Dr. Blackmore came in to review some cases and finish some late charting. Since we finished at the same time, he decided to walk me out to the parking lot. We were talking about what the addition of a new MRI machine would mean to the hospital when I looked up to see JJ by my car. Cyrus saw him as well and looked over at me questioningly. I never mention my personal life to anyone and I knew he wondered about this stranger.
JJ had a hint of jealousy and apprehension on his face as we approached. When I reached his vicinity he handed me an orange rose he brought with him and I knew how to waylay any doubt in his mind. Without a word I took the flower and expressed my appreciation in a deep, passionate kiss long enough to make Cyrus uncomfortable but short enough to make his leaving rude. Pulling back, he smiled modestly back at me.
“JJ this is Dr. Cyrus Blackmore. Cyrus this is my boyfriend JJ.” At the mention of boyfriend status, his smile broadened. After I gave them time to shake hands, I continued the introduction, “JJ is a record producer, and we met several months ago.”
“Were you always a record producer? You look familiar.” Now it was my time to smile. I didn’t figure Cyrus for a groupie.
“Well, I used to be in the band--”
“Social Offender, right? The guitarist. No shit, I listened to you guys all the time. I even saw you at the amphitheater in Oregon about ten years ago. You guys really rock and I’ve never seen anyone play guitar like you.” I laughed now almost pushed out of the way so my co-worker could crush on my boyfriend. Cyrus didn’t look the type of hard rock fan much less someone who went to concerts but then again I never attended them myself to know what type of fan base he inspired.
“Hey, well thanks.” I was sure JJ got this type of recognition all the time, but he seemed to be a little tongue-tied at the moment and it was cute.
“You guys have anything new coming out?”
He shrugged, “No, ah, we all kind of separated into other ventures right now, so I don’t know if we will.”
Cyrus flashed embarrassment, remembering the recent news stories of him. The social media sites were flooded with talk of the band breaking up and Jaeger being the cause. Even the unfortunate information about past drug abuse by the guitarist of his favorite band. He tried to recover, “Well, I hope you guys get back together and put something else out. You guys were great.” He sounded sincere as he nodded his head and left after another quick goodbye to both of us.
Smirking a little I turned back to JJ, “You seem to have fans everywhere.” But the look on his face worried me, “What?”
He swallowed, “You didn’t need to introduce me as your boyfriend.” My brows came together as I tried to figure out his reluctance.
“But you are my boyfriend.” Did he change his mind? Then why the rose and the kiss?
“A heroin addict with a tendency to screw a bandmate’s wife isn’t impressive boyfriend material.”
Before he continued to degrade himself, I stopped him, “That was someone from a long time ago. If I am not worried about having you on my arm then the hell if I am going to let you be worried about it either.”
JJ looked at me for so long I thought he had turned into a statue but in the end, he nodded and motioned behind him. “Let’s go.” I grabbed my keys and noticed a brief smile on his face as he left for his car.
Following me back to my place I had him park in the underground parking garage at the bottom of my apartment. He picked up a bag filled with take-out, and he reached for my hand as we got on the elevator. Once in the apartment, I tried to help him unpack the items, but he sent me into the bedroom to shower instead. This time I took longer than last night. My mind kept returning to me introducing JJ to Cyrus. It was evident it made JJ uncomfortable and how it really didn’t bother me. So what if he was a drug addict in the past. So what if he wasn’t perfect. Neither was I and I knew I couldn’t keep up the façade anymore. I needed to tell him tonight.
When I came out he had a bowl with rice and vegetables and a glass of wine in the non-alcoholic variety waiting for me. We ate by the sofa again, well he ate as I found any appetite had left me. Sipping on my bastardized grape juice, I mulled over where to start my confession. He sensed a change and kept stealing glances at me only increasing my nervousness.
“Are you okay?” I hated the look of worry on his face, so I felt I should start the discussion I knew inevitable.
Taking in a deep breath, I pushed ahead, “JJ, I am not the person you think I am.”
His blue-green eyes held concern as he tried to deny what I said, “Nina you are--”
I finished for him, “a fake.” He shook his head but I continued before I lost my nerve.
“I met Charlie in rehab.” Stunned, he sat back and waited for me to go on. “There is a place in Arizona called Serenity Palace. Sounds pretty posh, doesn’t it? The name was given to sound more like a spa but it is a rehab facility for the elite when they prefer to keep their addictions anonymous. I stayed there for eight weeks almost a year ago now to get over my addiction to narcotics.” Letting it sink in for him, I stopped and found it hard to look him in the eye as if my greatest fear was coming true. The one where he wouldn’t look at me the same again.
“When did it start?” His question held more of an answer than I wanted to give but if I didn’t tell him everything now it would only haunt me further.
“There were a few varying factors I guess.” I couldn’t take his gaze anymore and looked down at my wine glass. I felt it all unraveling. When it did, I only had myself to blame.
JJ took my wine glass out of my hands and placed it next to his on the coffee table. Inching closer to me on the couch he used his finger to nudge my chin, so I would look at him. “Then just start from the beginning.” His look of shock was replaced with a new sympathetic expression and I didn’t know which one was worse.
“My relationship with my husband was inevitable. We meet in college and dated exclusively until graduation where he proposed. Our families loved the idea of the two of us together. Doctor marries lawyer and lives happily ever after, and so on. He took me back to his home state of Georgia, and we settled down to build a career and maybe eventually a family. He was working towards a partnership in a firm and I worked in a local small-town hospital in the emergency department, an emergency department where the most exciting case usually involved the locals fighting over college football.” I huffed out a laugh thinking how different my current emergency department was in California.
“Raymond, my husband, was up for a chance at the partnership and would be the youngest lawyer to make partner if he would be picked. We had to do all the social circuits and I was right there being the dutiful wife. One of the partner’s wives, Lia, had become a fast friend of mine. She hated the business parties just as much as I did. We would grab a bottle of scotch and slip out sometimes to get away from it all.” I laughed at my remembrance of her vibrant personality. Remembering made the tears sting at the back of my eyes.
Instead of prodding me, JJ waited for me to go on, and I appreciated the time to collect my thoughts. “We did a lot together, Lia and I, and when we were shopping one day I accidentally walked into her dressing room and saw... bruis... bruises covering her back and fingerprint marks from where she was grabbed. I always thought it was strange that she wore long sleeves and pants in the heat of Georgia but I finally figured out why. Her husband was abusing her.”
My mouth was dry and I thought about getting up for some water but I knew that it would break the spell and I had too hard of a time recollecting these memories. “I got mad and in true Nina fashion, I handled it wrong. I forced Lia to tell me about it even though I knew it scared her. I tried to get her to leave him, but she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t think of leaving him because she wouldn’t know where to go. I told her she could come with me, that I would protect her, but in the end, she just wouldn’t leave him. So I forced the issue. I told her if she wouldn’t leave him then I was bound and determined to make sure he never hurt her again. I went into the law firm and confronted him. I pretty much blackmailed him and told him that if he ever touched her again I would make sure everyone in our small town knew of his brutal nature until she left him.”
Fidgeting on the couch I tried to gloss over the rest but I knew my part in this was inevitable. “He told me that if I said anything, my husband would not only lose the partnership but get blackballed from the firm and any other firms in the area. It didn’t deter me in the least as I thought my husband would understand. I thought he would stick up for me. Well, I was wrong. The cowardly bastard told me to back off. Raymond showed his spinelessness when he would rather I choke on my own rope than give up the position at the firm. Still, none of his threats mattered. Lia mattered and when I didn’t back down they went after her to keep her quiet. Had I known they were threatening her so hard maybe I would have backed down. Maybe I would have thought to work at it from another angle. I... I didn’t know...”
Tears? Tears were falling from my eyes for the first time in years. I haven’t talked about this to anyone. Charlie knew a little but not the whole story. Not the dirt and not about how it was my fault. I started shaking and sobbing and JJ came around me to hold me to him tight. I was afraid to look at him. Not wanting to see the disappointment in his eyes, I kept them focused on my hands as I started talking again knowing he deserved to know the truth about me.
“It was a Thursday night in the emergency department when the ambulance brought her in. She attempted suicide and was in cardiac arrest. She hung herself and was found by the maid. I tried... I tried to revive her. I tried to save her. I tried...” Weeping and sniveling I couldn’t catch my breath anymore as JJ held on to me and I buried my head in his chest. He wrapped me in his arms tight and I wondered why he didn’t turn me away yet. I was too stubborn to let it go and had been responsible for killing my best friend. Now he knew the whole story and would never look at me the same.
Sobbing slowed to crying and crying slowed to the occasional hitch in my voice, and I was astounded I had any tears left. “I thought I was all cried out back in Georgia. I don’t know where this is all coming from.”
His shirt was soaked by my waterworks. Stroking my hair, he calmly said, “You’ve been keeping this in a while. It should have come out a long time ago instead of eating you up inside.”
“You should talk. The way Jaeger was conceived has been afflicting you just as much. We all have our own burdens.”
I watched as realization spread across his face. He started to protest, “That... that wasn’t the same thing as--”
He never saw the connection. Maybe now he would give himself some slack. I interrupted, “The male reproductive system can still fully function despite the presence of drugs and alcohol, even if the victim is unaware. The physical manifestations you had with Mac were forced upon you. At least you had the excuse of being impaired, I didn’t. My actions caused Lia’s death.”
His look changed, and he gripped my arms and held me firm, scaring me a little with his intensity, “You did nothing wrong. You did what had to be done.”
“But I went about it all wrong. I... I killed her.”
He shook his head, “She killed herself. If anyone is to blame, it is her husband. How many people do you counsel in the emergency department that it isn’t their fault when a friend or family member killed themselves? That there wasn’t anything anyone could do. You didn’t beat her. The only thing you are guilty of is caring so much you would have done anything to help her.” More tears flooded my eyes as he looked at me with sincerity.
“That... that isn’t what my husband had told me.” I had a hard time getting out the words.
Thinking back to my time in Georgia I started to look at it differently. Raymond told me it had been my fault. If I didn’t stick my nose in her business she would still be alive yet. “Raymond is a fucking coward and only said it to save his own skin. Where is he now? Did he get that promotion after he told you it was your fault?”
My thoughts went dark. “He badgered me until I wanted nothing more than to hide in my own skin. I turned to the closest thing available. The narcotics that I gave out to my patients.” Was that his plan all along? Did he see my weakness and kill everything good between us just for some fucked up promotion? In a smaller voice I uttered, “And yes, he is a full partner now.”
JJ nodded his head. He knew. He saw what happened before I did. How come I didn’t see it? I turned to him and placed my hands on his strong face, “I guess we both are lamenting over something we should have let go long ago.”
“Yes, but--” Still unable to forgive himself, he started to protest before I interjected.
“JJ you were under the influence of alcohol and a powerful drug. You had a physical reaction to a stimulus only. You’ve changed so much. You are a man any woman would be happy to call hers.” I shifted a little to face him better as I needed to see his eyes.
Gauging where this left us after my confession, I knew he was wrong all along. JJ was the one too good for me and once he figured it out, he might not be able to stay with me.
“Tell you what. I will start to let it go if you do it too. Maybe we could help each other?” he said lightly as he stroked my face. The tightness around my chest loosened and another tear escaped. The breath I held in left me as I saw his sincerity. He wanted us to work. He wasn’t outraged by my past, and he wanted my help to forgive himself as well.
Quickly I nodded to him unable to say a word. Bringing my head up to meet his gaze he leaned down to kiss me tenderly and it felt like a start to a long-overdue healing process. Using the back of his hand he wiped away my tear and nodded toward the bedroom, “Come on. Let me take you to bed.”
Wanting nothing more than to do just that I smiled and stood up. Looking at the mess still on the coffee table he just shook his head, “Nope. Let it sit. It will be there in the morning. I just want to hold you now.” Letting him lead me away I never gave the mess a second thought.
I couldn’t imagine anything I would rather do besides having JJ’s arms around me, but after crawling in between the sheets, a different need took over. Instead of sleeping, we made love. It was a healing type of physical interaction. Our bodies worked together, and although a few tears still surfaced as he brought me over the edge, he looked at me the way he always had. I didn’t know what I had done to deserve this man, but I would not let go of him anytime soon and only prayed I could be the person he thought I was from here on out.