"I'm glad nothing worse happened," he added. "You're in shock right now—"
"I'm not in shock." She met his eyes. "I'm angry at myself."
CJ pushed his neck forward, trying to see the details of her face.
"This has happened before," she explained. "Different guy. Long time ago."
The man let a puff of air out through his nose. His jaw muscles became tense to avoid rage. He wished to hurt that other guy, whoever that was.
"I never would've imagined. But you didn't seem to let that bring you down."
She lifted her head higher and made a short smile with sad eyes.
"I had a lot of help from someone."
"Dean?" It was the first time he mentioned his name out loud.
Hearing him say that was like hearing Dean say his own name. Her smile was wider now.
"You know about him?"
"Is it okay to ask about him? He seemed really important to you and your mother."
"My mother?" Allie frowned then realized he was talking about Kathy. "Oh, well, she does feel like a mom sometimes, but Kathy's Dean's mother. He was my...boyfriend sounds like such a tiny word for what he was to me." Her eyes got lost in the horizon. "He rescued me when I didn't know I needed rescuing. He loved me when I didn't love myself." She blinked some tears away. "And he gave me two amazing gifts before he left this Earth."
"Yeah, I saw. One of them is really into Cheetos."
Allie sighed and closed her eyes.
"I swear, he's 8 years old, and he's already battling addiction."
They both laughed and began walking back to the house.
"You know. Dean, he was a special guy," said CJ.
"I know, but what makes you say that?" Allie hated hearing him talk about Dean as if he was not the same person.
He kicked a rock aside and noticed her muddy feet. He found her pinky dwarfed compared to the rest of her already small feet. He didn't understand why his brain found that important, even less cute. He pondered what reaction he'd have if he saw the rest of her naked body. But he swept those thoughts out of his mind. It wasn't fair to be lusting over a woman who was attacked minutes ago. She probably would've thought he was disgusting for thinking like that.
"A special guy would choose a special lady like you. He probably saw that from the beginning."
"You think I'm special?" She stopped and turned to him.
"Not everyone picks up their homeless employee and takes them back home, for starters."
She stared at him with big, intense eyes. Her chest filled with air as she observed every detail of his face. How could it not be him? He was older, of course, but as old as Dean would be now: 31.
"I, too, was homeless once," she said. "When I got kicked out of the orphanage where I grew up for being too old, I made some bad financial decisions and I ended up in the street. Then I started mowing lawns and used my gardening abilities to rent myself a trailer."
"Money," he jerked his eyebrows. "That's how I ended up under the freeway."
She stretched her neck, concerned that she wasn't paying him enough.
"Is the paycheck that bad?"
"No. Don't get me wrong. It's always nice to get a raise, but the pay's fair for what I do. It's just..." he rubbed his neck and looked toward the ground. "It's complicated, sweetheart."
"What did you call me?" Her ears raised.
"Sorry if that bothered you. It's like a term of endearment," he stuttered.
Allie seemed like she was going to faint for a minute. Then she threw her arms around her neck and started devouring his lips.
Sweetheart. The lovely way in which Dean used to say it in his Texas drawl made her high. She had been called 'sweetheart' by many people before, but it never felt as special as when he said it. In 8 years, this was the first time she felt high again.
He was frozen by the touch of her soft lips. It was hard to be respectful when her warm body was so close to his. He followed her lead and his arms crept around her waist, closing the gap between them.
It had started to get cold again, but the slow breaths against each other was heaven. Holding her melting body in his arms had every hair on his skin generate waves of lust.
One of her legs mounted his thigh. There was pressure in his pants. So much that she noticed and started pulling down on his zipper when he stopped her.
"What?" She smirked and licked his neck.
"I don't understand," he replied.
"What do you mean?" Her lips got hold of his earlobe, making him even harder.
"Jesus! You know exactly how to turn me on," he closed his eyes, but stopped her again. "Wait. I'm confused. The last time you kissed me, we had just met and you had a boyfriend. Now, you do it again after you had a fight with him. I need to know what games you're playing here."
"Why would I be playing any games with you?" She cupped his jaw.
"Because...you could have any guy you want: some dude with money, a six pack and an Instagram account. But I'm just a janitor. No matter how much you kiss me, I don't turn into a prince. If you're just using me, it's okay. Just tell me the truth so that I can suppress any kind of feelings."
Her eyes twinkled in admiration of his sincerity. Every one of his gestures reminded her of the man with whom she fell in love. She couldn't tell him that, however.
"CJ, the first time I kissed you, I was going through a lot. Maybe I did use you then, because I found that you kind of helped me forget about everything that was going on. You know who has a six pack and an Instagram account? Wayne. And he acts like a spoiled prince sometimes. I have a tendency to force myself into relationships when I'm starting to get lonely."
"Are you lonely right now?"
"No," she caressed his chest.
He was still cautious. That didn't eliminate her dead lover. CJ had heard what Wayne said in the woods; how he wanted her to forget him. And Allie was so quick to give herself to someone she had just met. Obviously, she had issues, but how could he reject those tiny thick lips?
He caressed her cheek and brushed her hair with his fingers. Then they resumed with a passionate kiss.
"I want you to sleep in my bedroom tonight," she whispered.
The erection that was already building up again went away. His heart became louder and faster than usual.
"Maybe we should take things slow," he took a step back.
Allie hugged her stomach in embarrassment. She was treating this man as if he was Dean or as if they had known each other for a million years.
"You think I'm easy. Oh God, I see why you would think that. I swear, I'm not like that."
He held her hands, trying to calm her down.
"In all honesty, it all does feel kind of rushed, but..." he hesitated. "The thing is, I'm, I'm, I'm a virgin."
"Oh," Allie raised her eyebrows.
How could this guy be the father of her children if he was saying he was a virgin? Allie felt like she was going crazy. Was he a long lost twin that Dean never mentioned? But Kathy would have said something. Before she fainted, she recognized him as Dean, so Allie couldn't have been that insane. She had to have that DNA test done right away.
"I know, such a turn off, right?" CJ crossed his arms, not knowing what to do with them.
"No, not at all," Allie snapped back to reality. "I feel bad that I was making all these moves on you when you're so inexperienced."
"For the record, I do like your moves."
They both chuckled after a long silence. The stars began shining in the sky. Far away, they could see a caravan of vehicles leaving the property from the side lawn.
"So that's where they hid their cars so that I didn't notice them when I got home," she said.
"Everyone seemed to like you," said CJ.
"Some of them are suck ups, but I like them all."
They began walking back to the house again.
"Goodness gracious, look at your clothes and your feet," said Kathy.
"Can we play in the mud, too, mommy?" Asked Andrew.
Allie and CJ laughed.
"It's dark outside," Allie ruffled his hair. "How about another day, yeah?"
"Okay," her son smiled.
"You boys, go change into your pj's and wait in your bedroom for story time."
The boys propelled upstairs.
"I'm no Millennial but my Baby Boomer instinct is telling me your generation is not a big fan of mud; unless there was an iPhone in it and you were both trying to fight for it." Kathy squinted at Allie and CJ.
CJ pressed his lips together and nodded in agreement. He couldn't even afford Huawei, so fighting for an iPhone was a possibility.
"Ugh," Allie curled her upper lip. "I broke up with Wayne and he didn't like that."
Kathy gasped and covered her mouth.
"Don't worry," the girl put her at ease. "CJ got there in time."
"I didn't think of Wayne as the kind of aggressive guy," said the mother-in-law. "But I'm happy he's gone. He wasn't the one for you." She winked.
"Mommy, we're ready for story time," yelled Daniel from the top of the stairs.
"That was so fast," replied Allie. "I didn't get a chance to change."
"I got this," Kathy tapped her arm.
She climbed on the first staircase and stopped. She turned around and smiled at CJ. The man looked around side to side awkwardly, wondering if she was staring at something other than him.
"It was so nice to see you again...Clyde," said the middle-aged woman.
"It was nice meeting you, too, Ms. Freeman." CJ thought the woman was as weird as her daughter-in-law.
Kathy nodded and turned back upstairs. As she was leaving, they could see her wiping as if something was stuck to her face.
"Come on, I'll show you the guest room," Allie walked past the kitchen and CJ followed her.
"If you run out of anything, there's more in the guest bathroom." Allie pointed at a door opposite of the bed.
"Thanks, boss lady." CJ grabbed the towel and toothbrush Allie had set on the ottoman.
"CJ?" She played with her fingers.
"I know it's late but I really need to ask, why did you say money was the reason you were homeless?"
CJ sighed and sat on the ottoman.
"I'm afraid you're not gonna like the answer."
"I promise I won't judge. I just wanna help," she sat beside him.
"About five years ago, I was taken to the emergency room with a stomachache and a high fever. I thought it was something I ate or appendicitis. It turned out I had an infection as a consequence of something I did a long time ago."
"Does it have to do with your scar?"
"Yes. As a kid, I got mixed up with the wrong people and ended up selling a kidney for a mere 10 thousand dollars to pay back a loan shark. The so called doctors didn't do a very good job when they closed the wound."
Allie held on to his arm as if she was about to fall off the ottoman.
"A kidney? You got a kidney removed?" She panted. "But I thought you said you don't remember how you got the scar."
"I don't. That's the thing." He stood up and threw the towel back on the bed. His hands rubbed his temples, retrieving the information. "The messed up part about it is that I don't remember any of it. 8 years ago, I woke up in a hospital bed. There were two men in scrubs and a nurse. She explained to me that something went wrong with the anesthesia and that I was never going to get my memories back. I asked her if she knew where I lived. She said that because it was all done under the table, the only information they could give me was my name, Clyde Jacobson. They left 10K by the heart monitor and a doctor in a surgical mask came to pick it up. Then, the nurse told me I was free to go. We talked for a while and since I couldn't remember where I lived, she told me I could stay with her for a while. I had no other choice but to accept her offer."
"Oh my God! 8 years ago, you say." Allie's heart was in her throat. Her hands were sweating but they were cold. Her spine was stiff.
It was all a lie. Kidney removal. 8 years ago. Same time frame. Someone had faked Dean's death and made him believe all of that. That had to be the truth. Only two people she knew were capable of doing such a heinous crime: Olivia and Grayson Clarke.
They did that to hurt her. They knew losing Dean was going to be a worse punishment than losing her mother's inheritance or killing her. But both of them had been sentenced to many years in prison. And how could they know that Dean was going to donate his kidney? Perhaps they had connections outside.
Yes. That's what happened. They paid people to do this.
She was sure CJ was Dean, and she wanted to tell him the truth. She wanted to tell him that he didn't sell his organ in the black market. That he actually gave it away for free to save her life.
All of a sudden, every thought accumulated in her head and she couldn't utter a word. What proof did she have of all of this? What if he didn't believe her?
"Anyway, when my only kidney failed 5 years ago, the doctors were able to save it, but as a result, I ended up drowning in medical bills. I wanted to declare bankruptcy to make them disappear, but I didn't have a social security or birth certificate. All I had was the driver's license that was in my pocket when they removed my kidney."
"Did you try looking for your family?"
"Of course, but I couldn't go to the police because I would've had to explain what I did. And if the old me was capable of selling a kidney, I didn't want to imagine what bigger problems I got myself into. Maybe this was a good thing that happened to me. Maybe I was a bad person and forgetting it all left me with the better version of myself."
No. You weren't a bad person.
She wanted to scream the truth, but she had to have a plan; a plan that included paying a visit to her ex-fiancé in prison and finding who the hell was that nurse.