Feisty Francesca

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#16 Undress me to the naked truth

“Oh yeah,” Joshua grunts, closing his eyes and throwing his head back against the couch cushions. “That feels good.”

I laugh and turn up the speed on the hair dryer, blowing more cool air up his cast. After a few minutes, he opens his eyes and tell me that he’s good now. I turn off the blow-dryer and unplug it, putting it on the coffee table and taking a seat on the love seat angled towards the couch where he’s sitting.

“Thanks, Franny,” he says, sagging with relief. “You’re an angel.”

“Just nurse who broke her arm once,” I reply, smiling at him.

“Can I offer you something to drink?” he asks, moving to get up from the couch.

“I think I can manage finding the fridge,” I assure him. “You stay put.”

“No!” he says forcefully, pushing himself up and grabbing the crutches leaning against the coffee table. “You came all the way here to blow me. The least I can do it get you a drink. I can manage.”

As I watch him make his way to the kitchen, I immediately get why he said he’s not good with his crutches. He’s using them all wrong.

“Erm… Josh?” I ask getting up and walking over to him. “Did the doctor show you how to use these?”

“No, one of the nurses did,” he says, frowning at me. “Why? Am I doing it wrong?”

“Yeah,” I say honestly. “Can I show you?”

He nods, sitting down on a barstool at his large kitchen island and handing me the crutches. I walk around with them, showing him how to place his weight, what angle his arms should be in, all the things that are like second nature to me due to my nursing training. I hand them back and he tries to mimic me.

“That’s much better,” he says as he moves around the room more easily. “Like I said, you’re an angel.”

“Again, just a nurse,” I reply with a smile. “How about I get us some drinks, huh? Another mistake many people make when using crutches is trying to do all the things they could do before they broke their leg. Just take advantage of the situation. Let people take care of you.”

“Okay,” he sighs, making his way back to the couch. “I’d like a cup of coffee.”

“Well fuck,” I mumble to myself, looking at his fancy coffee machine. How the hell do I operate this thing?

“Do I need to come over?” he asks. When I look at him, I realize he’s smirking. He knew exactly what he was asking me, didn’t he? He’s enjoying this way too much.

“Just tell me what to do,” I order him.

“Grab a mug from the top left cabinet,” he says.

I roll my eyes and do as he says. I grab two, wanting a fancy cappuccino myself.

“Now press the red button at the bottom to turn it on.” He yells instructions at me for a while, and I curse myself for offering to make him a drink. I need to do so much work that it would have been faster to just go out to a coffee place nearby and buy us some.

“Your machine is a torture device,” I tell him when I hand him his caramel latte. “And this is a very girly drink.”

He rolls his eyes. “Please. What the hell is a girly drink? I just like sweet things.”

“Wait – this is a latte,” I realize while I sit down in the loveseat with my cappuccino. “Aren’t you lactose intolerant?”

“Lactofree, baby,” he jokes. “I’ve got special milk. Didn’t you notice?”

I walk back to the kitchen and open the fridge back up. He’s right – I didn’t notice the huge letters screaming that this milk is fit for people who are lactose intolerant.

“Good,” I tell him, sitting back down. “I don’t want to hang out with some gassy guy.”

He grins. “I like you. Shaughna told me about you, but she never said you were this funny.”

“I could say the same about you.”

We smile and then sip our drinks. Damn, that’s a good cup of cappuccino. We enjoy our coffees in silence, but it’s not uncomfortable. It could have been, since we don’t really know each other, but he’s got a sort of calm air about him that makes me feel at ease.

After the drinks, we talk about everything that happened, comparing notes on the fight, and then we move onto lighter subjects like movies and music. I tell him that I play guitar and piano, and he immediately tells me to go into his bedroom and grab his guitar to play him something.

“I’m not just going to sing,” I say, feeling a little flustered. “I never let anyone hear me sing.”

“You just blew me,” he teases. “We already established over the phone that we’re best friends now, Franny. Grab my guitar. I promise I will play you something too.”

Well damn, I can’t say no to that. I get up and walk into the room he points out to me. His bedroom is huge, with a king-size bed in the middle, a huge wardrobe and three guitars. One is an electrical guitar, the other two are acoustic. I grab the one that’s most like the one I have at home and carry it over to my seat, sitting down with it on my lap, trying it out.

“Tuned to perfection,” Joshua assures me. “Now play for me.”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I wasn’t kidding when I said no one ever hears me sing. Of course I sing along to the radio in the car, but that is different. I hardly ever play guitar for people. I sometimes play on the piano in the pediatrics wing, but those are kid’s songs, and all the kids sing along when I do that. I don’t truly perform. Ever. I get stage fright.

I decide to play a song I’ve been practicing in the privacy of my living room the past couple of months. I find the right cords and start playing, signing along when I get into it.

“Baby, we could strip it down. We could take it back to basics. Baby, we control the sound. We could make it wake the neighbours, but baby, let’s be quiet now. Reach out, pull down on the fader. We don’t have to get so theatrical. ’Cause you know even simple can be special.”

To my surprise, Joshua joins in, his voice blending with mine in perfect harmony. “We don’t have to get loud to lose it. All we need is just me and you. We don’t have to scream out to prove it. We could keep it all acoustic. Ooh, keep it all acoustic. Ooh, if you keep it all. Let me see the real you. Baby, take off all your make-up. Undress me to the naked truth, until we’re both uncomplicated.”

We finish the song together, my eyes still closed. He’s got a beautiful voice, very sensual and deep, different from the way he speaks. I open my eyes when the song is over, meeting his curious gaze.

“Billy Raffoul,” he says, sounding surprised. “Acoustic.”

I just nod and put down the guitar.

“You’ve got a wonderful voice,” he compliments me, his blue eyes so intense that I have to look away. “Seriously, you sound… I don’t know. You gave me goosebumps.”

My cheeks heat up and I look down at my hands. “I never sing in front of other people.”

“Well, you should,” Joshua says immediately. “Hand me that guitar.”

I do as he says, watching him while he struggles to find a comfortable way to hold it with his broken leg propped up on the coffee table. He starts playing and I immediately recognize another song from my favorite singer: You be love.

“You can be the potter, I’ll be the clay,” Joshua sings in that sensual voice of his, his curls swinging in front of his face. “You can be the blacksmith, I’ll be the blade. You can be the poet, I’ll be the song. You can be the sunlight, I’ll be the dawn. You be love, I will be your love.”

His eyes find mine and I know he wants me to join in, but I just can’t. I feel weird now. Uncomfortable. He just smiles and continues the song, singing on his own. Little does he know that I had this song on repeat during my darkest days when I was still deep in the pit, unable to get over Aston. I was deeply in love with him, crying over him. This was only a few days after he told me we were never going to be more than friends. This song cuts me deep. Really deep.

Finally, when Joshua gets to my favorite words, I can’t help myself. I join in.

“If you were heaven, I would gladly take my last breath. If you are the edge, then I would gladly take the next step. Be the rain, coming down, be the flood. Come on take me ’til I, take me ’til I drown. I need you now.”

We finish the song together, my eyes down on the floor, even though I can feel Joshua’s eyes on me. A tear slips out and I wipe it away, still singing along. When the song is over, Joshua puts the guitar away and shifts to the edge of the couch, trying to reach me, but he can’t. He’s too immobile with his broken leg.

“Are you okay?” he asks softly. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“I just…” I shake my head and wipe away a last traitorous tear. “That song… I used to listen to it when my… well, he’s not really my ex, but the guy I was seeing… not even seeing, just sleeping with I guess. Anyway, this song…”

“I get it,” Joshua assures me. “Trust me, I do.”

“I need to go,” I say. I had been planning on taking Joshua out of his house and take him shopping for a blow-dryer, since the one on his coffee table is mine, but I’m not up for that anymore. “See you later. Thanks for the cappuccino.”

“Franny!” Joshua yells after me, but he’s not fast enough with his cast and the crutches. I’m already outside before he’s even halfway through the living room.

Cursing myself, I drive back home, the radio turned up to its max. Why did I do this? Why did I let him talk me into playing and singing for him? I always get emotional over songs. I only performed in front of other people once, and that was at the talent show at my high school. It was a few months after Dad died, and I played a song that meant a lot to my father. I ended up bawling my eyes out on stage. I never played again after that. Not in front of people. I do play guitar or piano sometimes when people can hear me, but I don’t sing. I never sing. Only when I’m alone.

I take a deep breath when I stop at a traffic light, forcing myself to calm down. This isn’t Joshua’s fault. It’s mine. I shouldn’t have told him that I played at all. Now I need to get back to my happy place so I can enjoy my date with James tonight. He deserves fun Franny, not this sad pathetic mess I turned myself into. Memories of my father wash over me and I start to cry again. I take a turn and pull up in front of my apartment building, slumping down and staying in the car until I’m a little calmer.

I rush up to my apartment, hoping Thomas won’t hear me come back home. He and his friend have their own company developing apps, so he works from home a lot, which means he is probably at home right now. I don’t want anyone to see me like this, not even Thomas.

When I’m alone and the door is locked, I sink down on the couch with my phone, seeing that I have three missed calls from Joshua. I sent him a text to let him know I got home okay and to apologize for the scene I made. I’m such a drama queen. I try to call James, but I hang up before the even phone rings. He’s on patrol, and besides… am I ready to talk to him while I’m crying? We’ve only been on two dates. I don’t want to scare him off.

There’s only one person to call, I realize. I tap her name and she picks up right away.

“Mom,” I say, tears still flowing. “I miss Dad.”

“I know honey,” she says like it’s perfectly normal for her 26-year-old daughter to call her in the middle of the day and blurt out something like that. “I do too.”

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