Chapter 47: Midnight
“Thanks for letting us stay here, Xave,” I tell him before sending him and his very pregnant wife an appreciative smile. “From the bottom of my heart,” I start, pausing to point to Jay and then to myself, “we’re so grateful.”
“It’s the least we could do,” Emma reassures us with a grin of her own. In all honesty, she looks like she’s about to pop.
“Your home literally hit rock bottom,” Xavier replies with a chuckle, not the least bit sensitive, “of course, we’d take you homeless thugs in, Kitten. We’ve got more than enough rooms to spare.”
I roll my eyes. Again with the nickname and the lame jokes. Still, it helps to have rich friends.
Jay wordlessly nods at Emma and Xavier before picking up his bags. Impassive, he heads past us to his room for the night. Slobber glances over at me before running after Jay – his true favorite.
“Is he okay?” Emma asks, obviously having noticed how quiet he’s been – more so than usual.
I shake my head. “No,” I answer simply. “Not at all.”
“Anything we can do to help?” Xave asks, wrapping an arm around Emma’s waist in the process, clearly still very much in love.
“I wish.” I sigh internally, feeling out of my depth as it is. “But no, no you can’t. I’m not sure anyone can this time.” Except for a professional psychologist.
Emma, sensing my discomfort and sensing the dire seriousness of the situation, drops the ‘Jay’ subject. “So, where are those goofballs gonna stay now? I’m still having a hard time grasping the fact that they literally destroyed JT’s house.”
“Gland said he has contacts,” I quickly explain. “I was too scared to ask any more.”
“At least, you and Jay managed to salvage some stuff,” Xavier chimes in, trying to make me see the non-existent positive side to all of this.
I glance down at my bag filled with the last of my material things, including the last of my clothes. Fortunately, Jay was able to retrieve some of our things. “I guess.”
I don’t care that I’ve lost everything, in terms of material possessions. All I care about is Jay. All I care about is losing him.
“You look tired.” Emma sends me a pitied stare.
“I am,” I admit. I’m tired of everything.
“Go to sleep, Kitten. It’s been quite the day for you. Get some rest,” Xave encourages, assuring me that he won’t take my sleepiness as a sign of rudeness – not that I really care, it’s just not in my nature to.
“Thanks,” I send him a fleeting smile before following after Emma as she leads me to the room that she’s prepared for me.
I’m taken aback at the effort she’s put in.
“I put new bed sheets on. I’ve laid out some pajamas because I wasn’t sure if you had any left. I’ve just run a bath for you and I’ve put shampoo, conditioner, fluffy towels – I know you love your fluffy towels – and what all in it. You name it. If you need anything, Xave and I are on the third level,” Emma tells me nervously, hoping that all that she did for me will be enough.
I launch into Emma and hug the life out of her. “Thank you so much. Thank you for going out of your way for me, for us.”
She laughs. “You two deserve it.” She then hesitates, doubtful, as a thought occurs to her. “Also, I wasn’t sure if you and JT wanted to be in the same room together...because...you know...you guys were dating again and I wasn’t sure if you two had...I mean, if you want, but he’s leaving tomorrow, we can always-”
I shake my head, stopping her. “He’s feeling flat. I’m pretty sure all he wants is to be alone right now.”
I can tell, just by reading Emma’s expression, that she wants to ask what happened to him, but, at the same time, she knows I won’t tell her. It’s why she’s holding herself back from asking. She knows that I won’t reveal his current state of mind to her. It’s too private. It’s between me and him.
“Alright,” she replies in understanding before stepping out of the room, “sleep tight.”
The door closes after her and I can’t help but feel lonelier than ever.
Just like Jay, I’m feeling detached from everything and everyone. For the first time in my life, I feel hollow. All I want, right now, in this moment, is to locate to a remote place, far from civilization, and never come back. That’s where I’m at, and it’s a place I’ve never visited before. It’s a place I never thought I’d get to...but here I am. Maybe Jay’s here too?
I shake my thoughts and touch the clothes that Emma laid out for me to wear tomorrow. I cringe. Leather jackets and the whole tomboy outfit isn’t really my thing. Still, her thoughtfulness means the world and more to me. At least, the PJ’s, that being her strappy top and cotton shorts, are cute.
After my hot bath, I crawl into the bed and get under the clean blankets, feeling warm and snug. However, despite my comfort, I toss restlessly, unable to find the sleep I so badly need. The discomfort on the inside outweighs the comfort on the outside.
My heart is heavy.
I break from my light sleep when I feel a weight settle beside me on the bed. I roll over onto my side to look at him, having an idea of where his mind is at. “What’s wrong?” I ask softly, only able to make out his silhouette in the dark room.
He’s sitting against the headboard with his head in his hands.
I don’t have to ask to know that he’s had another nightmare. I don’t have to ask to know that he can’t sleep either. I don’t have to ask to know that he’s scared, terrified even. I get it. Tomorrow, he’s supposed to get on a plane and leave 20 years of Minnesota memories behind, just like that. It’s his childhood, it’s his home. I can only imagine how much worse he feels than me...and I’ve never felt worse.
He silently switches on the lamp beside him. Some light filters into the room. It’s then that I see desolation in his electric blue eyes. His brown hair is a mess, as if he’s been tossing around restlessly too.
He’s in a horrible place and I don’t know how to get him out of it.
Still, for the life of me, I smile and reach out a hand to smooth out the dark strands of hair that falls just above his beautiful eyes.
He carefully takes my hand into his before I can pull back. “Aqueela,” he murmurs, threading our fingers together, tightly interlocking them as if anxious, “can I...can I just sleep here?”
Even his voice is toneless.
I nod into my pillow, exhausted. “Do you even have to ask?”
“Always,” he answers with a playful smirk before getting under the covers, trying to get comfortable. “It’s called being respectful.”
I scoff tiredly. “I wouldn’t know.”
At least, he’s showing some emotion.
His smirk lifts into a full blown smile before a chuckle resonates from his chest. “I love how you instantly make me feel the slightest bit better.”
“Mhmm,” I respond in exhaustion.
“How many times have I told you not to ‘mhmm’ me?” He purposely quotes the me of years ago, immediately bringing a genuine smile to my lips.
I giggle into my pillow, hiding my face, before slapping his arm. “Shut up and go to sleep.”
I close my eyes, reminiscing on our past together. However, with all Jay’s constant shifting and switching of positions, I’m unable re-enter my dreams.
“I’m going to push you out the bed in an act of revenge if you don’t stop moving,” I grumble tiredly, referring to just yet another memory of five years ago.
Surprisingly, Jay doesn’t respond. Instead, he moves again and turns onto his back, crossing his arms behind his head as he stares helplessly up at the ceiling, clearly feeling trapped inside of his circumstances. There’s no escape and he knows it – even his sleep brings nightmares.
I watch his chest rise up heavily as he draws in a sharp breath, the taunt muscles in his arms and chest bunching up at his anxiety taking over.
The turmoil he’s undergoing is killing him. The inner conflict going on inside his mind is probably pure torture. He’s stuck. He can’t seem to move forward. He’s stuck in first gear. He’s merely drifting and I’m afraid he’s drifted too far off from the finishing line.
“Jay,” I falter, placing my hand on his cheek, turning his face to me, “even if you’re across the world from me, you can still lean on me.” Despite everything, he can still talk to me. He needs to get that. It’s important.
His fierce, piercing gaze of blue keeps me captive and still. “I know,” he whispers, no trace of a smile on his face this time ’round.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask innocently, pulling my hand back from his.
“Just committing you and everything about you to memory,” he answers in nonchalance as his gaze instinctively falls to my lips. “Everything feels so real with you,” he adds, his gaze flitting back up to my eyes. “And it’s because it is.”
Understanding the underlining message, sensing where he’s at emotionally, I motivate him to soldier on. “You know something, Jay Taylor, you don’t have to be afraid either. You’ll do fine too. Not because of anyone else, but because of who you are and the strength you have,” I use his own words back on him, believing it, believing in him. “You’re gonna come out the tunnel smiling too.”
He does exactly that and smiles a breathtaking smile that knocks me speechless.
“Yeah,” I say quietly in admiration, blown away by all that is Jay, especially that smile of his, “just like that.”
“Only because you’re here. When I think of happiness, all I can think about is you. When I think of the future, my mind drifts to you. The question isn’t what I want out of life anymore, it’s who I want to go in it with. In those five years, there honestly wasn’t a day that I didn’t think of you.”
I avert my eyes to the space between us and frown in regret. Why did I leave? Why is he leaving? Why are we throwing us away? Why is he telling me this now?
But before I know it, he’s takes hold of my wrist and tugs me closer, refusing to let go. I don’t even bother to resist him. I don’t want to.
He leans down, his face nearing mine, before I feel him hovering above me in the stillness of the night. The tip of his nose brushes mine, his warm, minty breath slowly mingling with my own before I feel the soft yet sure touch of his lips against mine. And just like that, all the little common sense that I have, leaves my mind under the caress of his tender hold on me.
For a split second, he moves back to look down at me, his gaze dropping to mine, compassion hidden in the depths of his blue eyes. I smile and lean up on my elbows to kiss him. He returns my smile and tilts his head to the side, deepening the kiss.
Everything becomes intensified as we share in something new.
As desperate as him, I frantically and clumsily move my lips against his, engulfed by his presence and by his undying affection.
I feel his cut body against me, crushing me. There’s a restraint in his rigid muscles when the spark between us ignites into an intimate fire. His rapid pulse matches my own. I can barely hear anything else over the echoing sound of my heart thudding away in my chest.
He places his hands on either side of my head, now being sure to keep his full weight off of me. His caring nature is enough to raise up the guilt within me.
I push back for a second and stare up at him in remorse. “I’m sorry I left.”
There, I finally said it.
Confusion clouds his eyes. “Just like me, you had to make a decision. Life changes. People move on. I get that. It took me a while but I accepted it. You don’t have to be sorry. You had to do what you had to do,” he replies quickly and breathlessly, not up for this conversation, at least, not now. “Nothing in this life is constant.”
He moves forward to kiss me again when I speak up, voicing my thoughts, giving life to what I’ve been wanting to say ever since he got back.
“My feelings for you are.”
He stops dead and holds my gaze with a steady look to his eyes. “What are you saying, Aqueela?” He rasps quietly, not entirely sure if he wants to hear it – it will make things tenfold more difficult for him.
He already knows. For his sake, I say it anyway. “I still love you,” I tell him bluntly. “I never stopped.”
As if completely natural to him, he dips his head and kisses me slowly this time, without so much as any hesitation. I feel the same passion he’s feeling. His forehead touches mine before I feel the soft strands of his dark hair under my fingertips.
Jay’s my rock in life. He shields me from the world I don’t want to know.
I suck in a deep breath when his hands cautiously yet daringly trace my waist under my top. Butterflies float through my veins before I feel my shirt begin to rise.
Sensing my uncertainty, he places a reassuring kiss against my temple. Instantaneously, my nervousness melts away with that kiss and every other comforting touch of his thereafter.
A bark breaks us apart. I reluctantly lift my head to see Slobber casually trot into the room, obviously having realized that his precious Jay is missing. He helps himself up onto the bed and settles right in between us, almost as if on purpose.
Jay laughs quietly to himself when I shove him off of me in a panic and roll on my side so that my back is facing him. “Like I said to Em and Xave, I’m tired.”
“You didn’t seem that tired just a couple seconds ago,” he teases in good nature, unfazed and collected. “If anything, you had a lot of energy.”
Embarrassed, I peer over my shoulder at him to see him grinning boyishly. I angrily glower at him for his nerve.
Before I can react, he yanks me back to him by my waist, stubbornly keeping me in his strong hold. He falls asleep after that.
And, somehow, I do too.