When we woke, the sun was low enough in the sky to tell me we had slept until mid-morning. The weight of the last seventy-two hours forced exhaustion heavy enough to cause a brief hibernation but as I moved and felt her beside me I smiled. Sensing the shift in my consciousness she lifted her head and looked at her alarm clock. “JJ? Shouldn’t you be in the studio? It is Monday.”
I brought her in close to me and mumbled, “Remember, I am the boss. I get to go in when I want.” She laughed a sleepy laugh, and we drifted back into an easy silence. Both of us thinking heavily as we held each other close the way it should be.
I thought back to what she told me last night. About how her dick of an ex-husband being such a fucking coward and hanging her out to dry. How she blamed herself for her friend’s suicide for so many years. How she tried to point out it was the same guilty conscience I had for fucking over my friend. Not exactly the same but I understood her stance on us beating ourselves up for no reason. We both needed to move on.
Moving my hand up and down, I traced the path of her muscular arm and shoulder. The outline of muscles on her back proved the same enticing feel and her ass muscles warmed up my morning wood. Her recent bout of weight lifting definitely paid off for both of us. It made me wonder. “The weight lifting? Is it a substitute for what Charlie did for you?” I hated to bring up the heartless bitch but I wanted to know.
She didn’t even flinch and I loved her trust in me, “I think the weight lifting is because I didn’t have either of you anymore. Once I met you, I didn’t need Charlie but when I lost you I needed something else. You taught me it didn’t need to be something to make me feel worse after.”
“Why did you let Charlie do it to you in the first place?” I couldn’t help but probe further.
She sighed, “I checked myself into rehab a couple of weeks already when Charlie was admitted, and they put her in the room adjacent to mine. She enjoyed her life of leisure as a trust fund recipient and as a condition for her to get the next installment she had to be sober. She didn’t want to get sober, just wanted the rest of her money in her bank account so she could vamp around the world and cause her havoc.”
The memories were hard for her to talk about but I felt we needed everything out in the open. Giving her the time she needed, I stroked her arm and waited for her to continue. “During one of our group sessions we talked about why we used the drugs, and I explained how I used them to cope. She told me that night she was a dominatrix and could help me without the drugs if I wanted. And I wanted. I wanted to forget, to take on the same punishement Lia had and without the drugs, I would have done anything to help me come to terms with my saddness.” She shifted closer to me and I hung onto her tighter.
“It was just going to be her making me forget. She was a pro, so she never left scars but the welts she placed on my back with her... equipment, was made to hurt. I welcomed the pain. The physical pain blocked out the emotional pain. I felt I deserved it and soon came to the realization I let it be my crutch. You are right. In rehab, they teach you to be careful about replacing one bad habit for another and Charlie was mine. When her perversion for pushing the limits got more sexual than physical I looked elsewhere for someone to punish me. I would go pick up a random stranger at a bar and ask him to be rough with me but I knew it would be a matter of time before it would backfire.” Her confession reminded me of the first night we were together and how she wanted it rough. How many men hurt her before me? The thought of anyone hurting my Nina unnerved me.
She stopped me, “Don’t. I know it was wrong I just didn’t know how to stop myself. I guess... I guess I thought only of punishing myself and wanted a way out of Charlie’s hold. I used sex as a punishment too I think. Sex to me became just another act. I didn’t know how good it could be until I met you.” She poured her heart out to me and I kept feeling as if it was a false appraisal of me.
“Nina, I’m not a saint. I manipulated women too. I did things I am not proud of.” Realizing I could easily be placed in the same light as Charlie now made my stomach turn.
She left my embrace in bed to face me. I missed her warmth but I understood the need to look at each other in the eye. “Why? Why did you exploit those women?”
I swallowed, confessing, “Because I’m an asshole.”
“It’s not a good enough answer for me. You told me a lot about yourself. You talked about feeling powerless growing up and how you were never in control. Never had the resources to feel good about yourself. But did you ever lie to these women?”
Before I had a chance to answer she continued, “You gave them an option but you never forced yourself on them, did you? Even I can tell you would never have done that. You told them you didn’t date. That they didn’t have a chance with you except for a one-night stand, and they took it knowing the terms. Now, I am not going to try to convince you that you were a saint but I don’t think you were that much of an ass, and I sure as hell wouldn’t put you in Charlie’s league.” She cupped my face with her hands and brought me in for a kiss.
“Besides, part of it was the alcohol and drugs talking, and we both know the dark hole it can bring you down if you let it.” She brought her head into mine, and we rest our foreheads together as we contemplated all that had transpired.
We were both recovering addicts. I would have never seen it coming from someone so intellectual and refined. She never came across as fucked up like me. I hated to admit it, but I guess I felt a little better knowing anyone could go down the wrong path.
Nina grew silent and I thought she was done talking, but then she started in again, “The hospital found out about my habit as I became careless. The head of emergency medicine was a friend of mine and called me in to give me a deal he worked out with the board. You see, if it were to get out I had been using during my shift, it would mean lawsuits and possible revocation of the hospital accreditation. Instead, he sent me to rehab and if I kept quiet I could keep my license. I could still practice but there were only a handful of hospitals desperate enough to take a chance on a drug addict.”
“The hospital here.” I finished for her.
“Yes. I have a two-year contract with them and drug testing every three months by hair sample. If I fall off the wagon, I lose everything.” She had been through so much and all by herself. It made me think of something she said when we first met.
“What about your family?” Her eyes widen and then she closed them and sighed.
“Not much to mention there. My father was a drunk and my mother covered for him. He drank himself into such a malnourished state he caught pneumonia and died. My sister got out thankfully. Ran off to London with some guy and started modeling but I haven’t heard from her since. She always blamed me for hating how shallow mom was. You see, she wouldn’t let dad go into rehab as it would look bad on the family name, and she couldn’t let it happen as she had a reputation to protect. I guess we weren’t so different in a way.”
“I don’t see it like that. She was weak and you are so strong. I would never compare yourself to anybody who wasn’t amazing.”
She smiled and it lit up her face if only for a short time. “But you are biased.”
I laughed, “Damn right I am. I don’t date just anybody. I have standards.” It made her laugh and I saw the ease it created in her almost immediately.
Nina continued explaining, “When I left to get my medical degree, mother spent all of father’s money and ended up marrying a wealthy businessman to take my father’s spot in keeping her in the same manner she had been accustomed to. I can’t remember which famous writer stated you should only surround yourself with people that are only good for you but I guess I finally discovered it for myself.” She smiled at me insinuating I was good for her and her words touched me. When was I ever considered a good person? Then I realized it was the day I fell for her.
“Well, there it is. The rest of my embarrassing story. So, when you say you love me, it makes me a little apprehensive. How can you love me when I can’t love myself?”
I wanted to argue with her. I wanted to make her see how truly wonderful she was. To tell her all about what I saw in her that she didn’t see in herself but I knew it wouldn’t work. I had noticed it with myself when thinking Nina was out of my league. Maybe we just needed time to find each other and find out for ourselves too.
“Then I will need to show you... eventually... with time. Until then, I will love you enough for the both of us. Until you learn to love yourself.” Her rich hazel eyes glossed over. She had such a look of awe on her face it took my breath away. It was the right thing to say. We had time. We had the rest of our lives and even if it took that long, I would die trying to show her just how wonderful she truly was.
“Besides on a scale of one to ten that really isn’t that embarrassing.” She sniffled and looked at me confused. “Yuhn.” That was all I said. I waited and watched to see if she would figure it out.
When she continued to decipher my admission I added, “The Dutch way to pronounce my name. It was my father’s name.”
She laughed, “Let me guess, you are a junior?”
I nodded my head. “And the American way to spell my first name is J A N.”
Bemused, she laughed, “Why on earth would you be embarrassed by the first name of Jan? I had colleagues by that same name. All honorable men too.”
“The guys already called me ‘Asshole’ like it was my first name. I didn’t need any more shit from them, so I had it legally changed after I started to get a little money in the bank. And if you tell anyone I might have to kill you.” My threat only made her laugh harder and the sound was music to my ears. I never wanted her to cry again. There had been too much sorrow in her life, I only wanted laughter from now on.
Nina took her time chuckling at my expense and hugged me to her once again. She smirked and hiked up her eyebrows whispering to me, “Horripilation. The medical term for goosebumps. I think it is about time you give me some.”