Joy

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sixteen

He’s taken her dancing. The Detective’s got moves.

Joy doesn’t, not really, but for women it’s easier to tear up a dance floor. All that’s necessary are rolling hips and roaming hands. It’s like sex, especially after a few drinks. And Joy DeVries was always a few drinks in at any given time.

Of course, this isn’t one of those seedy clubs where everyone just grinds together in a sweaty mess. The good Detective has taken her to this swanky place with dinner tables for romantic candlelight and then music and wine after.

On the surface, she’d say that’s not her style, but Joy DeVries doesn’t like to have a style. Her surface moulds and learns and grows with its surroundings, like a chameleon. So she eats the braised halibut. She drinks the fancy wine. And she lets the sweet Detective lead her out onto the dance floor and hold her for a slow throaty ballad.

He’s old-fashioned—one hand on the waist, the other holding her hand—and she can’t ever remember a time she’d been held this way. Maybe once or twice for little waltzes as a kid back on Bonky Wonky, but not like this. Not like she was something special to hold.

She’s dressed the part tonight, in a silk lilac a-line with matching strappy sandals. The heels bring her up closer to his face. It’s nice to be closer to his face.

His eyes are like dark chocolate. The kind you don’t just bite into mash up and swallow, but the kind that you let sit on your tongue and melt, swirling the cocoa in your mouth to draw out every last delectable flavour.

His eyelids flutter half-closed, and his gaze drops to her lips.

“I’m not a good person,” she blurts. And you say I never panic, Tyrone.

Colin blinks at her, his eyes widening to normal, looking at her again, that furrowed brow returning. “Why do you think that?”

She’s taken aback. Not no. Not what are you talking about? Not hey, I was just trying to kiss you. He wants to know why she thinks that. And for the first time in her life, she doesn’t have an instant deflection. “Lots of reasons.”

“You’ve got this tortured artist thing going on, I think.” He cocks his head, still swaying, still leading her around in circles on the dance floor. “I don’t know much about you, not really. But I think you’re too hard on yourself. I can’t imagine what it’s like to put on that costume every day, be in front of the camera all day. You seem like you love it… but even jobs we love can still be difficult.”

She wants to laugh. She wants to cry. She wants to show him every real emotion that she has, if they are real. But she’s not sure what’s real or not, now. What’s the costume?

She gazes up at him with big, round, eyes, the kind of ‘save me’ eyes that she knows he wants to see. “You’d know better than me.”

“The fact that I have struggles doesn’t invalidate yours.” His lips look so soft.

You’re too good for me, she thinks—she knows. But she’s melting in his strong arms. The golden glow of the mood lighting, the sparkling salt-and-pepper stubble covering his cheeks and chin, the heat of his hand on the small of her back—it’s too much, it’s too tender. Her stomach flip-flops as she stares at him and she doesn’t know why she suddenly feels like she might vomit.

His brow furrows, that broody brow. “Are you okay?”

“When I was really little, my mom had a pink step stool in front of the bathroom sink.” She swallows, stamping down that flippy-floppy feeling. “Clearly you can see I’m short, so I used that thing for a lot longer than most kids to be able to brush my teeth and wash my hands. It was there for years and years. Eventually it got relegated to my closet once I was tall enough. But I noticed in my early teens, watching my mom stand in the bathroom to wash her hands, that she had her legs really far apart.

“It was such a weird stance, like, she never did it anywhere else. I asked her why, and she looked down and laughed, like she hadn’t even realized she was doing it. She said she had automatically put her feet on either side of the stool, because it had been there for so long. And this was years after I’d used it.”

She clicks her mouth shut, suddenly realizing what a weird story that was to tell, especially in this moment. Her chest constricts.

He smiles, showing white teeth, one of his canines slightly askew. “Are you saying we’re a product of our habits?”

Maybe. Maybe I just wanted to tell you something. Maybe I just want you to know me.

The song ends, leading into a more jaunty tune, and he lets go of her waist, lifting her hand to spin her around.

She can’t help it. A laugh bubbles up out of her throat. And the flippy-floppy feeling returns. She steps on his foot. He doesn’t care. Rolls her around into a dip.

This is what happiness could feel like.

Later, he drives her home. She tells him the code to her gate, and as he leans out the window to punch in the numbers, the back of his neck is cherry red. The blushing Detective.

She’d hoped that she wouldn’t have to come here. Joy Daisy’s house is ostentatious, ridiculous. She doesn’t spend a lot of time here. Her dressing room at the studio feels more like home, more like her. But it didn’t feel right taking Rooker there.

He pulls up to the walkway to the porch, and doesn’t cut the engine. He’d been so calm, so sure of himself on that dance floor. Now he looks like an awkward schoolgirl ready to turn tail and run away from her crush.

She picks up her purse from the floor, and without a word, gets out of the car, sashaying up to the door. She doesn’t look behind her, simply leaves it open as she walks into the giant empty mausoleum of wealth.

Your move, Detective.

She stretches out in the sill of the big bay window in the sitting room, watching the car. He gets out and stands next to the running car for a moment, staring at the house. Licks his lips. Gets back in the car, but doesn’t close the door.

After what feels like an eternity, he cuts the engine, and gets out for real this time, trotting into the house. At the soft click of the front door latch, Joy whistles and he wanders into the sitting room. It’s one of the only cozy rooms in the cavernous house, full of plush loungers and pillows. Silk and satin and lace, like everything she’s wrapped her body in tonight.

He clasps his hands behind his back. Stares at her. Cheeks pink.

She tries to remember a time when a man drove her home after a date, and stared at her like this. Lucidly. At Joy DeVries.

She can’t remember. Has it ever happened before? She doesn’t want to think too hard. She wants to be in this moment.

She slips from the window sill, tugging at the little strap at the name of her neck that held her whole dress together. As the lilac fabric flutters to the floor, his lips part. They reach each other, and she swallows his gasp.

This is what happiness could feel like.

His hands roam her body, tentative, searching, as if she’s made of glass. She usually hates that. She usually puts a stop to that fast, or just doesn’t target men like this at all.

But you didn’t target him, did you?

He shrugs his unbuttoned shirt from his shoulders, and she pushes the fabric aside to run her calloused hands down his chest, finding his belt buckle. She’s felt the sting of a belt, the lash of leather on flesh, delicious white-hot pain licking her nerves.

But her nerves sing beneath his white-hot tongue instead, his mouth caressing her tender throat. They leave their clothes behind and return to the window, backing onto the feather-down cushions, falling together.

She clenches her thighs around his head, her own falling back as his stubble tickles her, worshipping her with his lips.

She clutches the glass when she comes, and then clutches him when he sinks into her, tears springing to her eyes at the gentle rhythm, the slow comfortable torturous passion thrumming between them like liquid fire.

This is what happiness feels like.

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