Allie snickered and rubbed his chest, lowering her head on his shoulder. "You're right. I feel better already."
"Yeah?" He poked her nose, making her giggle.
She leaned in and savored his lips. The pores of her thighs swelled from the touch of his fingertips, crawling toward her zipper.
An aroused Allie helped him pull down her slacks and took her cotton underwear along with it. Wayne unbuckled his belt and kicked off his pants. His tower was already pointing at the ceiling. He held the hem of her blouse when she stopped his hands.
"It's too cold in here," she said.
"I'm about to warm you up, baby girl.” He smirked and continued touching her skin under the fabric.
"I want it this way." She sucked on his neck and held him down, then lifted her bottom and climbed on top of him.
Wayne glanced at the living room. Soft lights wrapped around the blue and silver decorated Christmas tree. Long, red drapes covered the windows. Heat still emitted from the fireplace after he had turned it off 20 minutes before. He also knew that from years living in Oregon, she had learned to love the cold.
"I want to see every part of your body under the lights for once.” He kissed her back and unhooked her bra with one hand.
"Wayne," she moaned.
"Allie." He caressed her shoulders and made eye contact, stopping her from making more excuses. "We've been together for six months. I think I've seen you coming out of the shower and change clothes enough to see your scars. Baby, I don't care that you have scars."
"I’m aware you've seen them." She sighed and lifted her right wrist, showing him the one from a gardening accident.
"Then why do I have to almost force you to strip?" he asked.
Allie chewed on her own lips while staring at her boyfriend's chest.
"It's not that I don't want you to see them. I don't want to see them."
"Look at me." He cupped her jaw. "I'm not about to bring up the past because you don't like to talk about it. But think of the woman you are now. All of your accomplishments. The way you turned the company around without knowing one bit about business management."
Allie gave him a weak smile. "That's why I hired my own financial advisor, silly. You and your team do the numbers so I can take all the credit."
Wayne smirked and placed his thumb between her legs. He began rubbing in circles.
"I prefer being your full-time sex god." As he encompassed a small area between her legs, she mounted his erection and let herself feel his length. They both took quick breaths as she ground back and forth. Wayne's finger continued its motion, applying more pressure. The other hand held onto her butt.
She moaned and pulled his head toward her chest, then he guided her faster movements.
"I need to come, baby," he moaned.
But Allie wasn't even near the end. She was now in a rush. Working against the clock was overwhelming, so she dropped her head back, compressed her abdomen, and moaned louder to make him think she had finished.
Not 10 seconds passed, and he loaded all of his energy into her quietly.
She kissed his lips and cheeks and sat beside him.
"That was hot," he said.
She glanced at him with a smile as quick as he was.
Wayne rolled on his side and Allie covered him with a blanket before she stood up. She grabbed her phone from her nightstand, wondering if she should make a late night call.
Her brain would never rest until she dialed the number, so she tiptoed outside her bedroom and went downstairs into the kitchen.
"Kathy, I have some terrible news," she said, hearing the person on the other side of the line.
"Oh, Allie, you know about Jay," the voice of an older woman softened through the phone.
"You knew about the accident?" Allie brought her hand to her forehead and sat at the breakfast table.
After the death of her son, Allie had felt a deep connection with Kathy. Their relationship strengthened even more when the girl gave birth to Dean's twin boys. Allie had been grateful to her mother-in-law as Kathy took care of her during the pregnancy and taught her how to take care of the babies. But rage built inside her after learning that Kathy hadn't informed her about the death of Dean's best friend.
"I see you every week," Allie scream-whispered. "How could you keep this from me?"
"You have no excuse."
"I am not your employee, Ms. March," Kathy's voice got deeper. "You don't get to talk to me like you can replace me."
The thought of losing her children's grandmother cooled down Allie's blood.
"No, you're right. I'm sorry, but you must admit that not telling me about this..."
"Listen, dear," Kathy exhaled. "There's a reason we stopped talking about the past years ago. You and I both agreed that mentioning any part of it was death by a thousand cuts. Even uttering my son's name used to send you on a depression spiral and we couldn't let my grandchildren see their mother go through that again. Yes, dear Jay died 3 weeks ago. The car had been on fire for the last twenty minutes before the police arrived at the scene, so there was no funeral. Whatever was left of poor Jay was buried two days later. His wife only allowed his parents to see them lower the casket."
Allie closed her eyes and wiped a single tear from the bottom of her jaw.
"I don't know what to say."
"Move on for your children. Andrew and Daniel will need you for a long time. They've only been in my house for three days and they're already asking when mommy is coming back."
Allie chuckled, then sniffled. She became distracted, thinking about her itinerary before she could join them on Christmas Eve.
Allie walked out of her office and stopped in her tracks.
"I know. It's quiet here. Even for a Saturday," said a young girl from behind a desk.
"I can't believe you insisted on staying," replied Allie. "I'm getting chills by the emptiness myself. Don't you have a boyfriend or family to be with?"
"My plane for El Paso leaves tomorrow. Besides, Christmas is nothing without snow. So as your executive assistant, I must stay and make paper planes out of all this mess."
The secretary pointed at a stack of paper in front of her.
"Okay, well, as your boss, I order you to leave work early and prepare your suitcase."
"Fine," the girl shook her head. "Thank you, Ms. March."
"You're welcome, Ms. Gloria. I'm going to the vending machine. Do you want anything?" Allie began walking down a hallway full of glass offices.
"Na, I brought lunch," Gloria's eyes panned from a document to a computer screen.
Allie scurried out before the elevator door fully opened. Her stomach had been rumbling since breakfast and she was ready to eat all the snacks from the vending machine. She could have ordered her usual healthy meal, but the holidays always ruined her fitness and diet regimens.
"Diet starts in January," she mumbled out loud as she inserted a quarter of a dollar into the vending machine.
Before she input the code for the greasiest and sweetest snack, a tumbling sound shifted her attention. She lifted her chin, trying to guess where the source was. The tumbling became louder when she approached the door with a plaque that read 'personnel only.'
Everyone should be on Christmas break. She got ready to scold her workers. She turned the doorknob and barged inside.
"All right, time to go home and have some eggnog!"
A naked man, standing beside a dryer machine, covered his genitals with the bottom of a dustpan. Allie gasped but didn't turn away.
"C.J.?" The C.E.O. frowned. "What in the world?"
"I am...," the man scanned the laundry room for something larger that would encompass his entire manhood, "... so sorry. Please, don't fire me, boss lady. I don't have a washer and dryer, so I have to use the company machines. It won't happen again, I promise."
She was still agape. "Why not go to a laundromat and why are you naked?"
His head moved faster, and his feet slightly marched.
"The thing is, uh, I only have one pair of boxers and if I wear my work uniform without them, it kind of makes me itchy, uh, down there."
"That's... weird, but okay."
Thankfully, the dryer beeped, and the tumbling stopped.
"Oh, look at that. Laundry's done," C.J. jumped and pulled the metallic dryer door open.
He stood behind it and scavenged inside it for his underwear. As he leaned over, part of his buttocks came into view, accidentally turning his boss on. She'd usually fight those feelings at work, but seeing him move and speak was like seeing Dean do those things. She thought she was crazy for thinking. Still wanting his touch, she stepped to the side, where she could have a better view.
He stood up, rapidly pulling the elastic band of his boxers up over his waist. He glanced at her with the corner of his eye, unsure if she had changed positions on purpose.
"Again, I'm so sorry." He turned to her and lifted a faded t-shirt over his head.
Then she saw it. It couldn't be a coincidence. Her eyes were wide opened, looking down at his belly.
"Are you okay?" He asked after a dead silence.
The woman swallowed.
"Where did you get that scar?" She pointed at a large scar on the left side of his abdomen.
"This?" He looked down at himself. "Uh, I'm not sure."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't remember."
He doesn't remember.
Gloria interrupted the conversation, calling Allie from the vending machines.
"Ms. March, I have a farmer on hold. Where are you?"
Allie looked toward the door, then back at C.J., wanting to ask her next question.
"Ms. March?" She heard Gloria's footsteps.
The C.E.O. didn't want her secretary to find her boss with a semi naked man, so she ran outside toward the vending machines.
"I was checking some stuff," Allie put a dollar bill in the vending machine and pressed any random button.
"Okay," Gloria gave it no importance. "So, Mr. Reynolds says he wants to meet with you about expanding the new irrigation system."
"Yeah, yeah, good idea. I've been meaning to do that," Allie nodded, feeling a presence beside her.
Her eyes couldn't avoid looking at C.J., heading toward the exit in his faded t-shirt and jeans.
"When should I set up the meeting?" Gloria asked.
"Why isn't he wearing a jacket?" Allie whispered.
"Who? Mr. Reynolds?"
"It's cold outside."
Allie walked a few steps away from a confused Gloria. She watched C.J. walk toward the opposite direction of the parking lot while hugging himself and rubbing his elbows.
Allie looked at Gloria as if she was too much of a distraction.
"Check my calendar and arrange a meeting. And lock my office." The boss lady pulled her car keys out of her pocket and ran out of the building.
A shivering C.J. turned around the corner of a building and waited in front of a red streetlight. Allie thought about following him on foot, but she decided that spying on her employee from her car seemed less creepy. She got in her gray 'mom van' and drove toward the next street block.
After passing by several bus stops, evidently, he couldn't live that far from work. Perhaps he stayed in the nearby apartment complexes. But the direction in which he was walking kept getting farther from the residences in the vicinity.
Then, he turned into a major road, where the sidewalk ended.
"Where is he going?" Allie asked herself in frustration.
She got behind another car to avoid raising suspicion. Suddenly, the man started crossing the road, making all the muscles of her face contract. The only thing in front of him was the freeway and acres of Texas grassland.
When he disappeared under the freeway bridge, she parked at a corner gas station.
"What am I doing?" Her conscious made her turn the engine back on, but her heart forced her to stay.
She grunted and got out of her car, then looked toward the bridge and crossed the road. While approaching the trashed area, she thought of the many ways she could get assaulted.
At least is not too dark and there are a lot of cars on the road.
Once she stepped under the freeway, two used syringes appalled her and countless cigarette buds on the concrete floor. One more step and the sewer smell violated her nose, and she covered it with her hand. There was a small tent full of holes and an old backpack on the floor. Behind it, C.J. sat on a bundle of newspapers, reading a book about fire alarms and biting a slice of American cheese.
She wanted her words to come out, but she was too overwhelmed to speak.
He then folded the cheese, wrapped it in a piece of paper and put it inside his pocket. Then used some newspaper around him to cover his legs. As he leaned back on a freeway column, he discovered the woman watching him intensely.
"Woah!" His limbs propelled, and he launched the book up in the air.
"It's okay," she raised her arms.
"Boss lady, what are you doing here?" He picked up a few newspapers and stacked them up. His foot swept two candy wrappers behind him.
Allie observed the surrounding objects, scared to step on anything. She couldn't tell if it was all trash or his belongings.
"Is this... is this where you live?"
"Um, yeah," he whispered.
"C.J., you can't live like this."
"Obviously, I don't like it here." He pointed his hands at everything.
"But you can't get out, huh?" Allie's eyelids and shoulders dropped.
"You know, I can bring you to a good rehabilitation institution..."
"Wait, what?" He took a step back. "You think I'm spending my money on drugs?"
"There's no shame in admitting..."
"I don't need to admit anything. I'm not on drugs, okay?"
"C.J., it's fine. I saw the syringes on the floor. I know what that is." She approached him.
"Syrin...?" He rolled his eyes. "Damn, Tucker. Those are not mine."
"One guy who likes to hang out here."
"Oh, so if you're not spending your money on drugs, then why do you have to live like this?"
"I get that you're rich and all boss lady, but you don't have to do drugs to be homeless."
"Then why are you homeless?" She crossed her arms.
"Maybe I like it," he said after a pause.
"Life happened, okay?" He looked away, toward the grassland. "Are you here to fire me?"
"No." She faced his side. "I want to know what you meant when you said you didn't remember how you got your scar."
"Clyde!" A middle-aged man with a long mustache sang. "Jacobson!" He pointed his bony finger at C.J. "You ate my last slice of cheese."
"No, I didn't. Go away, Tucker." C.J.'s eyeballs moved side to side.
"Yeah, you did! I know where your hands have been." Tucker yanked C.J.'s hand and began sniffing his fingers.
Allie's jaw dropped at the toothless man. His Hawaiian shirt had black and brown stains. Some looked like fingerprints. His pants had so many holes, he looked almost naked.
"I knew it!" He slapped the hand away. "Where's my good old cheddar?"
"Calm down. I'll buy you some with my next paycheck," said C.J.
"You lie," Tucker stomped his feet.
Allie sighed and pulled her wallet out of her pants' pocket.
"Here, just..." she opened her wallet.
C.J. pushed her hands down and forced her wallet closed.
"Hey, hey, hey, what are you doing?" He spoke through his teeth.
"What do you think I'm doing? This is so stupid," Allie reopened her wallet.
"Trust me, he will not use your charity for sliced cheese."
"Then give him your leftovers," she tapped where he had hidden his snack.
Tucker sniffed the air and extended his neck toward Allie.
"You have a rich girlfriend and you dare to eat my cheddar? Pay up, lady!" Tucker pulled a knife from his crotch.
C.J. opened his arms in front of Allie and they both jumped back. The woman held on to the back of his t-shirt.
"Tucker? What did we say about weapons?" C.J. asked calmly.
"Only for self defense," Tucker held the knife higher.
"You stole my property. This is self defense." Tucker brought the knife down with force, but C.J. stopped his wrist and punched him in the stomach.
"Dean!" Allie blurted and covered her mouth.
The toothless man was bent over the floor, screaming in pain.
"Come on, you shouldn't be here." C.J. grabbed Allie by the arm and walked her toward the gas station.
"Wait, where are you going?" Allie stepped in front of C.J. in the gas station parking lot.
"You should get back to your car. This is not a safe area." He pointed at the mom van behind them. "I'm going back. Merry Christmas."
Her stomach bounced. It was as if she was losing Dean again.
"You can't do that," she stopped his shoulders from escaping.
"It's fine," he snickered. "Tucker's not as dangerous as he looks. He was probably high."
"It's not just that." This time she felt his chest as he tried walking away again. "I don't want you to live under the freeway."
"Why? Why do you care?" He glanced at her hands and took a deep breath.
"Because... because I don't want any of my employees to be homeless." That seemed more reasonable than because you look just like my dead boyfriend.
"So what's your idea?" He shrugged.
"Well, first, we get rid of the cheese in your pants."
"No, that's my dinner." He covered his pocket with his hand.
"Second..." She pushed his hand away, dug into his pants and threw the ball of paper and cheese behind her. "... we get you some warm food and a bed."
"And how do you suppose I pay for it?" He pressed his lips and widened his nostrils.
"You won't. You'll be staying at my house."
C.J.'s eyebrows jumped over his forehead. He stood there wanting to know why she was being so nice. He was her employee, but she barely knew him. He wasn't even that important to the company. He was just a janitor.