Just a few words about Rolling Thunder

I just wanted to send a shout out to Juliet and Kimmy whose stories have recently been inspiring me and to my readers who, I hope, enjoy these stories

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chapter 15

Love's singing our song
But we fail to sing along
Wherever you go I will follow

So please don't let it
Please don't let it go
'Cause if you won't let it I won't let it go

You try to be strong
But you're always so alone
Whatever I do I do it wrong

(lyrics from “Please Don’t Let it Go” by HiM)

You never looked up
You never look back
You never did anything in between
Are things black and white with you
You never believed
You never belonged
Never made milestones to call your own
I've got this feeling something happened here
Something happened here

Hopeless - it's not hopeless
Doubtful - but not hopeless at all

(lyrics from  “Did Anyone Approach You?” by a-ha)

“Let’s keep all that to ourselves, okay?” Becky says quietly but firmly from where she is sitting at the kitchen nook, a glass of orange juice on one side of the newspaper she’s scanning and a steaming cup of hot dark coffee grasped tightly in both of her hands. She’s wearing a pair of black leggings under a black HiM heartogram t-shirt, her hair pulled back in a severe pony tail.

“By ourselves I guess you mean not Max,” I reply, dragging a towel across my wet head and glancing towards the coffee maker to see if there’s any more of the rich, dark liquid left to be had.

“Well…yeah him too,” she begins, looking up from circling something in the paper. Her gaze lingers on my bare chest, which I’d selfishly hoped it would which is why I came out to the kitchen in a towel. I need to see if she thinks about that night. That, and having woken up with her head on my chest and her hand on my hip, it had taken every ounce of willpower I had not to roll her onto her back and take advantage of her. It was only the realization that she is in a fragile state and that it really would be taking advantage, plus the fact that it wasn’t my bed she was in, which was part of why I’d chosen to bring her into Max’s place and not mine. Even now, as I watch her struggle to focus on my face I have to remind myself that we’re friends and that’s what she needs right now, not my hang-ups but still, I’m a guy, and even if I know it’s a little childish and it’s probably something Max would do, I can’t help but enjoy watching her gaze roam over my bare chest. “But uh…Sidney’s wife doesn’t seem to really like me and I kinda get this feeling that’s there’s some kind of a pecking order when it comes to the…what do you call them?”

“WAG’s and I don’t know that she doesn’t like you. I haven’t seen her go out of her way to exclude you from anything,” I point out, only to have Becky sigh and return her attention to her coffee.

“Well she hasn’t exactly gone out of her way to include me either,” she mutters, sounding just a little petulant but I can hardly blame her. That particular club of women can be hard to break into with any club and I have heard the things they’ve been saying about her.

“If it helps, Sid is one of my best friends in the world and he’s one of the least judgmental people I know.” It doesn’t sound as helpful as I mean for it too when I say it but she nods, like it does mean something.

“I just don’t think it would help for them to know about, y’know, the trailer. Especially now,” she sighs and shakes her head. “I could kill my sister. She probably left the place unlocked when my mom went to the hospital. I mean…yeah I know that she was probably thinking about other things at the time but…,” she shrugs again and looks up at me with glassy eyes and I know that she’s been trying to hold it together but she looks like she’s ready to fall apart again. “Anyway,” she adds squaring her shoulders and putting on what I know is her version of a brave face, “I’ve made some decisions.”

“Oui, qu’est-ce que c’est?”  

“I’m going to get a job and I’m going to go back to school.”

It really isn’t fair, him walking around in that towel. Having finally come to my senses some timer during the deepest, darkest hours of the night, I’d found myself wound around his body like he’s a really warm, really sexy teddy bear. I’d had to fight the urge to let my fingers do the walking, to read his body like Braille. It would have probably gone a long way to making me feel better, but it wasn’t the right thing to do. So instead, I counted sheep, hated myself and eventually fell back to sleep.

And now here he is, wearing nothing but a towel, his wide round shoulders bearing the echos of my handiwork like some kind of badge that he’s proud of. But that’s not what keeps distracting me and nor is it the smooth, pale skin of his chest or his well defined pectoral muscles. No, damn it, it’s that line of soft brown fuzz that begins just below his navel and leads…well, at the moment, beneath the towel and I don’t allow myself to think about that.

“You don’t have to change you know,” he says softly finally sliding into the nook and behind the table which makes it both easier to breathe and easier to pretend that he’s not just about naked. I watch him run his fingers through his west hair, slicking it back only to have it fall into his eyes again. “We’re none of us perfect. Certainly not Max, not me,” he adds with that almost lisp caused by his accent, which draws my gaze to his mouth, that nearly perfect cupid’s bow that, when he smiles, only goes up at one side.

“Right, because Max is being a saint in Haiti and you…,” I find myself lost in his deep, dark eyes and I have to force my attention back down to the pages of the newspaper open in front of me. “You’re being my angel of mercy.”  I keep thinking that I should find it harder to open up to him especially now that I know that he doesn’t bat for the other side, but when I look up at that crooked smile and into those velvet brown eyes, he doesn’t seem different just because we’ve had sex. In fact, I feel closer to him than I did before which I know is definitely going to complicate things but on the other hand I feel safe with him. “You saw that horror show, the bombed out rat’s nest,” I begin, a shiver running down my spine as I think about having to go back to the trailer park to clean up that mess. “I know now, because of you guys, that I don’t want to go back to that but I don’t want to be that girl…the girl that the other WAGs obviously think I am. I want to be more than that.”

“You make it sound like you have to be a brain surgeon to be our girlfriend,” Kris says quietly, his dark gaze holding mine for a long moment that makes it clear that it wasn’t a slip of the tongue or even a mistake made by someone for whom English is his second language. “Don’t let them make you think you have to be something else.”

“But it’s not them. Or at least not just them. It’s me. Yesterday was…,” I search for the right word to describe how my entire world had come crashing down around me but at the same time I finally saw the light. “It was…awful but it did make me realize that I don’t want to keep perpetuating the same shit over and over again in my life. I don’t want to use all the shitty things that have happened to me as an excuse anymore. I’ve been spending my whole life acting like I didn’t believe the shit my mother and my sister have been saying about me, but I haven’t done anything about making my life any different and I really don’t want to bring up kids in a trailer park.”  I look over at him, wondering if he can even understand what I’m trying to say and the honesty that looks back at me, the earnest empathy hurts my heart. 

“You don’t have to,” I begin, wanting to tell her that she’s already found her way out, that I’m ready and willing to provide the life that she wants but it isn’t really me she’s talking to. She’s psyching herself up and I’m just a sounding board.

“I know, right? I mean, I’ve been saying it. I’ve been saying that I’ll get out, but it’s like I thought it would just magically happen and then when it does…,” her voice trails off as she looks over at me with this sort of sad little smile and shrugs. I know what she’s trying to say without saying it, or at least I think I do. She doesn’t want to screw up her chances with Max.

“I won’t say anything, je vous promets,” I tell her earnestly, even though it makes my stomach roil to do it when what I want to say is something else entirely.

“I know you won’t mon ami,” she sighs and there’s something in her eyes and I want to believe or maybe I’m just hoping it’s regret. Regret that it wasn’t me she met first, that I’m not her knight in shining armor, even though I want to be. For just a moment I think if I speak up, if I tell her that she can choose, that it will be okay, I know she’ll believe me. But then I think about Max and even though he’s a jerk a lot of the time and I don’t think he takes anything seriously, I know there’s one thing he wouldn’t do. He would never do this to me. So instead of telling her everything that’s in my heart I keep my mouth shut and say nothing at all.

She shows me that sad little smile of hers’ again and then she gets up and walks over to the sink and tips her coffee into it and I realize that I’m being dismissed. I’m not needed or maybe just not wanted right now and it feels like a knife in my chest

I stand there for a long moment, wanting to go to her. The friend part of me wants to ease the anxiety I can see so clearly in the tension in her shoulders and the way her usually full, sensuous mouth is pursed as she stares out the window, her dark eyes vacant. The part of me that wants to be more than a friend, that wants to consume her and have her all to myself, itches to press my body against hers and remind her of what we shared, what I know she felt before and what I want again.

Neither of those parts of me wins. Instead, I turn and head back into the bathroom, tug my jeans on and leave without looking back. I don’t trust myself enough to do that. I’m pretty sure if I look back, if I even look up at her in the window as I cross the shared driveway, I’ll go running back and throw myself at her feet like some kind of pathetic boy.

I’m pretty pathetic, just not that pathetic. Not yet anyways. 

I watch him go and I’m glad that he didn’t argue. If he had, if he’d even asked me to think twice about it, I probably would have given in and thrown myself at him like some kind of feeble puck fuck. I’m even more glad that he didn’t look back. The last thing I need right now is for him to see me cry because if he did, he’d do that whole white knight routine and I’m way too weak right now to resist that. I can’t believe I almost made it through a whole cup of coffee without crawling across the table and into his lap just to have his arms around me again.

But I can’t do it. I can’t do that to him. I’m way too fucked up. I’m way, way too fucking damaged to ever be good enough for that sweet man. I can want to be good enough, I can try to be good enough but I know that no matter what I do, I will never, ever really actually be good enough for him.

He knows too much. He’s seen too much. I can put pretty icing on it and a big ‘ol dollap of ice cream on it but underneath I’m still plain old crusty sponge cake that’s maybe a little overdone and a little stale.

It’s like the clothes that we bought together. They’re just wrapping paper that make me fit in with the other WAGs but that’s all they are. Underneath I’m still the same white trash girl with the alcoholic mother and now, it turns out, an ex-con for a father. Maybe it worked in Cinderella but there isn’t going to be a glass slipper for me, even if Kris is a prince.

I know Max likes the party girl, the fun Becky that laughs at everything. I know that he’s mostly in it for the sex. I’m even pretty sure that if he knew about all the “dreckatude” that is my real life, he’d probably overlook it, or better yet, ignore it, but that’s what’s best for me. Max won’t keep trying to kiss it better, like it’s an actual open wound. Max won’t remind me of it by looking at me with pity in his eyes scarcely disguised as sympathy.

And if I lose Max because of the darkness in my life, it will hurt, of that I’m sure, but it won’t break me. If lost Kris…it doesn’t bear thinking of.

It’s just easier this way, better, for everyone.

Yeah, I tell myself as fingers dig into the countertop. It’s better this way.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chapter 14

You tell me everything's all right
As though it's something you've been through
You think this torment is romantic
Well it's not except to you
If I photoshop you
Out of every picture I could
Go quietly quiet
But would that do any good
Will it hurt? No it won't
Then what am I so afraid of

(from “Swallow” Emilie Autumn)

You wouldn’t believe the kids here. They’re so resilient. I can’t believe how happy they can be living in a tent with no facilities at all.” I grin because it’s impossible not to when I hear the enthusiasm in Max’s voice. 

“You’ve only been there a few hours and it sounds like you’re having a blast already,” I sigh, pushing the door open to the intensive care ward. “Look, I’m not supposed to have my phone on in here. Call me back in a couple of hours, okay?” 

If I can find somewhere to plug my phone in,” Max laughs and I can hear the sounds of happy kids in the background and I can tell that he wants to get back to them. “Do you miss me ma colombe?” 

What I want to say is ‘how can I miss if you if you keep calling?’, as if he’s checking up on me. What I do say is, “you know I do, gotta go bye,” before I hit ‘end’ and drop my phone into my purse as I turn the corner to head to the intensive care wing and the room my mother is in.  I’m still thinking about how Max has called me three times since I landed this morning in Pittsburgh when I skid to a halt at the sight of my sister Jen, hands on hips, facing a man I don’t recognize in a dark, pinstriped suit, holding flowers. The sight of a man in a well tailored suit makes me glad that I decided to wear my new favorite dress, the black mock necked sweater dress that makes me feel like the sexiest secretary in the world. If I hadn’t been wearing it, I might have turned around and went back out to the parking lot until he’d left. As it is, the heels of my boots sound too loud in the hall. The intensive care wing is always so fucking quiet, so you have to hear the whoosh of all those breathing machines and the beeping of all the heart monitors.

“I just want to pay my respects,” the man with the impeccably groomed silver brush cut is saying in this calm, almost soothing sort of voice that doesn’t match the exasperated expression on my older sister’s face. 

“Now?! You haven’t been around for…for years and now you want to pay your respects when she’s on a fucking ventilator? Do me a favor. Take those and yourself and get fucking lost.” I watch as Jen makes a grab for the expensive looking bouquet in the man’s hand, but he deftly moves the flowers just out of her reach as he steps back. I freeze, side stepping into the room of another immobile patient attached to any number of tubes and beeping boxes. 

“Jenny,” he begins softly but stops and I don’t blame him. I know the look my sister is giving him and it’s a look that would back off a charging tiger. That and I can’t even remember the last time anyone called my sister Jenny, as if she still has pig tails or at least that’s what she thinks. 

“You don’t get to just waltz back in here like nothing’s happened,” she snarls and I can see her narrow her eyes and purse her lips from here, neither a good sign. 

“I just want to see her Jenny. Just for a minute. If she’s as bad as the nurses say….”

“They’ve been talking to you?” Now I’m worried for the entire hospital as I see the tell tale red spots begin in my sister’s cheeks that always foretell a huge explosion. The fingers on my left hand start to ache at the sense memory of her holding my hand underneath a teeter-totter while her friend stamps on the end of the playground apparatus come torture device and hearing my bones slowly shattering.

“I am her husband Jenny”. My heart stops, literally stops in my chest and yet my feet start moving forward of their own volition. I can still hear my sister arguing but I don’t really hear what she’s saying, it’s all just background noise in comparison to my inner monologue which is going a mile a minute with questions I want to ask, like why did he leave, has he ever thought about me and where has he been?

“Daddy?” Christ, my voice sounds like a tiny child’s as it squeaks out of my mouth and when he turns those ice blue eyes on me that I thought I’d made up or at the very least misremembered and I suddenly feel like I’m only two feet tall with my thumb in my mouth and my blankie held tightly in my fist. 

“Becka!” Shit. The sound of his voice is like melted butter on toast and the warmth in his eyes looks genuine and I end up sticking my hands deep into the pockets of my leather jacket to stop myself from running to him and throwing my arms around him. “God, look at you, an honest to god super model.” I feel his hand on my cheek, big and warm and I find myself leaning into it, feeling tears well up in my eyes.

“Jesus,” my sister hisses, pinching my arm hard enough that it I know it will leave a bruise and the pain makes me pull back, to reality and away from my father at the same time. “He left us Rebecca. This isn’t some god damn Oprah family reunion.”

“She made me leave Jenny,” he says quietly, but his gaze holds mine, like he’s telling me and not her and not like there aren’t at least a dozen sets of eyes trained on us, probably waiting to call security at any moment. “I wanted to come back, asked to see you, both of you, many times,” he adds softly, reaching out to me and I naturally go to him, fitting comfortably in against his body, in the circle of his arm. 

“Yeah just like I’m sure you wrote and called,” Jen adds in a sarcastic voice, making that ‘I’m calling you on your shit’ face. 

“I did, for a while,” he says simply. “But a man can only try so hard for so long.”
“You left us with her,” Jen adds accusingly, pointing back at the still body in the hospital bed in the room behind her. 

You left Rebecca with her,” my father says, his tone suddenly less paternal and suddenly more forceful and as I watch Jen blinks at him, her mouth open but there isn’t a single sound that comes out of her mouth for a long, amazing moment and then she squares her shoulders and a bitter smirk pulls the corner of her top lip upwards. 

“If you knew that, if you actually care, why didn’t you come back for her?” I pull back and look up at him, still feeling like that little girl who used to look up at this tall handsome man with all the warm fuzzy feelings of childhood innocence. 

“I couldn’t, you know that,” he says in that same, forceful and stern voice that makes you want to stand up taller and straighter. 

“Why?” I ask, tears of the little girl left behind flowing down my cheeks. I watch as a certain amount of indecisiveness plays behind his eyes and he grinds his teeth as he glances at the crowd on the edges of our periphery. 

“I was in jail baby,” he says quietly. 

“Now tell her why,” my sister prompts, sounding smug. I glance at her and then back at my father whose confidence is clearly cracking under my sister’s glare. 
“This should be good.” 

“Jenny,” he sighs, pain shining clearly in his eyes. 

“No, tell her. Tell her why you were sent away, daddykins,” she adds in a acerbic sing song voice, her eyebrows raised, a mocking grin on her face. Turning my attention back to my father, searching his ice blue eyes with the smoky grey rings around his irises that I used to think were the colour of a cloudy day, I see resignation on his face.

“I’ve done some things I’m not proud of and….”

“Just get on with it,” my sister grumbles and my father’s stormy eyes narrow and there’s the slightest twitch beside his mouth. 

“Assault,” he says through his teeth, his voice taking on a dark tone that sends a chill down my spine as half remembered recollections begin to flood my imagination. 

“Of whoooo?” my sister prompts him again, rolling her eyes impatiently, and this time something dark and very dangerous flashes in my father’s eyes that makes me want to curl up in a small ball and hide and it feels like I’ve felt that way before. 

“You know damn well,” he says hoarsely, looking uncomfortably around him at all of the nurses and orderlies who are doing their best to look busy doing other things but all of us know damn well that if they could they’d give up the pretense of working and entirely and be sitting around with popcorn on their laps watching us with utter abandon. 

“Oh I know but she doesn’t,” my sister points out helpfully, still grinning at him like a cat with a mouse under her paw.

"Your mother,” he says, his gaze holding mine with an expression so pained that I know he’s expecting me to react badly.

"And?" I ask, looking from him to my sister, waiting for something even worse to come out of one of their mouths.

"And she's your mother" my sister insists, looking pleased with herself, like she's won the big overstuffed teddy bear at the fair.

"And that woman is half evil. Do you know how many times I've wanted to kick her ass myself? Are you telling me he went to jail for hitting her?" I turn to look at the form in the bed that holds no sympathy for me and back at the man that I've missed for my whole life. "Why didn't you stand up for him? Why didn't you say something?" I ask looking at my sister for an explanation while she looks back at me like I've grown a second head.

"Because she's our mother."

"And he's my father!" As soon as I say it out loud I understand the answer to my own question. He’s my father, not hers. Her father left long before this man in the dark wool pin striped suit came along. I don’t remember when I learned that, but I know it. “You’re jealous,” I hiss at her, thinking of all the nasty things that she’s done to me over the years, things that I’ve always been told were just the result of normal sibling rivalry.

“Rebecca.” I feel my father’s hand on my shoulder and it almost hurts as I think of all the times I had wished that there was someone else to turn to, someone to comfort me when my mother would not or could not, when the booze got in the way and she became the evil twisted woman who yelled and threw things.  

“Don’t defend her. She has mom for that, always has,” I add bitterly, seeing my sister in a way that I haven’t for years. I feel the sting of tears in my eyes but staunchly refuse to allow myself to cry, at least not in front of her. However, she’s currently blocking my only route of escape.

“Oh so he can just walk back into your life and he’s the big fucking hero is that it?” she asks in that angry mocking tone she likes to use with me.

“Do you know that she’s cried herself to sleep saying his name?” I snarl back at her and am immediately rewarded by a widening of her eyes. “I’ve been the one taking the bottle out of her hand when she’s cried herself out,” I add, pointing at myself and leaning towards her, enjoying being the one with the upper hand for a change.

“Yeah you care so much that you’ve been sitting here with her all this time,” Jen shoots back at me, regaining some of her composure. “Oh, yeah I forgot. You’ve been running around with your playboy boyfriend, haven’t you?” she asked, her head tilted to one side and her shit eating grin firmly back on her face.

“Back to that,” I sigh, shaking my head. “Just because you got knocked up at fifteen and have to go home to a lazy welfare case with a beer gut.” It’s below the belt and entirely unfair and something I usually avoid saying to her, no matter how made I am, but now I’m pissed and unable to edit what’s coming out of my mouth. 
“You left me in that house with her and her fucking booze and all those sleazebag losers she’d pick up at the bar coming and fucking going at all fucking hours. Did you care about me then Jen? Were you there to protect me from them after she’d passed out? Well, were you?”

That’s when I feel his hands on my shoulders again, pulling me back towards the width of his chest and I realize it’s far too late for my father to protect his little girl. He’s been gone too long and as much as the wounded child within me would like to let myself melt into his arms, allow him to fight my battles or at the very least allow him to protect me from the bile my sister is spewing at me and the horrible things that are coming out of my own mouth, I can’t. Because it isn’t him I want to protect me. Not anymore.

So, wrenching free from his grasp, I turn and walk quickly down the too brightly lit corridor, ignoring the judgmental stares of the nursing staff and my sister’s shouted epithets that follow me like grasping fingers. Wrapping my arms around myself, I tell myself to go and keep going, anywhere, anywhere but here. 

His place is empty. I’m not sure what I thought. I’d heard through the grapevine that Max was going to go to Haiti. I should have known she’d go with him. Still, with the surprisingly astute advice of Sidney’s younger sibling still ringing in my ears, I had raced back to Pittsburgh, hoping to find her.

So far it looks like I’ve come on a fool’s errand.

Still, just in case, I have an ace or two up my sleeve. I remembered some time while I was twiddling my thumbs on the plane that Max had said something about Becky never wanting him to pick her up and I started doing the math and the next thing I had my lap top out and was doing some sleuthing with the little information I have, and he doesn’t.

So once I’d deduced that she wasn’t at Max’s I got in my car and headed for an address that I’d scribbled on a napkin, a trailer park that’s not exactly in the best area of town.

Once I find the place, I make a mental note not to park my car out of sight and leave it just inside the gate, making a show or arming the alarm as I walk away from it. There isn’t any grass, just pavement and run down trailers with abandoned and ruined cars around them, skinny strays with their ribs showing and I’m sure I see a rat running from beneath one trailer almost across my feet and underneath the front step of a single wide mobile home that looks like a crime scene from CSI.

The door is ajar and Becky is standing just inside, her arms held close to her body, protectively around her chest as she surveys the disaster inside; chairs turned over, smashed glass and plates, dog feces and rotten food dot the floor. There’s little else to see. Whatever else was in the mobile home before is gone; there’s no television, nothing on the walls, at least nothing that isn’t lying smashed on the floor and even the refrigerator is hanging half off of its’ hinges, empty.

Her eyes are red and bloodshot, her cheeks are streaked with mascara and her hands are trembling as I reach for them. I don’t say anything and neither does she as I pull her towards me and then she sort of falls against my side and I wrap my arm around her and lead her to my car, which she falls into, without a sound, like some kind of rag doll. I even have to put her seatbelt and she doesn’t even raise a hand to help, but not to be difficult, it’s more like she can’t. She just sits there, sort of broken and pale like a porcelain doll that’s been forgotten and left out in the rain.

All the way home I think about taking her into my place, putting her into my bed but as soon as I help her out of the car, I head straight for Max’s front door.

She stares blankly at the lock, as if she’s never seen anything like it before and I end up digging for the spare key that Max keeps in the planter and taking her right inside, up the stairs and into the bedroom. I have to push her down onto the bed and even then she just sits there, silently, like a mannequin and stares at nothing in front of her. It doesn’t look like nothing though, not when I look in her eyes. When I squat in front of her and study her face, she reminds me of those pictures you see of holocaust victims with their vacant staring eyes.

I try to press her down onto the bed, but at first she resists me. She even cringes and lets out a little whimper, sort of like a child would when you try and make them do something they don’t want to do but know they have to. I try and say soothing things. I try to be gentle but it’s like she doesn’t hear me. It’s like she doesn’t know it’s me or anyone at all. It’s like she’s somewhere else, someone else.  

It takes more than one try but I finally get her to lie down on the bed and then she curls up, brings her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them, making herself tiny, like a hedgehog rolling into a protective ball. I can almost see the protective spikes she’s trying to put out.

Even so, I slide onto the bed behind her and pull the quilt up to our chins before wrapping my arms around her and fitting my body behind hers, as close to her as I can and then I rock her like you would a child. I even sing Frère Jacques to her, over and over again, until her breathing slows and she relaxes in my arms and I’m sure she’s gone to sleep.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chapter 13

Summer moved on
And the way it goes
You can't tag along
Moments will pass
In the morning light
I found out

Seasons can't last
And there's one thing
Left to ask

Stay, don't just walk away
And leave me another day
A day just like today
With nobody else around
(From “Summer Moved On” by a-ha)

It was my turn to be up in the middle of the night, pacing his Montreal apartment in the dark, trying to decide what, if anything was the right thing to do. 

We’d just been for dinner with a giant of a man, Georges Laraque who, though just his size had been intimidating, turned out to be a giant teddy bear. He’d spent the entire night talking about his home town and everything that was going on there and then Max had asked me to go with them on a mission of mercy to Haiti, just like that. 

Part of me had wanted to say yes, because the idea of being without him made my stomach hurt and because big Georges had made it sound like it would change my world to go. 

It was the reply I didn’t give, the one I heard in my head and couldn’t believe I almost said that made up my mind. ‘I just escaped the trailer park. I don’t want to go back to poverty ever again’. The words had nearly escaped from lips and probably would have had I not been saved by a hovering waiter that Max was sure was leering at me. I didn’t think so. I was pretty sure he could see what I am through the black halter dress and the diamond tennis bracelet. 

I’m a fraud. 

I don’t belong in this world and that waiter had seen it, probably even when I had declined the menu, unwilling to even try to decipher its’ contents. If it hadn’t been then it had probably been the look on my face when Max told me what foi gras was. 

I like the nice cars and the good wine and all of Max’s other toys but I like them too much and I like him, but not enough. I’m doing exactly what my mother had told me to do. I’ve been clinging to him like a life raft, sure that if I let go I’ll get sucked back to the trailer park and my second hand life. 

I have to let go. I have to learn to tread water and not just so that I can hold my own head up, but so that one day, maybe, I can be the kind of woman that I feel like when Kristopher looks at me. 

“Jesus fucking Christ Tanger! Sensitive little ears here!” Sidney shushes me, clapping his hands over Cody’s ears and actually looking shocked, which, I don’t know why, but it surprises me that he is. 

“Oh please,” Tabby bounces Toby on her knee, holding his arms out and grinning down at him. “Our sons are going to grow up around a hockey rink full of hockey players who have potty mouths. Not to mention an Aunt whose mouth is almost as rank as her father’s,” she adds with a raised eyebrow as she sneaks a glance at Sid’s little sister who is folding baby clothes, warm and fragrant and fresh out of the dryer so quietly that I’d actually forgotten she was there. I feel my entire face get hot and let my hair fall in front of my eyes when she looks up and grins. 

“Do you want our kids talking about a ménage a trois on their first day of school?” Sid hisses, under his breath, as if Cody isn’t engrossed in everything he says no matter how loud or how soft he says it. 

“Oh hell, I am so expecting a call on their first day of kindergarten from some frantic teacher telling me that Toby’s pile driving some kid in the head and calling him a stupid inbred mother fucker,” she says in that high pitched cooing sort of voice that you only use for little kids and dogs. I look over at Sid whose staring daggers at his wife, but either she doesn’t notice or that particular look no longer works on her because she just continues to make faces at Toby and ignoresSid.

“So what am I going to do?” I ask, looking between the two of them and trying to forget that Sid’s sister is staring at me with that ‘I know what you did’ expression on her face. Whatever she thinks about it, it can’t be as bad as the way I’m already judging myself for it and I haven’t even told anyone about the actual detail of the physical interaction because I can’t say it without stuttering. 

“I told you there’s something off about that girl,” Tabby says in a matter of fact sort of way and I hate that I feel sort of relieved that it’s Rebecca being judged badly and not me, for now anyway. 

“But you told Max you liked her,” Sid interjects and Taylor snorts and then quickly hides her laughter behind her hand. “What?” he turns and the look he gives his younger sibling makes me shift uncomfortably on my spot on the couch. 

“Oh don’t look at me like that big bro. C’mon, we all know that Max is all kinds of fucked up so of course Tabs said she was alright for him. Do you think that your everyday, garden variety nice girl next door would make it two weeks with Johnny Vegas?” As I watch, Sid’s dark, unhappy expression slowly softens and then he too shrugs and nods. 

“Exactly my point,” Tabby says, suddenly appearing beside Sid and lifting Cody out of his lap one handed, scooping him by his pajama clad bottom. “She’s fine for Max but for Kris we want someone who whistles while she works,” she grins over at me and a DVD magically appears in Toby’s hand and he chews on the edge of the box, sending a line of spittle down the face of it, right over the picture of Snow White and some of her dwarves overlooked by her evil step mother.

“But you don’t know…she’s had it really rough,” I explain, thinking about her mother still lying in a coma in hospital and the dad who disappeared when she was little. 

“And that’s Max’s problem to deal with,” Tabby responds affectionately, a maternal sort of smile on her face that’s not for her sons but for me. “You don’t want a complicated girl Kristopher. You want the nice girl from next door, some primary school teacher or a nice receptionist or something.” 

“And what if he loves her?” I look over at Sid who’s watching me with that expression on his face that he usually wears out on the ice when he’s analyzing the space between players, playing the moves they haven’t made yet in his head. It makes me feel naked and not like naked physically because I’ve grown up getting changed around other guys and that doesn’t phase me. Being emotionally naked though, that blows.

“Jesus, am I that transparent?” I ask, more to myself than to him and Sid looks back at me with a sympathetic, almost sad expression on his face as he nods. 

“Then he does what a good white knight on his trusty steed does,” Taylor says quietly as all of our attention swivels to her. “You save her from the dark night’s evil clutches with a single kiss.” 

“Please come.” 

I’m begging and I fucking hate it. I hate that she’s making me do it and I hate that she’s wearing another one of those outfits that he picked out for her while she makes me do it. She looks great but she also looks corporate hot and that’s more his thing than mine and it pisses me off. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I’d just thought he has good taste and if she looked kinda hot, it didn’t matter if it was more the kind of hot that got Tanger off or not, but now it does. 

“I’d just be farther away if something happened and besides,” she says softly, wrapping her arms around my waist and laying her head on my shoulder, “I should go back. I mean, I don’t have any reason not to go back home now that she’s not there and…you’ll be so busy you don’t need to have me under your feet while you’re being the big, strong man building that…what is it a hospital or a school?” She looks up at me with those big dark eyes and I still feel mad, but just not at her. She doesn’t really look like she wants me to go and the way she’s been touching me all the way here and the way she’s holding onto me now, it’s like a little kid not wanting daddy to leave and it fucking well is playing havoc with my head. 

“Hospital,” I sigh, cupping her cheek in my hand and leaning down to kiss her, capturing her full lips with mine and tasting the saccharine sweetness of her lip gloss. “Who’ll kiss my booboos better if you’re not there?” 

“Big Georges can,” she grins up at me with that sleepy look she gets when she’s been thoroughly banged and I know I made sure neither of us got much sleep last night. If she wasn’t going to come with me to Haiti then she was damn well going back to the ‘Burgh not walking right for a week. 

“You’ll be there when I get back though right? At my place I mean,” I add needing to think of her in my bed, in my house, still mine. 

“Mmm, I don’t know,” she mumbles, looking down and away from me and I can feel that green gremlin rising inside of me, but she runs her hands up my back and presses herself close to me. “I should clean up my place, make it ready for if…,” she catches herself and squares her shoulders as she takes a deep breath. “For when she comes home,” she says, correcting herself and then she looks up at me again with those limpid pools of melted chocolate and smiles. “But phone me when you’re on your way back and I’ll be there. I’ll even wear that purple velvet thing you like,” she adds, that sad smile of hers suddenly turning into something that I’m more used to, that playful, seductive smile that makes me want to drag her onto the plane and make her a member of the mile high club. 

“I’ll really miss you,” I tell her, meaning it and she smiles brilliantly at me and offers me her mouth and I kiss her hard, wanting her to leave her looking like a woman that’s been kissed often and by a man who knows how to please a woman. 

“I’ll miss you Maxy,” she purrs, running her hand down until she’s cupping my ass and giving it a good squeeze. “Who else will spank me when I’m bad?” She’s making me hard and she knows it and the light in her eyes tells me that this is her own way of sending me off so that I really will miss her. 

“I’ll just have to give you some extra strokes when I get back to make up for it,” I growl at her, pressing my erection into her stomach, letting her feel how much I’m going to miss her. I glance around, wondering if there’s a washroom nearby that I can take her into and take her one more time for good measure, make her walk out of here with my cum dripping down her legs but what I see is some of the guys I’m going with giving me that look like they know what I’m thinking and Rupper even taps his watch and shakes his head at me. “I’ll text you and I’ll call when I can,” I tell her instead. “I don’t know what it’s like for making calls. Georges said a lot of the lines are still down and that but I’ll try.” 

“You’ll come back all tanned,” she sighs, like that’s the one thing she’s missing out on by not going, but then she looks up at me and lets me see in her eyes that she’s thinking about how I’ll look naked with a tan and that makes me groan out loud.

“Seriously, you’re killing me, you know that,” I sigh and force myself to think about anything else but her body, Flower’s skinny white ass, Sid’s disgusting jock and Brooksy’s rank shoulder pads. “I have to go ma petite,” I add, kissing her forehead and then her cheek. “Please be good, huh? Be a good girl and I’ll be home soon.” She nods and kisses me once more before Rupper physically drags me away from her and I go stumbling down the corridor to the plane, glancing back at her in that clinging black dress that screams sexy secretary and I pray that she isn’t going back to Pittsburgh to the guy that helped her buy that dress.