Once she’d left her parents Sunday night and was back in her own place, Jessica texted her friend, Laura.
Henry and I almost kissed.
Laura texted back in record time.
WHAT?! her use of all caps made Jessica chuckle. She could just picture her friend’s eyes bugging out when she read her text.
Three bouncing dots appeared, indicating her friend was typing more.
We’re talking about Henry... as in Josh’s friend, Henry? she asked.
Her friend’s disbelief and need for clarification was understandable, Laura knew what a jerk Henry could be with her.
Yes! she replied.
After she sent off that ‘yes’, her phone started ringing in her hand. She pressed the button to accept the call, brought the phone to her ear.
“What happened?” Laura asked.
Jessica relayed the events that led up to her and Henry’s close encounter.
“I can’t believe he almost kissed you!” Laura exclaimed when she’d finished.
Jessica still couldn’t believe it, herself. The guy whose favourite hobby was antagonizing her... the guy who loved to push her buttons, get on her last nerve, drive her up the wall... that guy had almost kissed her.
What was she supposed to make of that?
While she and Laura talked, questions rolled through her head.
Had Henry been messing with her? Had he been reacting to a little close contact and - unintentional - stimulation? (She hadn’t meant to give him a lap dance as she struggled with him for the remote, if that’s what she’d done.)
Jessica frowned over those possibilities.
She didn’t want to believe Henry had been messing with her. She didn’t want to believe he’d just been reacting... like some cause and effect situation.
But, she found it hard to believe the only other possibility left... that Henry had almost kissed her... because he’d wanted to.
Did Henry... like her? At some point... when he’d been pushing her buttons... had he developed feelings for her?
Though Jess was very confused by this possibility, she found she also liked it.
Which could only mean one thing...
... she was losing it.
Monday and Tuesday passed, and Henry and Josh didn’t stop in at the bakery either day. By Wednesday, the anxiety Jessica felt around seeing Henry again, was at high.
Every time the bell announced a customer that morning, her gaze shot to the door, looking to see if it was him and Josh.
She really needed to chill. Maybe they wouldn’t even come in today. But the fact that they hadn’t popped in yet this week, made her think they would today. They rarely went more than a day or two between visits to the bakery
The bell jingled again. Jessica put a smile on her face for the elderly man that came in.
She took his order, dropped the cranberry scone he asked for into a paper bag and handed the bag off to him, accepting the five dollar bill he gave her. She gave him his change and wished him a good day as he left.
Alone again, she busied herself wiping down counters that didn’t need wiping; there were no crumbs in sight. Several more customers came and went.
Jessica started to think Josh and Henry weren’t going to show today either and she suspected Henry was behind the two of them not coming in. He must be avoiding her.
The bell over the door rang again and Jessica looked up, was met with Josh’s smile.
Excited they’d showed up, her eyes immediately jumped from her brother to Henry, who was right behind him.
Both of them had their sunglasses on. Josh lifted his, rested them on top of his head. Henry kept his on.
Was he hiding behind them?
“Hey.” she said, eyes back on her brother.
The nerves she’d felt waiting to see Henry... exploded into butterflies and self-consciousness... two things she was definitely not used to feeling around, or because of, him.
The wispy beginnings of attraction she’d felt Sunday, were definitely thickening and solidifying. It seemed just the possibility that he liked her - in the romantic sense - had her opening the door to liking him in the same way.
Without her permission, her gaze shifted back to Henry.
He was a good looking guy, Jessica had always been aware of that... she wasn’t blind. But now, she wasn’t just aware of it... she was affected by it.
“Hey, Jess.” Josh returned her greeting. “You got any apple danishes left?” he asked.
“Yep.” she replied, whipping her eyes off Henry and busying herself getting Josh a danish.
“Don’t bother with a bag.” Josh told her, reaching for the pastry, taking it out of her tongs when she came over.
Jessica set two paper cups on the counter. Josh took one and went over to the coffee station.
Without her brother to fix her attention on, Jess looked at Henry, her nerves ticking up a notch while she waited for him to pick what he wanted.
She wished he’d take off his sunglasses. She wanted to see his eyes, see what she could read in them.
He didn’t though. And he couldn’t even be bothered to return the smile she shyly ventured to give him.
Dismay had her swallowing that smile when he just asked for a cinnamon bun.
She bagged one up for him, handed it over. He took it and the second coffee cup and turned away from her, crossed to the coffee station, leaving her frowning at his back.
He and Josh returned to the counter, paid and left... and Jessica promptly hosed down the butterflies in her stomach.
The foolish little idiots.
Josh got behind the wheel of his black F-150 and Henry claimed the shot-gun seat.
Sometimes he and Josh drove separately to their jobs, but most days they carpooled.
They both set their coffees in the cup holders between them and Josh started the truck, pulled out of his parking spot and started down the road, heading towards their first job of the day.
They’d both finished their high-fat, low-nutrition breakfast when Josh shifted his gaze from the road to him.
Henry caught the action out of the corner of his eye. After what had happened the other night at George and Linda’s, and seeing Jess this morning, he was feeling a little exposed, like Josh could see right through him and was close to discovering he liked his sister. He schooled his features before looking over at his friend.
“You sure you and Jess didn’t fight the other night?” Josh asked after he met his gaze.
Henry was glad Josh was stuck on the idea that they’d fought. He was also glad they both had sunglasses on. It was easier to lie to his friend with that layer between them.
“No, why?” he asked.
Josh shrugged, turned his attention back out the windshield.
“Getting a weird vibe.” he replied.
Henry shook his head.
“Nothing happened.” he said, guilt crawling around inside him.
Nothing had happened that he could tell his friend about anyway.
If only he could tell Josh about his feelings for Jessica. He wished he could. He confided in his friend about everything, but he couldn’t about this.
Maybe Josh would be cool with him and Jess dating. Henry wasn’t as worried about that as he was about what would happen if he and Jess got together, and then split up. If things didn’t work out between them, he’d risk losing the whole Marlin clan.
He needed to remember that.
Unfortunately, since Sunday, remembering that seemed a lot harder. He couldn’t stop seeing Jessica, perched on his legs... the surprise that had entered her eyes, followed by an answering interest.
This morning, he’d seen that interest in her eyes again, and he hadn’t acknowledged it. He couldn’t let himself acknowledge it.
He’d seen the disappointment seep into Jess’s expression at his reserved behaviour. He’d succeeded in giving her the impression that what happened Sunday night was nothing to him, that it wasn’t still with him.
Pah. As if it wasn’t.
He cursed himself.
He’d hurt Jessica with his demeanour. Hurting her was the last thing he wanted to do. Sure, he’d antagonized her for years, but that was immature, surface stuff... nothing serious.
Now, he’d actually hurt her... and that hurt him.
He felt horrible... like he’d kicked a puppy, or something. Only a monster would kick a puppy.
But, he reminded himself, he had to keep distance between him Jess. And acting like nothing had happened would help with that.
Jessica followed the thirty-something male yoga instructor at the front of the class, and transitioned from downward dog to plank pose. Beside her, Laura did the same thing.
Six months ago or so, she and Laura had gone on a bit of a health kick. One of the ways they’d improved their lifestyle was by adding yoga to their schedule. Another way was, they’d tried eating healthier.
Dropping carbs and eating more veggies had been a bust. But, while their diets had reverted back to bad habits, their yoga practice had stuck. The two of them attended Thursday night Hatha Yoga classes every week.
The instructor, Carrie, led them through a few more poses, then a short meditation, before dismissing the class.
Yoga mats were rolled up, and conversations started up among those that had come together. Shoes and belongings were collected from where they’d been left along the wall and everyone filtered out of the studio and to their cars.
Jessica had picked up Laura tonight and driven them over. She’d parked around the block. She hit a button on her Hyundai’s key fob as she and Laura came up on her car from behind. Her trunk popped open and Laura set her yoga mat in the trunk. She followed suit then shut things up.
“You feel like coming over?” she asked Laura after they were both in and buckled up and she’d started the car. “There’s new episodes of ‘The Case’.”
Please, say yes, she thought at her friend. She’d rather not go home and spend another evening brooding over Henry.
She plugged in her phone, glanced over at her friend as songs from her Spotify playlist started coming through the speakers.
“Sure.” Laura replied.
Jessica shifted gears and pulled out of her parking spot and into traffic. The downtown city streets weren’t too busy. She made good time getting from the yoga studio to her place, pulled into the underground parking lot of her apartment building.
The two of them made their way from her car to the elevator, rode it up to her apartment on the seventh floor.
“I’m gonna get a water, you want one?” Jessica asked as they slipped off their shoes in her small entrance way. She needed to quench the thirst she’d worked up in yoga class.
“Sure.” Laura replied, following her into her kitchen, which was immediately to the right of her entrance way.
Jessica filled two glasses with cold water from the fridge, handed one off to Laura, then the two of them headed into the living room where they settled on her sofa.
Grabbing the remote, Jessica turned on the TV, went into Netflix and selected the next episode of ‘The Case’.
She wasn’t normally into legal dramas, but she’d gotten into this one because it starred Michael Barbar. Like other actors, he’d recently made the switch from acting in big-screen movies to appearing in Netflix originals.
She’d turned Laura onto the show and now she couldn’t watch new episodes without her friend.
“Mm, mm, mm.” Laura hummed when the mocha skinned actor came on screen. “That man is beautiful.”
Jessica concurred with a hearty ‘mm hmm’ full of appreciation.
He certainly was. With his dark hair, dark eyes, and lean, muscled body, the man was sex on a stick.
He regularly starred in Jessica’s sexual fantasies - sometimes she liked to imagine herself as a character in his current show - their long nights working together to win a case ended with them having sex in the office. Other times she cast herself as the woman he’d fallen for in one of his romance films.
“I heard they’re dating in real life.” Laura told her when Michael’s co-star, Lily Tibbs, came into the scene.
“I’m not surprised.” Jessica commented. “I’ve seen them in interviews together. They’re really cute with each other.”
Jessica took her hair down out of the ponytail she’d put it up in for yoga class. The hair elastic went around her wrist. Leaning forward, she grabbed her water off the coffee table and sat back with it, tucking her feet under her.
She was relieved Laura had come over. Having company made it easier for her to get out of her head, and get lost in television for a couple of hours.
And she needed the distraction. Henry had been occupying her thoughts all week. Ever since Sunday.
It seemed a part of her brain was now dedicated to him. She couldn’t stop thinking of him, couldn’t stop seeing him... looking at her the way he’d looked at her on Sunday... with want in his eyes.
That moment had been walking around in her head like an elephant in a china shop, rattling her established opinions of - and feelings for - Henry.
She’d known how to act with ‘annoying Henry’. She had no game plan with him now. Needing advice, she’d texted Laura after seeing Henry Wednesday morning, told her how he had acted. Laura hadn’t been surprised he was being cool and acting like nothing happened. She’d advised her to do the same.
Doing so was probably smart, and Jessica supposed she would, but she wasn’t happy about it, and she couldn’t understand how Henry could act like nothing had happened.
After two episodes of ‘The Case’, it was a little after ten and Laura was ready to call it a night. Jess was too.
It was a week day, and they both had to get up early the next morning - Jessica for her seven o’clock start at the bakery, Laura for her eight o’clock start at the bank where she worked as a teller.
Jess dropped Laura off, and made the return trip home in a little over twenty minutes. Back at home, she locked up, turned out the lights in the kitchen and living room, and made her way to her bedroom where she changed into a cotton tank and pair of shorts, and got between the sheets of her queen-sized bed.
Just as soon as she was comfortable, her bladder reminded her she’d recently filled it with several ounces of water and insisted on being relieved. Out of bed and into the bathroom she went.
Once she was horizontal again, eyes closed, her thoughts turned to Henry.
The elephant had slipped its leash.
For probably the thousandth time, her mind went over their interaction Sunday night, zoomed in on Henry’s face, rechecking every detail that had already been noted and catalogued.
She didn’t want to brood over this anymore - she’d replayed that moment, in Henry’s lap, over and over again in the last few days. There was nothing to be gained from continuing to dissect it.
But... she and Henry had almost kissed. Of course she couldn’t let it go. The fact that he apparently could, rankled.
Huffing out a breath, she rolled onto her side, as if a change in physical position would ease her mental discomfort.
It did not.
It took her a while, but eventually, she did fall asleep.
And in sleep, her subconscious took up her thoughts of Henry, and played with them in her dreams...
Jessica made change for the older woman she was serving, wished her a nice day as she left the store. With no other customers to wait on, she started condensing items that had sold down.
Blueberry muffins were sold out. She turned to the blackboard to scratch them out and suddenly realized... Henry was there. The bell hadn’t dinged. The door hadn’t opened. He was just there, behind her.
She turned to him, brushing against his chest as she did, tilted her face up, her gaze meeting his.
Being near him set off a domino effect inside her - a buttery warmth spread through her... which tripped all her senses... which led to desire... which matured into arousal.
Her mind pressed ‘pause’ on the moment. The scenery around her and Henry blurred, dimmed, her subconscious replacing the backdrop, given the direction her emotions had taken.
When their surroundings came back into focus, she and Henry were in her apartment.
More adjustments were made. No longer were the two of them standing... now Henry was sitting on her sofa, and she was in his lap... and Henry was looking at her the way he had when they were in this same position at her parent’s place.
In the hazy way of dreams, Jessica was involved in the action, yet was a spectator at the same time.
Henry raised a hand, brushed her hair back from her face. She felt the touch and watched it happen, her breath catching.
“Jessica.” he breathed.
The way Henry said her name, the affection in his voice, sent goosebumps on a race over her skin.
“Kiss me.” he entreated, both hands now cupping her face.
There was no hesitancy in her dream-self. Just curiosity. She wanted to know what it would feel like to kiss Henry.
She licked her lips, slowly leaned forward, closing the distance between her mouth and Henry’s.
Their lips met and a sense of rightness infused her. The two of them melted into one another, their kiss deepening, tongues intertwining, hands exploring.
Jessica felt Henry’s arousal beneath her, his length pressing against her core. She became very aware of how empty she felt.
She wanted to be under him, wanted to be filled. Her dream accommodated her - one moment she was in Henry’s lap, the next she was under him, her head cushioned by a pillow at one end of her sofa.
Henry held himself above her on his forearms, his mouth still possessing hers, his hips starting to rock subtly.
If it weren’t for their clothes, he’d be inside her. All it took was that thought and her dream changed accordingly... one second she and Henry were dressed, the next they were naked and joined.
Having Henry inside her was the most sensual, erotic experience she’d ever had, her dream magnifying the intimacy. It was everything she’d never known she’d always wanted.
Jessica wrapped her legs around Henry’s hips, her arms around his back, held him tight to her. She met him thrust for thrust, the two of them creating a maelstrom of pleasure between them.
Henry’s arms burrowed underneath her, he lowered his full weight into her, but he never became too heavy.
They pushed each other closer and closer to orgasm.
Jessica was right there, right on the tip, about to fall into high-octane pleasure, when a siren outside her apartment started going off.
What the hell was that? It was so loud. So close. Sounded like it was in the room with them.
The unwelcome distraction pulled at her, her imminent fall into bliss slipping away. Suddenly, Henry was gone and she was alone... and empty.
The siren continued going off and Jessica’s dream completely fuzzed out...
Jess blinked her eyes open, oriented herself to reality.
It wasn’t a siren going off outside her apartment, it was her alarm.
Cursing the thing, she silenced it.
Rolling onto her back, she closed her eyes, hanging on to the last taste of her dream, her erogenous zones still lit up, but slowly starting to lose their happy.
She considered having a solo flight... the temptation to slip her hand between her legs and push herself over the finish line, was strong. Wound up as she was, it would only take a few clockwise circles with her fingers over her clit to get herself off.
Jessica’s core clenched around nothing, remembering how perfectly Henry had filled her in her dream.
She pictured them, mouths locked, hands clutching at each other’s bodies, and her erogenous zones went from settling down to perking right back up again.
Jessica’s eyes popped open, her cheeks prickling with heat. Throwing off the covers, she jumped out of bed like the thing was on fire.
It was one thing to have a sex dream about Henry - she couldn’t be held responsible for what her mind did while she was asleep - it was another to consciously fantasize about him.
She cursed Henry.
What the hell had he done to her?
After years of teasing and antagonizing her, he’d changed the dynamic of their relationship with one look that had probably lasted less than sixty seconds.
And now, he was acting like those sixty seconds hadn’t happened.
Friday morning, Henry and Josh got out of their truck, and as they crossed the street to Taste of Home, Henry spotted Jessica through the windows of the store front. She was smiling across the counter at a customer.
Henry’s eyes shifted to the customer, a male. The man was dressed in dark pants, and a light colored shirt. He had light brown hair and looked to be in his late twenties, early thirties.
Henry grudgingly supposed some might call the guy handsome.
Jessica’s laugh rang out as he and Josh entered the bakery. The sound hit Henry right in the sternum.
He’d always loved Jessica’s laugh. It was infectious, inviting everyone around her to join in on the merriment. It was one of his favourite sounds in the world, and he didn’t get to hear it often since he was always endeavouring to irritate her, not amuse her.
Jealousy bloomed to life in the pit of his belly.
He hated that Jessica was laughing at something this guy had said. He wanted to be the one bringing that smile to her face, drawing that laugh from her.
Approaching the counter, he reprimanded himself for his jealousy. He had no right to feel jealous.
The guy handed over a bill, collected his change from Jessica then grabbed up his coffee and bagged item off the counter between them.
“Have a good one.” Jessica smiled.
“You too.” he replied and left.
Henry’s gaze followed the guy out, a growl sounding in his head when the guy threw a smile back at Jess over his shoulder on his way out.
Jessica’s ‘hey’ pulled his gaze around to her.
She was looking at him, but quickly shifted her gaze to her brother.
“Hey.” Josh replied.
“The usual?” she asked.
Josh nodded, removed his sunglasses.
Henry’s sunglasses stayed right where they were, covering his eyes. His gaze hidden, he watched Jessica bag an apple danish for Josh, and retrieve two paper coffee cups. She set the items on the counter and Josh claimed one of the cups, headed across the room to the coffee station.
Jessica looked his way again, raised her brow, mutely asking him what he wanted. The smile her last customer had put on her face was gone, her lips at neutral.
He’d earned that look.
“Cheese danish.” he requested.
While she got him his pastry, Henry collected the other cup, went over to get his coffee.
Frustration festered inside him. A familiar, unpleasant companion.
A companion he was sick of.