some distance from his sudden proximity. His question felt like a figure eight—a loop and then a twist. A simple shape too complex for me to navigate in this state.
Jack sighed. "Do you know… what it was like to have you touch me like that?"
I knew the question was asinine before Jack gave me a look telling me as much. He reached for me. I fumbled awkwardly to my knees as he pulled me to him and pressed my hands to his face. His imploring eyes found my bewilderment. "Like this, but with… wanting. With your mouth and your eyes. Being honest, maybe. Or lying. I don't know."
The pinch between his eyebrows told the truth of his not knowing. His eyes peered into mine like there were answers there. Like he'd see exactly what motivated me last night, if he looked deep enough.
He'd shaved. The stubble I remembered was gone. His cheeks and jaw were smooth. I could feel his heart beating under my middle finger.
I looked at the tiny lines in his face, the small places where he wore his skin hardest—around his mouth and through his brow, in slashes from his eyes to his sideburns. His face, the mask he was stuck with.
"I think I told you last night. I'm scared to be honest."
He searched my face, his eyes darting over my nose and down to my mouth before coming back to my eyes. He searched and searched, and I wondered if he was thinking of my mask.
"What was it that made you this way? It used to be I was the one you let behind the masks. You promised. On Io you promised."
"I know," I breathed, choking on his reference. How close it was to my own thoughts. I always wondered if he thought of us back then, how we started, what we used to be.
"And during our vows, you promised again."
He let me go and I sat back, fisting my hands in my lap and taking his quiet words with me. His barely there ghost of a voice that could be so big and so commanding, to have it be this small was somehow more compelling. It dragged me back to a brutally hot October day when I'd been wilted, but happy. I'd been sure and safe and open. Jack had been messy and emotional. Before the magic of Vegas destroyed the magic in us.
"I'm right under the surface," he'd said, describing so cleanly the emotional high of being present inside the perfection of being. I was right there too, not buried deep inside myself. Not hiding or tempered or cautious in any way. I was just me, fitted fine and finally, so completely into my own skin and my own easy smile.
It had been good, the planning I'd put into packing and my summer wedding dress and all the things I needed but had no desire to think of. I was full only of heat and love and being alive and with Jack. I could have walked down the aisle in shorts and a t-shirt because nothing external mattered. The only thing that mattered was the me, right under the surface. And the Jack, so close he was spilling out of himself. Happy.
Something rumbled deep, a low growl vibrating the bed in short sharp surges. He rolled to one hip and pulled his phone from his back pocket, hit DECLINE and tossed it on the bed. Then returned his attention to me.
"I relied on those promises, Kit."
"I know," I said again.
"You know… but did you? Did you really understand what I mean when I say I relied on you? Your promise was my bedrock. I thought it was solid."
I saw the almost-anger harden Jack's face, the argument coming.
"I made a mistake, Jack. How many times can I say I wish I could take it back? That I thought… I thought I was a burden to you. Under everything I did, under everything, was that promise."
His gaze shifted away from my face and I could see his rejection of the words, his disappointment in me, his distrust of me.
"That's not good enough." And he looked back at me, the resolve in his face some kind of punctuation. A period at the end of a judgment cast.
I thought he might leave—stand and walk out—and again, for the millionth time, let this discontent fester between us. Forever and ever this would go on. We would rehash all our mistakes without ever truly forgiving, even though we gave each other the words of it. The I'm sorry's and the I forgive you's. All of that would never heal anything. And if words couldn't heal, I didn't have any idea what would.
But though he leaned forward like he was preparing to rise, he didn't go. He clasped his hands, rubbing his thumb over the knuckle of his first finger, his elbows balanced on his knees.
"Do you remember the things you said to me?"
Obscured in the mental fog were my exact words of last night, leaving me with just the feeling of confession. And with it, stronger, was the shape of his mouth—still in my mouth, the curves of his philtral ridge, the small puff of his upper lip, his bite. His stubble against my tongue as I sucked his neck. God, the taste of him, almost loud enough to drown the wine. His hard arms and the bones of his shoulders. I could feel them, I could feel when I'd touched them last night, against his permission. And all the times before where I'd had it. I could regret and regret and regret, but having that new memory was a little coin of gold I could keep in my pocket and carry with me, if only I could rub the tarnish of all my actions off it.
Maybe I could do that, here and now. "Vaguely."
He rubbed at a callus on his hand. I watched it go white under his pressing, then color return as he let go. He wasn't going to help me.
"I don't remember exactly everything I said. But I do remember some of it. And what I felt. And…"
He caught his lip in his teeth, caught words he wasn't sure of—I knew. There was so much hesitancy in him. And in me. "And?"
"And… the frustration."
"The frustration of being… inaudible. Like—How I invalidated myself by being drunk, but it took that state of mind for me to… be… open."
He shook his head at his lap, almost as if frustration was contagious. "How do you feel about me, Kit? Now. Sober."
How did I feel about Jack? What a loaded complicated question. It sat between us, his frank flat tone lurking almost like an accusation, a bomb that could go off if the wrong thing was said. And really, what didn't I feel about Jack?
Jack stopped fidgeting his hands and tipped his face to watch me struggle. In my head were all the small ways where, over the last few months, I'd tried over and over again to show him, instead of telling. To show him how I still cared, how I remembered the things that used to be important to him. Stupid things, like buying the kind of mustard he liked or when I hunted down his Stargate DVDs and left them at his house. All those kindnesses were the answers I couldn't seem to speak. Small tokens of my regard.
But through the prism of yesterday, compounded by the genuine need in his face, I realized all those small tokens don't really say anything. Not anything like the bedrock Jack was drilling for. Could I give that to him, was that even what he needed to hear? What if it wasn't? What kind of answer would fix anything? What kind of answer could I give him that didn't carry with it every broken promise and every unhealthy expectation and expose the very last shameful fiber of myself?
Did he want that? Did he want me to turn myself inside out so he had better access to all my vulnerabilities? If I were to do it, would he? Did I need him to? Of course I did. That was what stayed my voice, every time. The fear that when I confessed anything—everything—and his response wasn't a like-kind reveal, then he would get to carry all of my love around with him. And I'd have nothing back. Was that so bad? Even if he carried it into a future with another woman, our goals only the same when it came to our son. I'd felt power in it before, the idea that I could just love him, and that would be okay. I just needed to drill into that hopeful feeling.
I opened my mouth, certain the words were there, that I was okay with a one-sided love that made me its fool. Now and in the future, too.
"How do you feel about me?"
He smiled, but only a little. "I asked you first."
"I feel like… I feel like my feelings are so obvious. I've said them already, you've said them. You've… used them… to hurt me. You must know, how can you not know?"
I closed my eyes, feeling for the words that would erase some of the self-pity. It's all I was made of, weakness and self-doubt and self-pity and stupid fears that held me back. My silence didn't make me safer, it made me a coward who couldn't access the fullness of life.
"I feel like my feelings for you could undermine the… progress we've made towards… the working relationship we need to have… If I… don't keep them in check." I was rubbing my own hands now, sweaty though they were. "Last night—"
"You keep saying all this stuff. Like a bird circling, you never fucking land on anything." He ran a hand through his hair, then rubbed his palms down his jeans and stood. "You understand that you… not talking to me, not being honest about your feelings—not trusting me—is how we got here, right?"
I covered my face again, not trying to hide from his judgment, but not able to look at it either. I nodded along as he continued, hoped he saw me agreeing with him.
"Not you keeping promises or setting me free or any of that. That may all be true, Kit, I'm not saying it's not. But to me, it's your evasions—covering up your own feelings like they don't matter. They matter to me. You matter to me. Katelyn, look at me."
It wasn't because he asked me to. It was my name, my real name, his use of it shocked me. My hands fell, my mouth parted.
Jack crouched by the bed so he was looking up at me. Beseeching instead of berating.
"Truth is truth, regardless of if it makes life awkward or hard. I deserved the chance to change if you needed me to. I think I deserved it, then… now… now, I don't know."
I felt it then. A surge of that unconditional part of how I loved him. I wanted him to know.
"I feel the same way about you that I did last night. And a year ago, and a year before that. And five, and ten. Always." I gave him the frankness and borderline exasperation he'd given me. "I don't know why I'm not over it. Over you. I don't know… exactly what you want from me right now, or what moves us forward into what kind of future. I've fucked up so bad that now sometimes I don't know if I'm still doing it. I just don't know. I feel like… I'm not the only evasive one here, your allusions are always to old feelings or... I don't fucking know. I've been walking on eggshells so long I don't know how not to. I'm just trying to… respect your boundaries. And keep up. Keep up and… not fuck up any more."
My face was hot. My fingers tingled. My heart thumped. My vision was a pinprick in a field of stars and in the center was Jack, head down. Almost like he was praying, the muscles in his arms taut, his eyes closed. In that posture was nothing I understood, nothing I could use to determine what was going on inside him. No apparent reaction. Panic pushed more words out.
"Are you engaged to that girl? The underwear model?"
His eyes opened and he looked at me, his brows down. "What?"
"She's got a ring. Bettie showed me."
The bewilderment in his face evolved into distaste. It was an expression I knew well, but where the feelings behind it were directed I couldn't be sure.
"Sophia has a thousand rings, Kit. And none of them are from me."
His phone vibrated and lit up the comforter. He scowled as he looked at the screen, his thumb hovered over DECLINE, but then sharply made the other choice as he accepted the call and stood.
"Hello? Yes… this is Jackson."
He strode to the open bathroom door and grasped the frame. I glanced between him and my reflection in the big mirror across from the bed. My hair was a half dry tornado, my mouth as pale as my face, shadows under my eyes.
"When?" Jack pressed his face to the back of the hand gripping the frame, his shoulders tense under his t-shirt.
I wouldn't have been able to say exactly how I knew something was wrong. I knew Jack. I could feel his tension spread; my heart sped.
"I'm in the states. It'll take me a while to get there."
It had to be something to do with Carolyn. Or maybe Sophia or even James. Someone's hurt somewhere.
I stood, wondering if I should go over to him. I didn't. I struggled in place, not wanting more of Jack's rejection and simultaneously counseling myself that it didn't matter how I felt. If he didn't want my comfort, I should still offer it. I shouldn't try to guess. The same mantra over and over.
He tapped his forehead against his knuckles, and I could see that his eyes were screwed shut.
"No. No. I'll be on a plane. Hopefully I'll be on a plane. Let me give you another number."
I closed the distance as he rattled off my phone number. "Yes. Kate Killian. She's her daughter-in-law... Yes. Okay. Thank you."
Carolyn. It struck me so odd, the familial relationship he'd hauled out of retirement for use during crisis. The familial relationship Carolyn and I both pretended didn't exist. The link between us, the man we both wanted all to ourselves. Two women on opposite ends of a human tug-of-war. How petty and selfish and small.
He disconnected, squeezed the phone and pocketed it. Then turned to me. I wasn't sure quite what I expected. Frantic, I think. I expected a wild look in his eyes, but he just looked regular. Like regular Jack—a bit tired perhaps. Then I noticed the spasm in his jaw. Tense and release, tense and release.
"She's had a bad fall. She…" He stopped mid thought, his eyes went far away. What he was seeing in his head, I didn't know.
"Bad, I guess. She's hit her head. And broken her hip. They can't stabilize her blood pressure. They're worried. Worried she might… have a stroke."
I closed my eyes, Carolyn's tidy handwriting behind my lids. I thought of her broken pelvic bone and how she managed to get through the first few years of Jack's life. I thought of this independent woman who lived alone and probably wouldn't be able to climb her own stairs for god knew how long. I thought, with certainty, that she would never ask Jack for the help she'd need. Wondered in a flash, if Carolyn could ask anyone.
"Oh no." The only words I could muster to sum up my disarrayed thoughts.
"I need to get a plane. Can I use your laptop?"
Grateful for something to do, I led Jack through the living room. Quinn had his coloring book out on the coffee table, the box of crayons upended and everywhere. He chirped a happy greeting at me, and I gave him a smile he probably knew was fake.
Jack sat where my laptop was set up, and I leaned over and powered it on. While it booted I started the kettle, not knowing if it was my hangover or my agitation that shook my hands and stuttered my heart. Likely both.
I watched Jack's profile as he stared blankly at the machine. He stared, even after it was on and ready. He just looked at, frozen somewhere else.
He shook his head and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "It's gonna take me forever to get to Dublin. And I won't be reachable."
I kneeled down next to him. I grasped his arm and pulled it from his face. "Hey. You'll get the Wi-Fi on the plane and we'll text."
His eyes held a bit of the panic I'd expected right away. A hollow laugh came out of him. "And if something happens. If she…"
Dies, I thought. If she dies while he's in the air. He'll be up there alone and powerless with that news. I squeezed his arm. He put his hand over mine. It ended the slight tremor that still made it quaver.
I opened my mouth but paused, not wanting to say something I didn't mean, couldn't mean. "Your mom's too stubborn to just die."
He nodded, suddenly very much a boy assuming bravery he didn't feel. He pulled the laptop to him and got to work.
I brought him a cup of tea as he tapped away at the keys, and I saw several browsers open. He searched all the major airlines for the soonest direct flight into Ireland. He repeatedly ran his hands through his hair, until it fell forward into his eyes in a familiar way that added heartsickness to my hangover. When he wasn't typing or tormenting his hair and face with his hands, he was messing with his phone, trying numbers and getting no answers. Sending texts. Maybe to neighbors of Carolyn, or maybe to James or Sophia.
I felt worse than useless. Useless and pointless and unable even to give real comfort. So I stood, awkward, and watched. I kept Quinn occupied. I battled internally. I checked on Jack. I made Quinn lunch. I put a sandwich in front of Jack. He didn't eat it. I put Quinn down for his nap, then sat expectant on the very edge of the couch.
I stared out the window. At blue skies behind the sycamore and big white clouds that didn't seem to move. The people in my mind formed this uncomfortable geometry, lines drawn from me to Jack to Carolyn to Quinn. Not a square, but rather, this four point constellation I couldn't seem to think away from. The line between me and Jack was short due to our proximity, the line from Jack to Carolyn was bold and unbreakable, but long. There was no real line between Carolyn and Quinn, their only line was drawn right through Jack. Our upcoming visit would pull their line into its own shape. And maybe draw a new one from Carolyn to me.
The harsh bark of Jack's cell-phone made me jump. He answered it quickly.
"Oy mate. You in the pub?"
I could hear the ruckus on the other end of line, the sound of a room full of people, laughter, glassware. Then faintly, James Riordan's voice. "Headed oot. How's your mum?"
"Dunno yet. I'm still in blasted California, aren't I?"
"What ya need?"
"Can you get to Dublin, quick-like?"
"Need to know what's her status. It's looking like twenty hours before I'll make it."
"Is Kate comin'?"
Jack's eyes met mine. It dawned on me then. If we were married, I'd be making the frantic calls too. To co-workers to cover my shifts, to Vivian to explain, to Bettie, to Devin. Jack would book airfare for three of us and we'd go together. It'd be a given. Despite his upgrading my clearance levels for nurse-whoever, I wasn't the rock he'd be relying on during this crisis. My eyelids twitched and I broke Jack's gaze. I looked down, turned my hands over in my lap.
"Nah. Got enough to deal with, don't I?"
And again I remembered myself of last night, making myself a pathetic drunken chore for Jack to deal with. And then this morning. A repeat confession after Jack goaded me… on and on, but for what. I felt gross. I felt worse than gross. I felt mean and base and reprehensible. Like I was a pretend adult, pretending I could be anything but a love-sick adolescent, pretending I was fine, pretending to be a mother. Pretending I was a good mother even. My throat clogged and I thought I'd choke on it, not tears of shame, but my risen gorge. I felt disgusting. I felt solitary.
I wanted to hide.
"Don't mention it."
He ended the call and stood, setting the cell phone on the table. "Flights booked."
I nodded automatically.
"I'm off to pack a bag."
I looked at my naked wrist, expecting my watch. "Yeah, okay. You need a ride or anything?"
He shook his head. "I got a car to pick me up from my place at two."
We stood, both of us staring. Not at each other, but at ourselves. I knew it, what was going on in Jack's mind. His eyes were on me, but his thoughts were turned in, turned back, turned toward the island he'd left and the mother with whom he had a more complicated relationship than possibly anyone else. Including me.
I was seeing my own mother. What her death had done to me. While she lived, I was a lion tamer, someone with no real control over the wild creature in the ring with me. I held a chair and sometimes a whip, more because they were the props of the job rather than real tools of protection. I trembled when she roared, and I was wary when she purred, and when she died, I didn't know how to be just myself. I still don't know.
Even the act of ignoring a parent is still an active response. The impulse to call or visit, and the guilt when you do neither, is a different existence than not having the choice at all. If Carolyn died, well - I didn't know what that would do to Jack.
For myself, I'd had no warning. My mom just dropped dead, shortly after my dad's death. I had no preliminary position from which to contemplate the possibility. I went from having parents to having none with very little in-between and no warnings whatsoever. I didn't know how to prepare or help Jack.
But my instinct was still to console him, somehow. There had to be a way. Even if he didn't need it or want it.
"Jack," I said softly, not knowing what words came after his name.
His eyes moved, going from a space-based nothing to seeing me. Then he gripped his hair and tugged it, eyes screwed tight, jaw fixed.
"Don't say it, Kit."
I wondered what he thought I was going to say, because I had no idea. The irony of it hit me, how frequently he got on my case about my silence and now he wanted me to keep it.
"Don't say she'll be okay. Don't say it."
Maybe that had been what I'd say. I had no idea, really. But the thing was, Jack always had the words I never had. He had the bravery to use them, and to know that while he was responsible for the syllables and the sounds, he wasn't responsible for the reactions or the interpretations. Those were for the listener. His confidence in words was because he didn't take on the unnecessary mantle of accountability. I couldn't do that, words that harmed were my fault if I said them. My intentions didn't matter, intentions were unknowable things: excuses and smokescreens and emotional scapegoats.
"Okay. I won't say that."
I could tell by his face that he was completely wrecked inside. Probably if he let himself get a truly deep breath it would come out as a wail.
"You'll make it," is what I managed to say, instead.
I was going to hug him. That was all. Something I could do that didn't require words, something in this situation that could be just what I intended it to be. Comfort, safety, reassurance.
He didn't want it. He wanted to throw me off him; the desire made him rigid and unyielding in my small embrace. I'd wanted to wrap him in it, to get as much of him in my arms as I could, but there was no gathering him to me, no ease in him, no relaxing into me. I squeezed anyway, as hard as I could, as hard as he was, his scapula under my hands, his chin protruding into my hair.
Squeeze, and in it was everything I had for him. Everything I wanted to say but couldn't, because the words were for a Jack Quinn's age—that child inside him that needed to know how brave he was. How he could handle this, how he was capable and strong. I said it with the squeeze, and I think Jack heard every word as if I'd actually said them, because when I eased my grip he was suddenly present inside of it. Present and vibrating, powerful and surging with it.
I chanced a glance up, a glance into the face of determined Jack. No longer trying to keep me out of his space but including me in it. And there was this sound, like an aria warming itself up—quiet and slow. I thought it was that wail trapped in his chest, starting to leak from him like steam. A hum that was suddenly in my mouth, a song inside a sob, sung right into me through his kiss. The inside of his mouth tasted of tears, salty and thick. A silent scream of a kiss, his tongue desperate against mine, his hand at my neck firm and forbidding me to pull away. Pressure and panic. The wall at my back pushed me into Jack, who spilled his sorrow into me with the force of a faucet on full blast.
There had never been a kiss like this, my mouth so wide and stretching my face, as if Jack thought he could wedge himself inside me if he just got me open enough.
He gripped my hip and held it, gripped it so hard it started to scream under his hand. And then all of him was touching all of me. What I'd failed to do with my hug, he was succeeding at. As though he laid on top of me, his legs on mine, his stomach, his arms under my fingers, his heart thrumming (or maybe that was mine), it was all too much.
I understood it only when I started to choke. When the tears welled and burned my eyes and spilled hot over my cheeks. The vice constricting my chest exploded and sobs were sucked out my mouth. Jack ate at my lips as if he were picking the quiet cries and swallowing them, then over my chin where he smeared the gathered tears down my neck to press his teeth to my heartbeat. To my throat which throbbed with all the screams I wasn't going to let out. Then up to my ear where his wet sharp breath was right there.
He kissed his way back to my mouth and filled it with his and a groan as his hand tucked under my t-shirt and up, up. Up to clamp over the soft cup of my bra, his fingers slid under the strap and pulled it from my chest. He ravaged my cheek with his kiss, bit my jawbone, snarled. And then his mouth was on my nipple, sucking so hard half my breast was in his mouth.
I ached with the pull and suck, a hard pressure against my pelvic bone. A ravenous, hollow, hot demand. I wanted to follow it into goneness, into distraction, away from this pain, away from the voice in my head that was asking me what the fuck was going on here. I wanted that stupid voice to shut up, to let me just go with Jack into sensual oblivion, but I couldn't.
"Jack," I sobbed his name out, not sure if it was lust or sorrow. Maybe both.
He displaced the other cup and moaned at the sight of my bared breast, pink nipple pert and poking hard at him. He licked it with a flat tongue, then sucked it. He was becoming animal, murmuring and panting… It wasn't want; it was mania. It was feral basic grappling, and it almost hurt.
It was last night all over again. But this time it was him, not me… and grief, not drink, that muddled and confused us. There was a distant misrecognition in this. He didn't know me, didn't remember what I was and what I'd done. And there was Quinn, napping in the other room.
"Jack, it's me. It's Kit."
I tried with my hands at his shoulders, at his chin, to get him to see me, to get his attention. His hands batted mine away then gripped my face hard, his thumbs pressing insistently into my cheeks. My skin stretched, my eyes watered. I knew what he was doing. With his intense glare and his slicked mouth and flushed cheeks. He was drilling into my face with his knowing exactly who I was. See me see you, he said with no words. Look at how I see exactly you and only you.
But there was something else there too. That berserk absence of himself, of his humanity. He was a maelstrom of heartbreak and hurting. He wanted to rage, to break things, to nurse, to spurn, to buck and fuck, to turn his fear into energy so he could let go of it.
I was full of it, his heartbreak. For his mother, for his missing father, for the years he'd floundered in, and also for me. His life without me was mine without him. Livable. We lived for peripheral things, and all those things were good and meaningful and important. But there was a missing, irreplaceable thing. That thing that helped us thrive. That thing that made you fear death and monsters.
I wasn't wrong and I wasn't one-sided. I might not have known it the first time we met, or the first time we kissed or the first time we laughed together with that intimacy of shared humor and understanding, but along the way we'd built something that couldn't be dismantled by time and space. What a fool I'd been to try to throw it away. What a fool he'd been to allow it. I wanted what he wanted, to smash our yesterdays.
"You think I don't know?" His voice was what he used to smash yesterdays and it sounded like it. As if he could speak it all away. "I know you. I know you. Only you."
The train was off the tracks and in all the wreckage I saw feelings turned to pictures in my head. Vegas asphalt, traffic lights in the rain, Jack sitting in his truck looking up at our apartment window, me jumping off Moher cliffs and flying, Jack flinging a guitar at a wall. Me touching myself with his hands, him doing the same. Me objecting at his wedding to a girl there was no way he'd marry, not while my heart was warm and throbbing. Him running behind me, surging with a new burst of speed to overtake me. Us collapsing into each other. Me putting on his skin and being the inside of him. Him looking at the world through my eyes.
All unreal. Origin unknown.
And then one I understood, Jack's cold anger. Not disdain, not disregard, active hatred. The opposite of the fire burning him to the ground just then. All the ways he would never forgive me, and I was about to add one more to the biggest pile of wreckage I'd ever made.
"It's last night over again," I whispered.
He took the words from my mouth with his, full and big, open and engulfing. He pulled on my top lip, ran his tongue against my teeth. His hands were huge and seemed to engulf all of me when he palmed my breasts and hefted their weight in his hands.
"Last night," and he smiled. It was wicked, wild, sexual.
I flushed. "I…"
"I don't know how I managed to say no to you."
"It's the same now."
"Hardly. You're sober now."
It was true. I was. "I might be sober, but you're not."
"Stone cold, my love."
My heart caught.
"You're intoxicated by pain, or fear...you're dodging it…" I stammered, trying to find the right words. "You're trying to distract yourself. This isn't sobriety… It's shock, or something."
"It's a dam breaking, Kit. A dam that's barely holding back the tide. Like you said. This is me, just with the volume all the way up."
He tipped my head back and went for my neck, found my hammering pulse and licked it.
I knew I should refuse him, push him away as he'd done me. I couldn't agree that it had been the right thing for him to do, but I saw the sense in it now. How, what Jack had avoided last night, by denying me, was the uncertainty. The regret. The tomorrows where I blamed him. I should do the same. I should set him away from me with stern words, and make promises of later and sober and clear-minded.
But I'd never been as strong in character or will. And I lived in love with him. I dreamt of him and his touch, asleep and awake. I was aflame.
My hands found his hair, that soft sweet hair and the hard scalp underneath. I gripped and he nipped my collarbone, talked to it. Murmured his way down to my belly where he hid his face, his hands kneading the light lightning bolt scars over my hips from where Quinn had stretched me. Then my buttons were open and Jack was looking up at me from the triangle of black cotton visible at my open fly. He folded my jeans over and shucked them down to my knees and ran his hot callused palms up my thighs.
Vicariously, I appreciated their softness and the shape. The round ripe pear that tapered away. His knuckles traced the seams of my panties, pinched between thigh and what felt like the apex of my existence, if only he'd touch me there.
"Goddamn, it's been forever."
He looked up at me, looked through his brows to skip over my ribs and stammer at my breasts to find my mouth which parted as if he'd touched it… then my eyes. A still second. I breathed shallow into it, could see my chest rising and falling, could see him match my pace, his nostrils flared, his lip puffed. His crooked canine poked out, the first hint of his smile, and the air got thinner. I heaved in more of it and put an infinitesimal pressure on the back of Jack's head.
Yes, that pressure said.
He eased his finger under the lace at my thigh to hook the gusset of my panties and pull them away. His gaze fell, his lids lazed and shut. With closed eyes he breathed hard, then tightened his grip to pull the material back taut, the crook of his knuckle skimming, nestling, nudging against the slick slice where I ran hot and wanting. The thin cotton stretched damp, making a meaty heart of my vulva.
"Good lord," he whispered when he opened his eyes, his head tipped back so he could see from under the heavy, half-closed lids. He leaned in slow motion and ran the tip of his nose up my center seam, and then his tongue, which found the engorged nub of my clit through the fabric and clucked against it.
I sucked in air that escaped as whimper and whine. My fingers at the back of his head urged him with wishes he fulfilled when he bit my mound gently, then insistently wiggled my clit to and fro with his tongue. I arched into his mouth as he reached up to pluck and play with my pointing nipples.
I couldn't watch anymore. I rested my head against the wall and let Jack drive me out of my body.
It was never that easy. Like flipping a switch. Never that intense, like I'd not been touched in years. He built it slow, kindled me to a boil-over and when my coaxing started to quiet and shake, he yanked my panties aside and laid tongue directly to flesh as he pushed two fingers inside me.
My moan was lost inside his groan as he eased them out, licked the glisten from them, and slid them back in. His touch became a beckon, his flicking tongue turned to an insistent press and roll and in the middle of some mentally incoherent marveling at the ways he still knew me, I fell.
I flew. I became heat waves that rippled and sang, sang along with his baritone growl as suddenly his mouth was back on mine, tangy and zippy and wet. His hands still everywhere. Squeezing my breast, pushing and pressing every uneven roll of my waning orgasm as I relearned my body.
Then his hands were gone and I felt them fumbling between us, at his fly. I broke the kiss.
"You need to wear a condom."
"Anything. Whatever. Do you have any?" Urgent, right against my lips.
I nudged him away and pulled up my pants. I walked unseeing to the bedroom, Jack's hand on my back. As if I'd change my mind or run. As if I wasn't caught in the same animal trap that had him. If I was to gnaw myself free, I had to do it through Jack's touch. By taking his heartbeat in my hands, his face, his pleasure, him.
I peeked in on Quinn, just to be sure he still slept. Even if he woke, it's likely he'd play with toys until I fetched him out of his room.
"He's fine," Jack whispered, and urged me the other direction.
My bedroom was dim and had a slightly alcoholic smell. Jack shut the door and pulled his shirt over his head by the collar, leaving his hair standing. His pale chest looked the same—exactly the same—all the muscles bunching in the same places, the skin tight over his ribs. I realized I could touch him, that he was inviting me to touch him, so I did. I ran my hands all over him, then hooked my fingers into the ridge of his collarbone and felt the deep depression there. If I really needed to, I could grab him by that handle and throw him.
I smiled, and buried it in the soft thatch of chest hair that guarded this most favorite place. I kissed him there, suddenly unsure. I peeked up at him and found his eyes soft and sweet, half his mouth smiling.
Then we were kissing, his hands everywhere but mostly in my hair and down my back. Like mine on him. We clutched at each other with mouths and arms and in the chaos of my mind and body there was a resounding relief. Gratefulness shot through me with the lust. Grateful that I was nowhere but right here, that Jack was with me.
We ended up at the bed, Jack sitting first and pulling me into his lap. He gathered my t-shirt up and drew it off, then framed my bra with his hands before sliding down to the waist of my jeans.
"Take these off."
I stood and shimmied free of the jeans as he backed up to the headboard and guided me into a straddle atop him. The gusset of my panties was soaked, and he touched it softly, his breaths going shallow as I unclasped my bra and tossed it away. His head fell back and I pushed my tits softly into his face. He grasped, squeezed, milked them into his mouth, sucked at me in a way so sweetly insistent. Like he wasn't trying to give me pleasure but just taking it from me. Like the softness in his hands simultaneously stoked and soothed him.
I pressed them together so he could get them both, he groaned and rubbed his face over the crests as he replace my hands with his. I moved mine to hold his head, keeping him at it. I churned and gulped air, trying to fill myself with it and blow out some of the demand. Trying to get some pressure to the insides of me, the desperately hot and wet and aching parts that needed bludgeoning.
As if in complete understanding, he bucked under me and I reached back to grip his erection through his pants. It shifted in my grasp, an unyielding rock hard baton, a primitive tool I wanted him to abuse me with. He sat straight, then rolled me underneath him. I flashed back to last night and my hand shot out to grab him as he got to his feet.
"Don't leave," I panted.
His chest rose and fell, his mouth opened and closed. He gave me a sheepish smile and shucked his pants. His boxers followed. He grasped himself hard.
I gestured to the side table drawer and Jack opened it and tore a Trojan from the strip. He rolled it on, nudged me onto my side, bent my leg up, and guided himself inside me.
I clamped down on him as he slid back.
"Christ, Jesus." And he bucked back in. Long strokes, slow, his eyes screwed up. My hands scrambled at the sheet as the feel and fill of him pressed all the air from my lungs.
His lids split and he looked down at his withdrawal and reentry, his head tipped to get a view of the fuck. Where he looked I was burned bright pink, juicy, invaded. I whimpered and the slow slide became ardent. He bucked and I matched him, arching into his thrusts as he snarled and snared my hair in his palm. I was brimming and heating, but not sure I could spill over again. I reached for my clit and rubbed, just outside and around it in case I was still overwrought.
Jack's head fell against my leg as he watched me.
Then he was gone. Another thing I'd forgotten. Not forgotten, just hadn't remembered, hadn't thought of, in forever. How Jack, close, would pull away and take a moment. Take a break right on his edge, a pause to keep himself from falling.
Again, Moher Cliffs flashed through my mind. How Jack didn't seem to fear the drop like I did.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, gripping himself. "I don't want it to end."
I went from seeing his face, flushed and fervent, to seeing nothing as I closed my eyes against the burn of more tears. I was on overload, every bit of emotional bandwidth I had was maxed out. Jack. My Jackson. I loved him so hard, and though it seemed we were expressing some of that now, I needed more than anything to know he was brimming with it too. Love.
I covered my eyes with my hand so Jack wouldn't see, and breathed out slow as he returned to my body and back inside.
I couldn't look, but I could still hear. The small barely there squeak of a spring in the mattress, the thick rich sounds of Jack inside me, the groans that fluttered out of him that let me know he was close. There even.
And then he told me, with his body first as he pressed his face into my leg, pressed his cock hard into me and held it there. I peeked and watched as Jack went far, far away. Gone. Totally gone. His face was slack and stone at once, bliss and borderline pain. I reached up and held his hot neck in my hand, felt the vibrations of his groan deep under the sinew and bone.
It was different than I remembered, but only because it was real. Only because the smell of him twisted my tongue and the hard heat of him on me and in me was so present, so insistent. You can't lick a memory, can't feel it spread your legs and shove inside. Memories of Jack didn't collapse against my breasts as Jack was doing. He drove his forehead against my ribcage, his brain to my sternum, and I put my hands in his hair and held him. As if he could cram himself between my ribs and stick his face into my heart, where he would try to breath and choke on my blood.
I thought at first he was crying, like last time. But then he tipped his face up and I saw the hard humor in his face. He was laughing. In the same manner I had cried out his pain, his laughter was a force, a bark, a cough spraying out of him. Nothing was funny, everything was.
It rumbled my whole body, a quake describing the instability inside Jack. I tried to sit up, my goal some clothes or some distance, but Jack held me fast and kissed my mouth. Sweet, smiling kisses, relieved and easy, and my hands found his neck and held it as he brushed strands of hair from my forehead and looked at me with sweet adoration.
It was that look, that look that encompassed me, it settled all turmoil in me; it shaved calluses off my heart and unwrapped me from the doubt I carried with me always. I marveled at how a face could change so much, how emotion under the surface could shift planes and spaces just so and carve from a hard cynical face this softness. This sweetness.
He thumbed the corners of my eyes, more to acknowledge the wetness there, I think, than to actually wipe tears away. "You're looking at me, in that way… the way you used to…"
"Oh yeah? How's that?" I smiled; I couldn't help it.
He smiled too, this big sweet half-moon smile. "Like… Like I'm something more than… just me. Something more than just human."
I shook my head. "You're over-complicating something very basic, Jack."
He propped himself up on an elbow and gazed down at me, the thumb of his free hand brushing the fine hairs at my temple. "Am I? How do you mean?"
But there was light in his eyes, like he already knew.
I tried to recall exactly what he had said a few months ago. "More than regard, not mindless adoration, elevation to godhood, to imperfect perfection, acceptance." I shrugged against the mattress. "It's basic."
He blinked in that earnest manner he sometimes had. "That sounds... very complicated."
"Nah, it's simple. It's love."
The smile bloomed again, and I kissed it.