I’ve convinced myself that it’s because of the Christmas season.
I mean, people do get kinder when it’s the holidays, right? Because how else am I gonna explain the fact that I’m sitting on the soft rug of Julia’s living room, playing Monopoly with her brothers, and Janelle hasn’t made any snarky comments toward me all day?
She’s not exactly friendly, but the hostility that she seems to harbor towards me from the very start was gone. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Grays’ residence since the break. I also didn’t fail to notice the change in the way Julia interacted with her. She was calmer, and she didn’t snap at Janelle the way she used to. I’m glad that she’s finally letting go of her anger towards her childhood best friend. I just don’t know how that will affect our relationship.
I roll the dice, moving the shoe according to the numbers rolled and landing on Mayfair—which had a small plastic piece that represented a hotel. “Fuck.” Then, remembering that I’m in the company of my girlfriend’s family with the exception of her father, I mutter, “Sorry.”
“Well, I understand the sentiment. You just got bankrupt.” Jimmy laughs.
“I could still mortgage my properties,” I argue, even knowing that they’re probably not enough. “Or uh, can’t I get a loan or something? Can’t you just let me stay for free? I’ll give you a rook handicap on our next game.” I smile hopefully.
He chuckles. “I’d certainly take that offer even if the chances of beating you is slim to none even with that handicap, but I’m not the property owner.”
“Who?” I ask and scan the faces around the Monopoly board until my gaze lands on Janelle. If the smug smile on her face doesn’t answer my question, the Mayfair’s property card she’s holding between her fingers certainly does. “Oh.”
“So,” she prolongs the word with satisfaction clearly written across her pretty face. “What do you have to offer me?”
Being the center of attention of the group was intimidating, but I don’t let it show. I grin at Janelle. “You want a rook handicap, too?”
Janelle looks like she wants to roll her eyes. “No. Just go throw yourself in the pool.”
With an exaggerated sigh, I pull myself to my feet. To add a challenge to the game, we all agreed that the first person to get bankrupt would dive into the pool that would be freezing this time of year. I shudder just thinking about it.
Once in their backyard, I slip off my shoes and empty my pockets that contain my phone, keys, wallet, and handkerchief before stepping on the edge of the pool. I would’ve taken my jeans off, but I didn’t wear boxers today and I don’t even want to imagine myself in my underwear in front of Julia’s family.
Without any preemptive, I run along the edges and launch myself in the air, cannonballing into the pool. The cold rattles me and seeps through my bones. When I come up for air, the first thing out of my mouth is, “Fuck, that’s cold!” I rub my face to clear the water and push away the strands of hair that stuck to my face.
They were all laughing as I glide across the pool to the edge. I push myself up, the clothes I’m wearing clinging uncomfortably to my skin.
“Now I feel bad,” Laura says, still chuckling. “We should’ve turned on the heater.”
“The pool has a heater?!” I turn to them, feeling betrayed.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Josh smirks.
“Sorry.” Julia tries to keep her face neutral, but her gray eyes were dancing with mirth. “Josh had the heater installed so he can train all year long.”
I close the distance between us in two strides, slip my arms around her shoulders and press the entire length of my body against hers.
Julia’s gasp was so sensual it shoots a bolt of heat straight to my core. “Al!” I’m sure she meant for it to be a protest, but it comes as a plea to my ears. The more she struggles, the more I rub my body against hers and by the time she frees herself, I’ve managed to wet her clothes successfully.
“That’s the price of betrayal.” I huff, running my hands up and down my arms though I’m not sure the goosebumps are still because of the cold.
Julia throws her hands in the air. “Fine, I probably deserve that. But I was just about to tell you I warmed up the hot tub for you to use.”
“There’s a hot tub?” As I ask the question, my mind already wanders to dangerous places I shouldn’t be thinking of in front of her family. “Guess you’re joining me, then.”
With a sultry smile, she replies, “Guess I am.”
Josh appears beside Julia. “Then I guess you have to pay the price too.” Before anyone can react, he pushes Julia into the pool. Then he was running back into the house before Julia even surfaces.
“Joshua, you are such an asshole!” Julia shouts just as Josh reaches the sliding door.
“Enjoy the hot tub!” Josh waves then he was gone.
“To be fair, the hot tub wasn’t in the agreement.” Jimmy sticks his tongue out and he, Jace, and Laura follow Josh inside, all laughing.
For a moment, Janelle looked like she was about to murder Josh. She looks at Julia and asks, “You okay?”
“Fine,” Julia snaps before taking the hand I held out to help her up.
Janelle nods before going back inside.
“I swear I’ll strangle him in his sleep.” Julia gathers the hem of her shirt and wrings it. She glares at me. “Stop laughing!”
I raise my hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “Whoa, chill.” I wrap an arm around her shoulder. Making a mental note not to play pranks on Julia, I ask. “Where’s that hot tub?”
Julia marches and we turn around a corner I didn’t notice earlier where a 7x7 jacuzzi filled with steaming water is just waiting for its occupants. It’s hidden from the view of the house, giving a sense of privacy.
Beside the tub, Julia gathers the hem of her shirt and tugs it over her head. Seeing my gaping expression, she raises an eyebrow. “You’re not going in like that, are you?”
“But...” I make a vague gesture toward the house.
“It’s fine. They won’t bother us.” She struts toward a cabinet to the side after also shedding her jeans, and pulls out two terry cloth robes. She drops them to the lounge chair. When she sees me still fully clothed, a bit of her sour mood slips away and she asks in a teasing tone, “You want me to take off your clothes for you?”
“I’d love that if it weren’t for your brothers practically a door away.” I shed my clothes as Julia climbs the three low steps leading to the tub lowers herself into the water. My gaze follows every inch of her pale skin as it submerges.
A few moments later, after shedding my clothes and only in my underwear, I join her and sit on the opposite side facing her. “Damn, that feels good.” I eye my companion. She had her arms crossed in front of her chest, clearly still pissed by the stunt her brother pulled. With a grin, I say, “You look kinda cute when you’re pissed.”
Julia’s eyebrows shoot up. “You think I’m cute.”
“You’re pissing me off even more.”
I laugh and hold my left arm open. “C’mere.”
Julia shoots me an indignant glare but scoots closer until I had my arm wrapped around her shoulder. She nuzzles my neck. “Hm. While pushing me into the pool is unnecessary, this alone makes it worth it.” Her breath tickles my neck, making me shiver despite the heat surrounding us.
I clear my throat before speaking. “Yep, definitely worth it.”
Julia wraps an arm around my bare waist, bringing to my attention that we’re both only in our underwear. I gently run my fingers on the bare skin on her upper arms. It’s nice to just be here under the night sky, relaxing in the heat of the tub, and the best part, holding Julia in my arms. It feels peaceful.
“So,” Julia says after a while. “I have to talk to you about something.” The tone of her voice and the way she said it had me straightening up. “Jan wants to visit my mother’s grave.”
I tilt my head, wondering what that has to do with me. “Does she need my permission to do that?”
“I’m asking for your permission. She wants me to come with her.”
I hold in the urge to roll my eyes. “Figures there’s a reason she’s being nice to me.”
“Is that a no?”
I turn to my side to face her. “Baby, you don’t need my permission to do anything. I’m your girlfriend, not your mom.”
“You’re not mad?” Confusion is written all over Julia’s face. “You’re letting me go with her just like that?”
“Uh, yes? Would you rather I don’t let you go with her? I mean, if you don’t want to, you can just tell her I told you not to go.”
“No, no.” Julia shakes her head. “I just thought you’d get mad, us being exes and all. Are you really okay with it? You’re not one of those types that says it’s okay then gets mad when I go, are you?”
That takes a laugh out of me. Some people think it’s romantic; I think it’s childish. Communication is one of the important pillars of a healthy relationship. “No, I mean it. I do appreciate it if you tell me first so I know where you are. But no need to ask for my permission.” I bring up a hand to cup her cheek and press a kiss to her forehead.
When I pull back, the expression on Julia’s face was a mix of relief and something else that makes her look like she wants to cry. “God, I love you.” She frames my face with both hands and pulls me in for a searing kiss that takes my breath away. I drop my arm to circle her waist. She presses her body against mine, her breasts pressing into my side. I tug her even closer until she was straddling me. When we both come up for air, she rests her forehead against mine. “How did I get so lucky?”
I rub circles on her skin with my thumb. “I’m the lucky one.” I kiss the edge of her mouth, her jaw, her throat, then back up to her lips. She darts out her tongue and invades my mouth without a second thought. The show of possessiveness takes me by surprise, but I respond with equal eagerness after a moment.
Julia gasps when I thrust a hand under her bra, cupping her breast. I slide my thumb over her nipple, which promptly hardens at my touch. She lets out a gasp as her nails dig into my shoulders.
I was so lost in the onslaught of sensations that I didn’t notice anyone near us until a male voice speaks out loud. “Getting hot in here, eh?” I wrench my hand away so fast it creates a splash.
Julia doesn’t jump. She doesn’t even get off my lap. She simply eyes the intruder from behind me and says, “We’re in the hot tub; it’s supposed to be hot.” Her voice is firm, as if one of her brothers finding her making out in a hot tub with a woman is the most normal thing in the world. But the stiffness of her shoulders and the way her body is practically vibrating with tension tells me she’s just as frightened as me.
“Ooh, feisty, are we?” I finally place the accent of the speaker and recognize it as Joshua’s. He appears in my line of vision and walks over to a piece of equipment on one side. He tinkers with it for a moment and the equipment comes to life. When he faces us again, he says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve always known.”
Julia’s eyebrows shoot up. “You knew?”
“I never bought the best friends act with Jan. She came out here a minute ago to say goodbye, by the way. She looked like someone punched her in the gut.”
“You’re okay with this? With me being gay?”
Josh snorts and mutters something under his breath I wasn’t able to hear. He places a forearm on the edge of the tub. His snob facade vanishes, replaced by a tenderness he doesn’t let a lot of people see. “Jules, this is the happiest I’ve seen you in a long time. Who am I to get in the way of that? You’re my baby sister and I love you. No matter what.” He looks at me, his mask slipping back into place and his steely gaze pinned on me. “Don’t break her heart.”
It wasn’t the If you hurt her, I will kill you speech I was expecting, but it nevertheless had the same effect. I meet Josh’s eyes with the same intensity to let him know I don’t intend to do anything that might hurt his sister. “I won’t.”
“Good.” He nods once and steps away. “Now, please finish whatever it is you’re doing or take it upstairs. I can’t do laps knowing you’re doing the dirty right around the corner.” Without waiting for a reply, he walks away.
Julia doesn’t make a move to get off my lap, still in a daze. When it was certain Josh is gone, she meets my gaze. After the initial wave of relief pours off her, her shoulders sag, the tension finally leaving her body. She rests her forehead against mine. “That was a surprise. I didn’t think Josh, of all people, knew. He doesn’t seem to care most of the time. And to think he kept it secret after all this time.”
I place a hand on her thigh lightly. “You okay?”
Julia leans back, a wide smile almost splitting her face. “Okay? Oh, you have no idea.” She tackles my face again, kissing every inch of it until she lands back on my lips.
“Actually, I think I do,” I say, now mirroring the smile on her face. “I’m happy for you.”
“That’s one down and two to go. I thought Josh would be the most pain in the ass and be a snob about it. It’s certainly a huge weight off my chest.”
“I thought so too. I’m actually intimidated by him.”
“So if he didn’t approve, you’d be running out of here?” Julia raises an eyebrow.
“That would be hard, considering you’re half-naked and on my lap.”
“So if I were fully clothed and away from you, you’d bolt?” The insecurity in her voice makes me regret my playful comment.
I frame her face with both my hands and look at her directly in the eyes. “Nothing could ever make me run away from you.” I kiss her forehead. “Sorry, but you’re stuck with my annoying ass for as long as you have the patience for it.”
“I have incredibly low tolerance, but maybe there’s something to say for the ass in question once it’s thoroughly spanked.”
Surprised and equally curious by the statement, I grab hers by way of answer and squeeze. “I didn’t know you were into that.” Julia shrieks and latches onto my neck when I stand up, still carrying her. “Let’s test that theory before Josh comes back.”