Jackson’s old blue ute turned off the main road and started to drive up the hill, into the hot tropics surrounding the Australian beach town. I looked at the road's surroundings, noticing that there weren’t many other houses seeming to be up here on the mountain. I had always assumed that since he was always on the water, he would want a house close to town but the farther up we climbed the less that seemed true.
I glanced aside at him, his face set to grim with a slightly furrowed brow, thinking. He hadn’t said a word since the nurse wheeled me out to his car in the wheelchair. Hobbling to the car, he hadn’t even given me his hand to assist me in the car. And since? Silence. Stony silence. Thick and telling.
“So, why aren’t you on the tour this morning? I didn’t know you had a replacement on call?” Jackson seemed so much a part of his boat that the thought of someone else behind the wheel seemed absurd. He finally grunted at my attempt for small talk but kept his eyes on the road as it twisted and turned.
“No replacement. I canceled the tours this week, arranged for the Revenge to have an overhaul for the next 7 days. Starting back up in the New Year.”
My head snapped over to him in the driver’s seat, still looking ahead and down his arm to the road, purposefully ignoring my surprise. “But...that's...its the busiest time of the year. The most money, you lo..” Jackson turned his head slightly to me with pursed lips and met my eyes for a brief second, warning me not to finish my sentence. He knew perfectly well what he lost. Probably ten thousand in revenue.
Immediate guilt set over me, knowing what he had been saving for. He couldn’t get another replacement crewmen in time, at full capacity, of course, he wasn’t able to do the job by himself like he had to in the quiet season.
“Jackson, I’m sor..”
“Forget about it. Boat needed some sprucing up,” he clipped before pulling the wheel to the left and slowly turning into a hidden driveway with no mailbox or signage. I watched as the green ‘yard’, really just a humid, untamed jungle, passed by and eventually opened up to show a larger sprawling ranch-style house.
The wrap around porch was lined with floor to ceiling windows on the front, looking over the yard, and down the mountain to the ocean lining the horizon. For all the modern architectural design, the place looked old, lived in. The ‘Vail’ sign next to the front door, an old, broken down truck tucked away to the side, a rusty porch swing on the corner of the house. It was a family home. I now understood why Jackson Vail would do something as shady as drug transportation. To keep this.
A piece of heaven in the middle of the verdant jungle.
He pulled the car up to the front porch, and looked over to me, down my bare leg to my one unshoed foot. A simple bandage covering the welts. His gaze lingered over it for only a fraction of a second before coming back to the wheel in front of him, still gripping it.
“Can you walk?”
“I can hobble,” I replied, also looking down at the foot. Jackson sighed and leaned down and across the center console to look up the steep front porch stairs. He shook his head and exited the car and I opened my own door, bag in hand to stare up at the house.
“Hold on.” His deep voice remarked beside me and a warm arm pressed against the backs of my knees, knocking them out while another strong-arm cane behind my back and suddenly Jackson's chest was in my face and I cradled in his arms. I withheld my gasp and clutched the overnight bag in my arms.
Lifting me with moderate ease, he took the stairs two at a time, and the breath suddenly left my lungs with our closeness. I stole a peek up at his face, concerned only with the stairs. I hadn’t missed that ‘Malibu’ had passed his lips again. He was angry, and after I had taken myself out of the roster for work, essentially canceling a week’s worth of income, I guess I understood why.
He mounted the porch and hefted my body in his arms to open the front door, quickly passing through and kicking it closed. He paused for a second and I looked around. The interior didn’t have the twelve-foot ceilings of home but was just as nice. Wooden floors, a big open space that held the kitchen, dining, and a couch facing a wall with a mounted TV near the front window of the porch.
I looked to the couch, a plush sofa of deep grey ,old but comfortable looking. Perfect for a semi-invalid that hadn’t watched any TV for as long as I could remember.
Instead of putting me on it, he seemed to have made up his mind and walked further into the house, past the open area and through it, coming to a large nook with a large leather armchair surrounded by bay windows. Rounding it, he lowered me down, dropping me the last few inches unceremoniously, my legs hanging over one of the arms.
He stood and I arranged myself, looking up to see him staring down at me. His brow was set into a deep V, a confused expression on his face as he looked at me in the deep leather chair. Glancing over to the bay windows, I smiled at the view, the jungle outside was thirty or so feet away, and the palms facing the house seemed the type to attract birds.
There was a slim bookshelf to the side of the right window, full of books of the area and a few classics. “Nice. Beautiful view.”
Jackson took a step back and ran a hand through his hair, “Uh, I think I have a pair of crutches around here somewhere. You’ll be staying in my old room down this end of the house, your duffel bag from the boat is already in there. It has a bathroom right next to it.” He gestured behind the chair, almost distracted by having another person in his space.
I gave him a congenial smile, feeling some kind of new anxiousness coming off of him as he shifted his weight between his legs, thinking of whatever else he wanted to say. Another step back, looking everywhere else but me. “Well, I’ll uh, I’ll just go find those crutches.”
He swung around the chair and left me with the view outside. Adjusting myself again, I had been doing a good job not to knock my foot, but accidentally caught it on the edge of the chair’s arm and flinched. Goddamn jellyfish. I grabbed my shin and pulled it up to really examine my ankle for the first time.
The welts would fade in the next few days, but the young doctor had made it clear, I would be left with a scar that would eventually turn white. But always there.
Wood clattered on wood and I jumped at the unexpected noise, looking down to see Jackson’s pair of crutches landing on the floor beside the chair. “Those should fit,” his baritone voice sounded behind the chair, before adding, “I’ve got some house chores to do,” in a clipped voice. I awkwardly swiveled my head around to watch Jackson’s back take long strides towards the kitchen and down the other hallway at the end of the house.
I blew my fringe out of my face in resignation. Whatever was happening in Jackson’s brain, it seemed that we were no longer in the ‘friend’ zone, or anything else that I had felt not even two nights ago in a dreamy state above the electric tide. I leaned back in the leather chair, watching the slight swaying trees outside. That hurt. Feeling elation and butterflies and all that other shit when he wrapped a warm strong arm around me and together we watched a miracle beneath our feet.
Now we were back to ‘Malibu’.
I sighed once more. Maybe I would just never understand men. Pissed at me for costing him a few thousand dollars, okay. I had ten times that in my daily checking account. But after two months with the man and the business, I understood.
To totally take us back to a hating game though. Rough.
I settled back into the comfy seat and hung my legs over the arm, taking in the chair itself. Someone made this nook their own. The seat was too worn for Jackson, a man who spent 6 days a week on the ocean for it to be his. Mindlessly rubbing the smooth arm of the leather, I glanced over to the accompanying bookshelf.
On the second shelf, there was a smoking pipe, something that a sailor from older times would carry. I rubbed the arm again in thought. Vail Senior. The father who died around a year ago.
Something loud sounded at the far end of the house. A door slamming. I tried to swivel in my seat but only spotted a shadow passing by the front windows. This was going to be a long week of ‘recovery’ if I was going to be living with the guilt of driving my employer and crush out of his own house.
I listened to the sounds of the silent, peaceful house for a few more minutes, spying some tropical birds fluttering between the outside trees. I understood why the father I had never met, or whomever this chair belonged to, chose this spot. There was no ocean view, unlike the front porch, but it still held something of paradise in the idyllic serenity of the window and swaying trees behind them.
From behind me again, the sound of a car ignition started up and drove away and I frowned at the noise. Great. Now literally driving Jackson out of his own house. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I had gone along with it when he said I was staying with him because, even though I could now use my credit card and choose a hotel, the thought of being with Jackson in his personal space after what Christmas Eve gave me something beyond butterflies, electricity maybe.
I shouldered my day bag and picked up the crutches to test them. Not perfect, but nearly. Free of fear of being caught snooping with Jackson out, I slowly made my way down the hallway, three doors closed and one nearest open. I peeked into the open one. A nice king single against the floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the front porch. Pale blue linen that was well used but still in good condition with my green army duffel bag at the end of the bed. There a tall dresser on the opposite wall, with a small corner desk.
Jackson's childhood bedroom, now my bedroom for the week.
Throwing the day bag onto the bed, I continued hobbling down the hall, coming to the promised bathroom. Nothing special but it did have a full tub against the frosted glass of the front window. I shut the door, and went to the next room on the garden side, surprised when met with a full office library. Another ceiling to floor window was placed in the center of the room but this time, it was thin, allowing bookshelves to line the surrounding walls.
A large oak desk was in front of the window, a laptop open, books and ledgers littered the edges. I hopped a few feet in, studying the corners. A small love seat was in the corner, a pillow, and throw over showing that at some stage, it was a preferred alternative to the strict looking chair behind the oak desk.
A few more hops and I sat behind the desk, swiveling to look back through the tall window. The same tall palms, backed by eucalyptus trees swayed in the wind. Using my uninjured foot, I spun a few more times in the seat, slowly stopping to stare at the laptop and desk. The laptop was off but Post-Its cluttered the sides of the screen and I looked at them with interest. A name of a bank here, the number of the harbormaster down there, and one up the very top at the center.
Wes Hoover 04656590054
The date was underlined in frenetic red pen strokes, almost an exclamation by themselves. I took a moment to study the message, obviously very important to be in such a prominent position. TF? I ran it through my mind a few times before it clicked.
Eight hundred thousand? That was it? For a ‘nice’ boat as Linda described it and the source of Jackson’s childhood memories with his dad, it seemed like a steal. Then again, I was coming from a place where 800K was roughly a tenth of what my grandfather had bequeathed me in his will. Not so for many people.
I swiveled again, this time, accidentally knocking my foot on the edge of the table and gasping at the pain. It had been literally two days since I was stung, and it still burned like a bitch in heat. Deciding my experiment was at an end, and it was time for the painkillers the hospital had given me, I left the office, only turning once more to try and imagine Jackson, leaned over the laptop, raking his hands through his long dark hair, his face crumpled in anxiousness staring at that note.
Returning back to Jackson’s room, I rummaged through the bag, the bright neon orange bottle immediately on top. The doctor had warned that the first few days, the drug would probably knock me out for several hours. The window looking outside showed a glimpse of the blue horizon, a deep ocean against the endless sky I had called home for some time now and I swallowed a pill, laying down on Jackson’s pillow.
It almost smelled like him and I curled into it desperately.
I opened my eyes up to the dark window, the porch outside was empty and barren while the sky behind it showed the clear night, bountiful with stars. I sat up in the king single bed, slightly wincing still with the pain in my foot, the grogginess of the painkillers still in my head. Something had woken me.
A faint clatter of plates from somewhere down the hall drew my attention to the door, and the smell of meat came through. Jackson had come home. I swung my legs over, if it wasn’t for the fire still setting my foot, I would have had to say this was the most rested I had felt since I arrived in the sunburnt country.
I picked up the crutches from the side of the bed and made my way down the hall, coming into the large space, the kitchen across the other side of the room. Jackson’s long back, swathed in a blue wife-beater singlet, was standing at the stove, steam rising in front and up to the vent. He stretched his neck out to the side, the muscles flexing and he grabbed them, massaging his fingers deep into the skin.
I took a deep breath on the threshold of the room, taking in the sight. I was definitely still doing penance for all the blood on my hands if I was literally stuck in a house a thirst-trap that looked the way Jackson Vail did. He turned his head slightly at the sound of my crutches and I came up to the kitchen island, sitting at one of the stools across from him.
“Get your house chores done?” He nodded slightly but kept silent.
“Anything I could help with?” He sighed and tilted his head up to the ceiling with an obvious sigh. He took a moment more, turning over steak on the pan in front of him, before replying to the stove in a leveled voice,
I sighed and leaned both elbows on the island. A very long fucking week.
A few more minutes later, he turned on his heel, two plates in hand and put one down in front of me complete with cutlery. A steak and chips with a simple salad. I pursed my lips in surprise at the nice arrangement, and he noticed it, sitting at a seat at the end of the island.
I shook my head, “Nothing, it looks great.”
He frowned slightly but picked up his fork and began to eat and I followed suit. We ate in silence, and I looked around at the kitchen for the first time. Simple, but nice. A few years old, and probably could have been renovated. Definitely a man’s kitchen. I looked down the island at Jackson, noticing for the first time he had a small paperback next to his plate.
“What are you reading?”
He kept reading, flipping a page and speaking as he turned it,
“Nothing you would be interested in.”
I pursed my lips. Okay, now he was being a dick. Leaning down and over to catch a glimpse of the book’s spine, the large bold font was easy to read. The Odyssey.
“Think you have the market cornered on ancient tales of sailors lost at sea, huh?” I retorted with sass, taking the last bite of my steak, and officially giving my last fuck to whatever had made him change and let go of our ‘friendship’. Walking on eggshells with the man was too tiring when you only had one foot to use.
In my peripheral, Jackson’s fork paused halfway to his mouth with salad.
“He wasn’t lost. He was cursed.”
“Yeah, he was cursed to be lost at sea for ten years.”
He now pointedly put down his fork with an annoyed look. “My point is that it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t a bad sailor.”
I snorted, "Of course it was his fault. What kind of sailor doesn’t give tribute to Poseidon before a big voyage? And let’s not forget, he actually stabbed Poseidon’s son in the eye.”
He blinked in almost stupor at my knowledgable response. I actually didn’t care about the book. Odysseus was probably the most pathetic figure in the whole series and definitely got the raw end of the deal. But fighting with Jackson was a world better than him ignoring me.
It seemed, however, that he was wise to my game, because instead of trying to fight me on it like Jackson of old would, he simply sighed and shut the book, now finished with his dinner. “Well, just agree to disagree, huh Malibu?”
And he rose with his empty plate to take to the seat. The tone with how he said the now hated nickname, was my final straw and I let my fork drop to the plate, clattering for his attention. He turned his head back, maybe a little surprised by the ire he found on my face.
“Are we back to this? ‘Malibu’ and this ‘hating-me’, shit? What happened to ‘friends’? And being ‘in this together’? If it’s the money lost from this week I can…”
Jackson rounded on me across the island, an angry look on his handsome face. “We are certainly not in this together. You were never on that boat, got it?”
“What are you even talking about? You’re telling me this, now? After two weeks? You just want me to forget everything from that night?”
He straightened up, the anger gone, now replaced by a cold stern look. He wasn’t taking any discussion here.
“You’ll be gone soon, right? Leaving us? Back to America, back to your ‘real-life’ and whatever you had planned? Best just to forget everything up here, maybe even use the rest of the year and your visa to go down south for the harvest season when your foot is better.”
I leaned back as if he had just slapped me. I’d be gone soon? Leaving? Oh for fuck’s sake.
I thought he had just been cheated on and dumped, but that wasn’t all of it. She had left a hole alongside the one his father made.
“Jesus, that’s what this is about? Degrading me to make yourself feel better after some British tart left you? I feel bad for you on that, I really do, being dumped sucks if you were really into her. But I’m not her. I told you a long time ago.”
Jackson’s eyes now flared, a new kind of anger coming over them. Like I had pierced some internal organ and done it maliciously. He nearly spat his reply,
“Fuck you, Carter. You don’t know shit.”
I flinched at the aggression in his voice, and he stalked around the islands towards me. Our gazes locked and he did his typical raking his hand through his hair, trying to compose himself but failing terribly.
“Do you have any idea what it’s been like since you came? Watching you, seeing you, everyday get in and off the boat, watching you sleep next to me. Giving your smile to everyone and then turning to me with indifference. Acting to hate you to keep you away… for an entire summer? The goddamn longest, cruelest summer of my fuckin life,” he paused for a brief second and I had to remember to breathe as he furiously paced a few feet back and forth.
“And then you fucking jump into the water like a god damn torpedo and get yourself nearly killed. You stopped breathing. Did you know that? I watched that doctor pump life into you. I nearly died just because you nearly fucking died, all because of what? Some drunk lady can’t hold her lunch.” He swiveled on his heel, away from me with a now pained look in those green eyes.
“Fuck!” he screamed to himself, picking up my water glass on the island and throwing it violently into the sink where it smashed, pieces scattering everywhere. I recoiled at the sound and his ferocity. He didn’t seem to notice though, still lost in his own feelings, and immediately stormed off in the direction of his room, the sound of a door slamming again.
I sat for a moment, still in a daze at what just happened, wondering if it was real. The broken glass in the sink giving testament that, yes, Jackson Vail had just confessed something important. I wasn’t sure what it was just yet, but it seemed like a watershed moment for him.
Before our ‘event’, when asshole Jackson was a constant he still had never shown that kind of anger. Actually yelling at me, violence. Hell, even when he shot those men and cut them up for shark bait, he was controlled and calm.
‘Acting to keep you away’? The words echoed in the empty kitchen.
Holy shit, Jackson didn’t hate me, not at all. My mind flew back, a flurry of images and moments of Jackson giving me looks I hadn’t understood at the time.
The confused looks when I would smile, folding his arms against me in defense to protect himself. Looking like a man lost at sea after our affair in Cabin 2, something I had taken for a quick release of being a man and woman out to sea with each other for most of the week, it had been something more.
He felt something more and was fighting it with everything he had. But why? He knew what I felt. He had even accused me of eye-fucking him every time he was around. I thought back over his angry tirade.
‘Then you’ll leave’.
Because the father had left, because the quick-fix girlfriend had left, and it was natural to think that I would leave soon. I hadn’t taken psych 101 at Princeton, but it didn’t take a professional to figure out Jackson was dealing with abandonment and trust issues. I thought he had exercised the whole trust thing out with my birthday and the useless background check but not enough to let someone in apparently.
I leaned over in my seat, trying to view the master bedroom door far down the hall, the sound of something else smashing coming from behind it, along with another intelligible curse from Jackson. I straightened up, resigned that in no way I was going to step into that mess. A piece of glass fell suddenly from the sink, still in the aftermath of his outburst and I was about to get up and clean the remnants of dinner and broken cups when I stopped.
Jackson made this mess, he could clean it up, I was not going to be the slave to his mental tirades. Looking at my finished plate, I picked up the crutches and hopped back to the library.
A clock by the front door chimed and I listened to it, counting them out. Eleven at night. I shut the book ‘The Iliad’, the companion to Jackson’s Odyssey, and stretched out on the study’s loveseat. I was too tall for it to lay comfortably but my foot hung over the arm well enough that it didn’t knock anything.
The chimes ended and the silence of the house resumed, and I listened intently. Nothing. A few hours ago, I had heard a door open and glass tinkling, and assumed that Jackson had calmed down and come out to clean up the mess I had refused to. But he hadn’t come looking for me, and since then, the house had been quiet.
The crutches made surprisingly little sound as I came down the hallway, my suspicions confirmed when the kitchen, lit by a small light above the stove, had been cleaned. Jackson’s door was closed at the other end of the house, dark underneath the door. He was asleep. I stared out the door for a few more seconds, hoping for some fortuitous reasoning that he should come out. That we should both just be going to get a glass of water at the same time, and run into each other in the kitchen.
Something, anything. A bare excuse of a reason to have him calmly talk to me. Touch me.
But the door stayed dark, and after a few more seconds of feeling like a personal stalker inside someone’s own house, I hopped over the back patio doors, opening one of them and exiting.
The idyllic green jungle had turned sinister in the night. Even with a nearly full moon overhead, illuminating the deck chairs and table, the eucalyptus trees kept everything under their purview black. Ignoring the new itchy and uncomfortable feeling that I could be seen from anything lurking out in the forest, I sat on the deck table and scooted up its length, the height more comfortable for my foot, and laid back to look at the moon.
Life was so strange. By now, I should have been working as an intern in Magness Industries, shadowing dad, doing on-site visits, learning the ropes to take over the reins. That had been the plan before I left for Princeton, even still in my first year. Then I had joined the sorority, found fake friends and frenemies in similar lives, discovered what they did with their black Centurion credit cards, and suddenly I had no idea what I wanted.
The strong sea breeze drifted over the porch, disturbing the silent trees, and I unconsciously took a deep breath, closing my eyes against the full moon slightly overhead. This. I might want this.
The deck at my feet creaked and I lifted my head, coming onto my elbows.
Standing there, still in his wife-beater and jeans looked like a man torn in the darkness. His unruly hair cast shadows across his face but his lips were still visible in the brightness of the moon. They were parted, almost in wonder, and I watched them as his fingers gently trailed down the top of my bare foot.
I pushed myself up and he kept his gaze presumably on my foot for another moment before meeting my face. His hair fell away, revealing his eyes, slightly welled but full of concern.
“Don’t wreck me, Carter,” he said with sincerity and focus as he grasped the back of my knees and pulled my body slowly back down the table until he was between my legs. My mouth gaped slightly, unsure of what to say. Wreck him? We could absolutely wreck each other, dismantle ourselves to our bones. His breath picked up slightly, the wide chest broadening right in front of me and I looked down.
A slight outline of his erection could be seen through his jeans, and I reached for his belt, slowly unbuckling it. His hand clasped the top of mine, stilling it and I looked up,
“Don’t talk,” I told him. We were past that. Talking, arguing, whatever it was we did. I was tired of it. I had held so much tension in my body over this man it had drained me and I was done with it.
Clasping his neck, I nuzzled the beard I had fantasized about and found his mouth, opening mine wide to make sure he had access to it all. To give him everything, I kissed him with vigor, to take him in. All of him, the full lips, his breath, his tongue, tilting my head so we interlocked like a puzzle. After so much pent up desire, I wanted to take it all. He met me with the same intensity, and the tension suddenly left his body as he nearly fell into me, months of wanting now satiated.
My hands returned to his belt, unbuckling, kneading, and pulling until I pushed his jeans off his hips and grabbed his ass to drag him into me. His hard length pushed against the crotch of my sweats and we broke our kiss, now breathless. His head came back slightly, still grasping my neck as he held us close, his eyes asking the question. Of course I was sure.
I nodded once and pulled him back to me, our teeth almost gnashing as he stepped out of his jeans and my free hand found the smoothness of his dick, stroking it up and down. Jackson groaned into my mouth and his hands found my hips, tugging at my pants, pulling them past my knees, down my foot, never breaking the seal our lips had made.
Soft fingers probed inside me, finding me almost dripping, and I felt his smile and his heart begin to race. Just like last time, every time. My body raged for Jackson Vail and anything he would deign to give it. Another deep kiss and he edged his hips into mine, before pulling us apart to look me in the eyes as he slid his length inside. We both groaned as he hit the end of me, our foreheads resting against each other.
It had been so long, apparently for both of us, and we took a moment in each other to adjust, flex, and fill. Our bodies pulsed and clenched with each other. After a moment of our tangled breaths, he slid out, looking down where we were joined, his face wholly consumed and I laid back down on the table and got lost in him thrusting in and out, while he held up the backs of my knees.
I opened my eyes up to the sky, the moon staring down at us and Jackson’s pace picked up. I turned to him, now naked, almost glowing in the moonlight. He was radiant, a gleam of sweat on his brow as he stared intently down at my body lying on the table. Jesus, he was something else. The arm muscles flexing, the solid core with abs clenching tight as he thrust, the chest hair, not full but still enough to run my hands through.
He was too beautiful to be real, too wild to be tamed.
One of his hands left my leg and came to my core, his palm circling and I had to grasp the table edges on either side of my body. Jackson saw my response, was waiting for it and switched his palm for his thumb. Oh God, I wasn’t going to last. He was thrusting too hard and too fast to keep anything in check.
I reached down and grabbed his thumb, bringing to my mouth to suck on it for a moment, and then replaced it on my clit. Jackson’s face grew focused as I helped him get me there, holding my breath as his circling thumb started to bring about a heat in my toes and an orgasm close. He reached down behind my neck and pulled me up to him, our bodies close with only his hand between us.
My eyes closed shut by themselves and he squeezed my neck hard. I looked at him still driving into me with purpose and control, and he shook his head slightly, keeping our eyes locked. He wanted me to look at him when I came, to see nothing but him, glowing and thrusting in the moonlight. Fuck, it was entrancing and I gripped and pawed at his shoulders for an anchor as I the orgasm started to take over.
My mouth opened wide to moan with release and Jackson’s face was suddenly on mine, stealing all my breath and lathering my tongue as his own orgasm started to swell inside me. Together we shuddered, as he came, emptied himself and I slowly came out of the haze of my orgasm. Jackson’s lips came to my brow, kissing every free space as he came down from his own fog.
Finally, he pulled away. His dick still flexing, breath heavy from the exertion, and he clasped my face between his two hands, making sure he had my attention with those green eyes now turned dark in the night.
“Don’t wreck me, Carter,” he repeated and this time it almost came out as a plea.