Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Chapter 86 ~ Conclusion



Rachel spun the handle far enough to encourage piping hot water into the shower, dialing back just enough to keep from scalding herself.  Not that she would even notice it on this morning after.  The best she could hope for was for the water to fill the void inside her, because nothing about their last night together had been particularly satisfying or fulfilling.

It was almost as if they were just shells of themselves – there were no wild sexual antics, no twisted positions, no sweat-drenched bodies.  There was very little talking even. 

They went through the motions that should have given them satisfaction – touching, stroking and kissing virtually every inch of each other’s bodies – yet the overwhelming tone of the night wasn’t lust, but desperation.   It wasn’t to say that they didn’t complete the act.  They made love many times that night and into the early morning hours.  Each and every time he reached for her or she reached for him, Rachel sought to find something that felt like it was ‘enough’. 

Something that would quench their mutual need and desire. 

Something that would finally feel like it put a ‘period’ on this relationship, so that they both felt right in letting go and moving on without each other. 

Amid the intense search for that point of finality, they’d barely broken eye contact and there wasn’t a single moment their bodies weren’t wound around each other.  They couldn’t find a way to get close enough, deep enough, or passionate enough, but it didn’t stop them from trying.

To say it had been a gut-wrenching night would be the understatement of the century.

The only thing she could liken it to was being diagnosed with a terminal illness.  When handed a death sentence, you know logically there is no hope, but there is still some dumb, eternally optimistic part of yourself that can't help but cling to the notion that happily-ever-after might come with the morning sun.

The only thing that came with the sunrise for Rachel was exhaustion, while Jon seemed more irritable than anything.  Both made sense considering how extreme the emotions of the last twelve hours had been.  They  were so completely focused on each other that they hadn’t stopped to eat or even take in water, leaving them no better off physically than they were emotionally.

The hot spray of the shower was soothing to her aching body the instant she stepped under it, and she simply stood there for a long moment, letting it run down her back.  Just as it worked its way down to her hips and thighs, the shower door opened with a soft click. 

Any remaining aches were forgotten the minute he put his hands on her.

Every touch brought an even greater need for one ‘last’ touch.  Every kiss escalated her desire for just one more ‘last’ kiss.  One more ‘last’ bit of perfection.  But when the physical release came, it only left her wanting more and, from the way Jon stepped out of the shower without a word, he wasn’t feeling any better about it than she was.

That was when Rachel finally acknowledged this wasn’t ever going to feel ‘finished’.  It would never be enough and they were fools to keep searching for closure within one another.  The healing wouldn’t begin, for either of them, until they had truly gone their separate ways. 

After turning the faucet off and wringing out her hair, she emerged from the shower and wrapped a towel around herself. Second nature had her opening the drawer that contained Q-tips and she was stunned to find her toothbrush and other personal items still co-mingled in with his.  

Like her, he hadn’t had the heart to completely remove her from his life, let alone the ordinary drawer they’d shared.   Something about the implied intimacy of their two toothbrushes lying side by side in that drawer struck a chord deep inside her.   How on earth could two people who loved each other as much as she and Jon obviously did leave each other? 

Rachel knew emotion and exhaustion were getting the better of her.  Her decision to leave Jon and go back to California wasn’t based on how she felt, it was based on careful, rational consideration.   It was the sound choice.  Nothing had changed except that now, the reality was closing in on her.  Unfortunately reality brought with it a panic she hadn’t felt since the accident that stole Nick, Lauren and Tyler from her.  

If she didn’t leave now, she didn’t think she’d have the strength to ever leave, and she had to so that they didn’t end up hating one another.  She loved him too much for that.

Tossing the Q-tip in the wastebasket, she avoided meeting his eyes in the vanity mirror as they stood side-by-side.  It would be easiest not to look at him, she thought as she took a quiet breath and pushed doggedly forward.

“Have you made flight arrangements for me, yet?  I can still take a commercial flight if it’s easier…” Her voice trailed away thinly, put off by the tensing of Jon’s shoulders.  His irritability was clearly manifested in the sharp huff of breath, the clatter of his hairbrush dropping into the drawer, and its subsequent slamming shut before he stalked off without a word.

Rachel sighed quietly.

As though it’s not hard enough already, he's going to make it worse.

After she’d finished dressing, she found him in the kitchen, talking on the phone.  That wasn’t unusual, since he had always been on the phone, but this call mattered to her in a way none of his others had.  This call was to confirm that his plane would be ready to take Rachel away from the place where they’d built a home together.    

His voice had been clipped and sharp while on the phone, and it wasn’t any less edgy when he hung up and turned his attention to her. 

“Plane will be ready in a couple hours.  You want some breakfast?” 

Rachel didn’t think she could swallow a morsel, let alone keep it down.  “No.  Thanks.” 

“You need to eat something.  Toast at least.”

“I’m fine.”

He threw a fierce scowl in her direction and spun on his heel, taking two giant steps toward the refrigerator and jerking on the handle.  “Why does everything have to be a battle with you Rachel??  Eat some goddamn food for crying out loud!”

She leaned against the counter, her arms lapped protectively around her waist and watched the muscles of his bare back work as he rummaged in the refrigerator.  “Don’t make me regret staying here last night.  Please?” she beseeched quietly and received an intelligible grunt for a response. “I’ll grab something on the way to the plane. I have to turn my car in at the dealership anyway.”

“I’m driving you to the airport.  I’ll make arrangements for your car.”  He didn’t even give her a cursory glance.  Instead, he pulled the bowl of eggs from the shelf and loudly set them on the counter before turning to extract some other odds and ends.  Rachel couldn’t tell what all he was setting out, and she wasn’t sure he knew, either.   He just seemed determined not to look at her. 

“I don’t wanna do that….”

“Didn’t ask you what you wanted, Rachel,” he interrupted, closing the stainless steel door shut with a jarring slam.  “That’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

She knew he was hurting as much as she was and, in classic Jon fashion, it spewed forth in the form of anger.  Knowing he could be like a petulant little boy when he was in pain, it didn’t even offend her.  It only made her step to the counter where he was making coffee and wrap her arms around him in some semblance of comfort. 

“I thought we agreed not to do the big goodbye thing at the airport?”

He continued making coffee without responding to her touch at all.  “Whatever.   I’m still driving you.”

She positioned her hands at the sides of his waist and turned him around to face her.  As she did, he crossed his arms in front of him, but she simply uncrossed them to to get closer. 

“This is killing me, Jon.  Don’t make me feel like I’m spending our last morning together with a man I’ve never met.”

His eyes were a crisp, icy blue – still beautiful but lacking the warmth she was used to seeing in them.  He wiped the corners of his mouth, another classic move when he was stalling to consider his response.   “Why don’t you start something for breakfast and I’ll finish the coffee?”

When Jon took her by shoulders and stepped her backward so that he could turn his back to her, Rachel felt like he’d stabbed her heart with a knife.  The way things had turned out between them was already unbearable, but to have this last morning so tense and cold...  It was devastating – almost like the love he’d once felt for her had been completely drained away and replaced with pure hatred.  She couldn’t help but wonder if he wished he’d never met her.  

Suddenly it became very important for her to know if that were true.

She sidestepped him, placing her hand on the arm that was flipping dials on the barista machine, forcing him to turn and look at her.  “If you had it to do all over…. would you?  I mean, that day on the road when you saw me stuck at the gates… if you’d known then how it would all end… Would you still stop?  Honestly.”

Jon could see his own hurt mirrored in her eyes.  He could hear it in her voice and it made him feel like a class-A jackass for the way he was acting.  It wasn’t all about him.  Even though she was the one leaving, she needed to know THAT was his only regret.  She deserved to know that.

He remembered the day he first laid eyes on her as if it were this morning.  He wouldn’t have missed the past year with her for anything in the world.  Even if he’d known how much it would hurt to lose her, he’d do it all the same.  No doubt about it. 

“Yeah.  I’d still stop.”  He took a deep breath, exhaled it and wrapped his arms around her waist.  She relaxed against him enough for him to drop a whisper of a kiss to her mouth.  “And I’d have done a better job of loving you along the way.”

Rachel’s arms wound around his neck, returning the kiss.  “You did a beautiful job of loving me… all along the way.  I never doubted that you loved me, Jon.  Never for a moment.”

His hands naturally just slid down her back and rested on her behind.  No matter what had happened, he couldn’t completely let her go.  He had to leave a lifeline out there and hope that maybe someday – before he worked himself into the grave – she’d use it.

“Rach… No matter where you go or what you do with your life, if you ever change your mind… all you have to do is call.  If you ever wanna come home, I’ll come and get you...  No questions asked.”

Her soft smile and nod gave him the only sliver of peace he’d known in the last twelve hours.


                                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The drive to the airport was intense, yet quiet with a blanket of unspoken emotion filling the car.  But what was left to say?  As had always been, Jon and Rachel had a telepathic language all their own and they used it now. 

They didn’t need words to express their enduring love.  They didn’t need to verbally acknowledge or accept what was the seemingly unavoidable end.  They just absorbed one another’s presence, storing it up for the long days and nights ahead – when they couldn’t find it by just looking across the lawn.

As they approached the VIP terminal, the sun glinted off the jet’s portal windows.  It was sitting in plain view, ready right on time as the pilot had promised, but the sight of it had Rachel’s stomach lurching. 

It was at that exact moment that Jon’s hand squeezed hers.  Did he have any idea how despondent she felt on the inside? 

Jon was struggling to keep his pride in check as he put the car in ‘park’.  He’d thought for sure if he could just get Rachel to stay the night she wouldn’t be able to leave him.  But she had.  She was.

His thoughts were interrupted by the loud metallic click of Rachel’s seatbelt being released.  That was immediately followed by the muffled greetings of  the approaching flight crew member sent to handle Rachel’s two suitcases. 

He had no choice but to open his own door and flick the button that would send the cargo compartment door gliding upward.

When the bags had been retrieved and handed off to the crew, Jon closed the tailgate and walked around to where she still stood beside the passenger door, staring after her luggage.  Circling around her right side, he planted his feet in front of hers, brought his hands to rest atop her shoulders and dropped a kiss onto the top of her head.

 He could see the tears running down her face – the dark sunglasses weren’t nearly enough to hide them  – but words escaped him.  Pride beat down the voices shouting in his head to beg her to stay by  reminding him of his vow to never plead with a woman as he had his former wife.  No matter how much he loved her, he couldn’t make himself beg.  Wouldn’t.

 “Alright, Bongiovi...”  Her chin firmed as she tipped it up to him, squaring her shoulders in the process.  “Let’s rip this band-aid off fast.  I’m gonna give you a quick hug and kiss and then you’re gonna leave.  I don’t want to look back and see you sitting here while I take off.  Now c’mere you handsome thing.”

She stepped closer and cupped her hand around the base of his neck, giving him a quick and impersonal kiss.  It had no more registered on his lips, when she stepped back just as quickly, her business smile plastered on her face. 

“Now show me that mega-watt smile everybody always talks about.”

He’d heard her use the exact same tone with her investors time and time again – polite, professional and detached.  She had mentally and emotionally checked out on him.

His Rachel had left the building.

Jon didn’t know if he said anything before she turned and made her way to the aircraft.  He just stood there, unmoving, trying vainly to imagine a life without her in it.

Rachel knew getting on that plane in one piece would be a miracle.  She couldn’t do another exchange without completely losing it and, when she got about halfway to the stairs, she silently begged him not to say a word.  It was her hope that the roaring jet engines could carry her away before she changed her mind.

“RACHEL!”

She had climbed as high as the third step before his multi-million dollar voice rose above the sound of the idling plane.

Son. Of. A. Bitch!

She froze, her foot hovering briefly above that fourth stair before it came down and she clenched her eyes shut.  She knew she couldn’t be merciless enough to just ignore him, even if it would make her pain a little more sufferable. 

By the time she had turned to the sound of his voice, he had already covered half the distance between her and the SUV.  She descended two steps before he reached the bottom of the stairs, bringing them eye to eye.  

Rachel forced a tight smile and pushed the sunglasses up higher on the bridge of her nose.   “You’re killin’ me here, Bongiovi!”
  
“I didn’t ask before, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.  But now...  I have to.”  His eyes were covered with sunglasses, the same as hers, but the lower half of his face was a series of granite lines, chiseled with solemnity.  “What about you, Rachel?  Would you do it all again?”

How could he even doubt it?  He had brought her back to life.  How could he not know that?  When she was nothing but a shell of a woman, he found a way to heal her devastated soul and make her feel again.  She may not want to feel like this, in this moment, but the other feelings he’d given her – the good ones...  They were enough to unfreeze her from the zombie-like state she’d been living in since she lost her family.  She would still be that zombie if it weren’t for him. 

Even with all they’d been through, Jon would always be the love of her life,  The memories of their time together would become sacred and keep her heart warm and beating instead of cold and brittle – for the rest of her life.

“Yeah, baby,” she told him through a tear-clogged throat.  “I’d do it again.  Twice.” Rachel reached for his hand, hooking her little finger tightly into his and squeezed.  “Pinky swear.”

Then, unable to see through the moisture swimming in her eyes, she blindly lifted their joined fingers to her lips one final time.  With a lingering kiss on his knuckle, she gently untwined their pinkies and turned away.

Rachel climbed the stairs that led to her future knowing that, even though she was leaving Jon behind...  he would always be with her.




Author's Note ~~

Thanks to our long-suffering readers who hung in there when life had its way with us and kept our posts from being quite so regular.  

We hope you've enjoyed the story as much as we have!   Be sure to pop in and say hi from time to time!  You can follow us both on Twitter and Audra on Facebook.  

XOX0~

Audra & Em



                                              



Saturday, 21 September 2013

Chapter 85



Two months later, Rachel was still kicking herself over that one night with him that had left her unhinged for weeks afterward.   It wasn’t that she regretted seeing Jon or spending time with him, because that had been the point of the breakup – to preserve the good things about them.  The evening had been pleasant and enjoyable all the way up until she had made the horrific mistake of touching him – kissing him.

There was no one else to blame but herself.   She should have known that the man who had stolen her heart could easily destroy the tenuous glue that held the broken pieces together, leaving behind jagged holes.    

Again.

In an act of self-preservation, Rachel had vowed to not subject herself that risk until the pieces were firmly bonded together with Super Glue.  She wouldn’t feel safe until then. 

That’s why when he’d called twice, asking her to repeat their dinner, she had declined both times.  The last time had been only a month ago and she been forced to steel herself against his casual charm, telling him it wasn’t a good thing for her.  That had been followed by reminding him of the day they broke up and his assurance that he would respect her wishes. 

Jon hadn’t been happy.  He had ended the call with a sharp, “You got it!” and she hadn’t heard from him since.

It was only a few days later the house had sold to a cash buyer and the escrow time period had barely given Rachel time to pack her personal belongings.  It had taken eighteen of the twenty-one days to get her few remaining things packed and make arrangements for them to be shipped back to California.

The terms of this particular home sale had dictated that all furniture and furnishings were to remain with the property, which had made her packing job easier, but  they’d even asked for the barista machine Jon had given her for Christmas.  She’d managed to get excluded, but virtually everything else stayed – dishes, pots and pans, even the bath towels and linens.  Every escrow had some little quirk to it, and this was no exception.  If the buyer wanted the last square of toilet paper, the bank was happy to cooperate.  

That left only a couple of suitcases with the essentials, and those were now loaded into the back of her SUV.

Her  final walk through the house she had considered home for over a year now complete, Rachel found herself in the large kitchen/family room.  It was the place where most of her life with Jon had been lived out.  Morning coffee, casual dinners, cocktails and everything in between had been enjoyed in this room – by  the fireplace in the winter and on the deck in the summer. 

Memories were everywhere, reminding her of the dining room scene at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  The ghosts of a precious past danced in every corner, occasionally clasping hands with apparitions of the future that might have been.  The visions were heart-wrenching and painful to ‘watch’, but she still wondered how on earth she was going to be able to walk away.

And as hard as that would be, it was going to be near impossible to say goodbye to Jon.  It would be so much easier to take the box of belongings that he’d never collected and drop them outside his front door, but Rachel wasn’t callous enough to do that.  She knew she couldn’t just drive off into the sunset without a word to him. 

So, it was with a deep breath and a final nod to their past that she switched off the lights and walked out the door.  The only time she turned back was to lock it tightly behind her and, if she hadn’t been so distracted by the dread of going to Jon’s house, the drive out of those unreliable gates might have broken her heart.  It was a mixed blessing that she had already moved on to the agony of seeing him one last time. 

Her knuckles went white on the steering wheel as she turned into his driveway, the box of his things taunting her mercilessly from the passenger seat.  The late afternoon sunshine that had been a beautiful mixture of not-quite-summer and not-quite-fall a few minutes ago now felt like a blowtorch of heat beating through the driver’s window.  It burned uncertainty into the set of her shoulders.

What if he’s not home?!?!

She hadn’t thought this through very well, otherwise she wouldn’t have waited until the last minute to see him.   The gates to his house had been open, but that wasn’t a good indicator of his presence on the property as they were often open.   Jon had always been determined not to live in a prison and his fans, for the most part, were exceptionally respectful of his privacy.   

Rachel gently depressed the brake pedal and shifted the car into park in front of the French-style mansion he called home.  In that moment, sadness washed over her with an intensity that she hadn’t known since the early days after the accident that took her husband and children.  It bordered on despair – or  panic – with  a distinct aftertaste that she recognized as nausea.

It had no more bubbled up into her throat when there he was – before she could change her mind and run like a coward.   Standing beside the car with his arms folded and a guarded expression on his face, the man who had made her heart both soar and sink had appeared of nowhere.  He didn’t miss a single thing with those sharp blue eyes as she pushed open the door and stepped out of the car.  

As her foot touched the driveway, the first tear touched her cheek, suddenly and surreptitiously.  She hadn’t known she was anywhere close to crying, but by the time the car door closed not only was she crying, but Rachel had worked herself up into a full-blown sobbing mess.  It was as if her body couldn’t physically hold one more unshed tear and every painstaking one of them chose this moment to spill down her face in a river of despair.  

When Jon first saw her from the portico as she pulled down the driveway, he’d had mixed emotions.  It annoyed the living shit out of him that his heart skipped a beat with excitement, but at the same time he was furious with her.  

The last time he saw her it was obvious she still felt something for him, but Rachel cut him off after that night and refused to see him again.  He didn’t know which made him craziest – the fact that he couldn’t get her off his mind or the fact that no matter how many other women he slept with, he couldn’t get her out of his heart.

By the time she’d stepped out of the car he’d forgotten all the crazy, kinky things he’d done to try and banish her memory.   

Once the tears had become obvious, every bitter thought he’d ever had was gone. 

Rachel wasn’t a crier and he was a sucker for the softer side of her.  Well, he was a sucker for any side of her, if he was honest, but the vulnerability factor was off the charts today and all he could do was wrap his arms around her. 

It wasn’t a conscious decision to thumb the tears off her face, it was just instinct.  But once he had her face in his hands, all those other instincts took over and before he knew what happened, he was wrapped up in a kiss that was anything but gentlemanly.

Rachel felt his hands brush through her hair before he gripped her head so firmly it almost hurt. 

Everything hurts, she thought. 

It hurt to be with him, it hurt to be away from him… Somehow the way his teeth clinked painfully against hers was a relief.  If she was going to feel pain at least it was in his arms on the receiving end of his kiss. Tangible pain was preferable to the gut-wrenching longing she’d felt all these months away from him.  

The voice that kept screaming she had a plane to catch was forced out of her head.  Just a few more moments in his arms and then she could tell him goodbye. 

The yo-yo of her emotions was frustrating.  She felt like she had the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other.  It wasn’t that she was ignoring the devil who kept reminding her that she loved him, but loving him had never been the issue - living with him was. 

The angel of self-preservation whispered that nothing had changed, and this business of giving into lust and passion only to pull back was making her crazy.  It was time to leave and when she was gone, it would be easier.  He wouldn’t be there to tempt her, making her feel like a tease. 

That little angel brought rational thought with it and Rachel pulled back, out of the reach of his lips.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have done that.” 

But, really, the only thing she was sorry about was that she couldn’t keep doing it and keep her sanity – that they couldn’t make this work.  That she wasn’t going to feel those lips on hers every day for the rest of her life. 

It was enough to invite the tears back in full force.  Her throat became clogged with them and kept any feeble justification for her behavior at bay. 

“What’s wrong, baby?” 

We are.

She couldn’t push the words through her clogged throat and wouldn’t have if she could.  Rachel bit her lip to prevent the tears from becoming sobs, giving him a tight-lipped shake of the head as her only response.

He turned her gently toward the door.  “Let’s go inside, I’ll get you a glass of wine and you can tell me what’s happened.”

“Your... stuff…” she murmured and dazedly pointed to the SUV over her shoulder.  “It’s...  It’s in the passenger seat.”

“I’ll get in later.  C’mon…”

Rachel allowed him to guide her through the double doors and into the family room in the back of the house.  The time allowed her to corral her erratic emotions, stemming the flow until there was nothing but the occasional sniffle as she settled on the sofa, her slip-on shoes falling off as she tucked her feet under her.  

Jon was behind the corner bar pulling out a bottle of wine as she ran a fingertip under each eye, swiping away the lingering moisture.  After a year with this man, Rachel finally noted there wasn’t a room in this house that didn’t have a small refrigerator hidden somewhere.  The man loved his wine.

“Just water for me, thanks,” she requested quietly

“A little wine with soothe your nerves.” 

“I... shouldn’t.  I’m driving into the City in a bit.”

“I don’t think you better plan on driving anywhere tonight.  You’re obviously upset.”  He hadn’t listened to her, anyway, and joined her on the couch with both their glasses.  “Reschedule your appointment, but no driving for you, little girl.” 

The stem of fine crystal in her hand became her focal point as she grasped at the basis of Lamaze lessons from many years past.  The heaviness of the stem, contrasting with the delicacy of the base and bowl, was what gave her a distraction from the pain as she took that first figurative step toward goodbye.

“United Airlines doesn’t reschedule their red eye to California because I’m a hopeless romantic who can’t face saying goodbye.”

 “What?”

Suddenly she was grateful for the wine she hadn’t wanted and swallowed a gulp.  It it allowed her to stall for a moment until she could figure out what else to say.  Her carefully scripted goodbye seemed to have completely left her memory.  

He wasn’t a patient man on a good day and, with her strange behavior and unexpected announcement, he was even less so.  “Rachel!  What’s going on?” he demanded, and she could hear a thread of fear in his voice.

She realized there was no way to do this without pain.  The words she chose weren’t going to change the outcome and the only way to say what she had to say was to just spit it out. 

“I’m moving back to the West Coast.  I’m on the red eye tonight.”

“No.”  His response was immediate and accompanied by a firm shake of his head.  “You were suffocating there.  You told me that yourself.  You said Jersey had become home.  Going back there is the worst possible thing you could do.  Your job is here and … this is your home now.”

“This was home because you were here, Jon.  But now… Well, at least in California I’ll have my family.  James has taken over as President of the Western region, and I’ve been named VP.  It’s a huge feather in my cap, professionally.”

His wineglass hit the sofa table with a dull ‘thunk’.

“James is behind all this?  Your prick ex-boyfriend from two decades ago, who screwed you over forty ways from Sunday and left you broken in a heap on the floor?  THAT James?  You’re following him to California because being here with me is so bad?”

This conversation wasn’t going at all the way Rachel planned it.   She had naively presumed she could stop by, drop off Jon’s things and wish him well without betraying her own emotions.  Granted, that hadn’t exactly gone according to plan, but it had honestly never crossed her mind that he’d have anything to say about her leaving.   

Since he apparently did...   She felt like she owed him an explanation. 

“It doesn’t have anything to do with him, per se, it’s just an amazing opportunity.  He’s going to let me get the Hawaii region set up and that means I’ll be able to live there for several months – something  I’ve always wanted to do.  You know that.  I’ve talked to you about it.”

“Fine.  You wanna live in Hawaii,  go live there awhile.  But we can’t ever put things back together if you’re on one coast and I’m on the other.  This is ridiculous, Rachel!”

His argument was as unexpected as a snowstorm in July, taking her completely by surprise.  Rachel had never considered the two of them back together as an option and assumed they were on the same page with regard to their relationship.  Hadn’t they hurt each other enough already? 

Now knowing his thoughts, she had to get her act together if she had a prayer of leaving him without a complete nervous breakdown.

“Jon!  We’ve tried - a couple times - to put things back together.  It just isn’t gonna work.  I’ll head to the West Coast and work myself to exhaustion and someday...  Someday I’ll be in the grocery store checkout with a shopping cart full of tequila and you’ll be on the cover of People magazine with some stunning young thing who has taken your breath away.”

Rachel knew it was true.  HE would find love again. 

She, however, would lose herself in work.   Again.  She was damaged beyond repair.  Broken.  Work had been her salvation after the death of her family, and it would be no different this time. 

“It will break my heart, but that’s what will happen, Jon.”

Jon could see the handwriting on the wall.  She would leave for California and end up married to James while HE drank and toured himself into an early grave.   Alone. 

Work had been his salvation after the divorce.  It would be no different once Rachel removed herself from his life. 

“And what about you, Rach?  You gonna be happy with some schmuck like James or some guy that’ll give you a couple kids but doesn’t even raise your pulse when he walks in the door at night?  C’mon!  This is serious shit here… don’t fool around and make this a worse situation than we’ve already got!  What the fuck are you thinking?”

Her soft-spoken response was in sharp contrast to the snapping tone he used on her, giving him a flash of guilt.  She was beaten down enough and didn’t have enough fight left in her to even adequately defend herself. 

“It’s hard enough leaving, don’t make it harder on me, Jon.” 

“Then maybe you shouldn’t!  Didja ever think of that?” 

She rose from the couch and crossed the room to the corner bar, setting her wineglass on its shiny surface.  “We’ve been through all this.  We split months ago.  The only thing that’s different now is my address.”

He was behind her in a flash, spinning her to face him, his hands gripping tightly on her arms.  “I think you still love me.  I KNOW I still love you…….. This is wrong, Rach.”

“No,” she insisted shaking her head, “What’s wrong is for us to stay together because it hurts too much to let go.”  Rachel stepped closer and placed a flat hand against his chest, tipping her face up to give him a good look at the agony that filled her eyes.   “Love me enough to help me do this.  Please!  …. Please??”

For once, Jon didn’t have a press-ready response to the situation and the pitiful expression on her face left him even more unsure how to handle this.  So instead, he said nothing while trying to find the right words. 

But Rachel took his silence as acquiescence.  Pushing up on tip-toes to brush a feathery kiss over his lips, she dropped her forehead to meet his.  “I do love you, Jon.  Always.  I’ll always love you…”

The emotion between them at an all-time high, neither would ever be able to say who made the first move – it just happened.  Their hands and mouths wound around each other – bodies pressed tightly together.  Rachel’s hands fisted in his hair and she gripped as if she were holding on for her very life. 

He wanted to remember the way her body felt under his hands as he struggled to kiss her long enough, hard enough to last.  Remembering the way she moved under him and the way her breathing would hitch when she crossed over from merely turned on to full-blown out of control.

She realized she’d forgotten how broad and solid his chest and shoulders were.  Much more so than his leaner waist and lower back, where her hands always seemed to be tracing circles in the indention there. 

“Stay with me, Rachel…. even if it’s just for tonight.” 

Dazed and aroused, she struggled to gather her thoughts.  “My flight….”

“Fuck it!” he rasped, fisted hands knotting more tightly in her hair.  “If you’re really gonna leave me, you’ll go on my plane.  You can go tomorrow if that’s still what you wanna do… but tonight… I need you with me.”

Rachel’s chest rose and fell with each hard breath.  Her lungs felt on the verge of explosion, like they did after she’d run too hard – too fast.  God how she wanted to stay – to lose herself in him for just a little while longer – but could she stand the torture?  Was one more taste, one more touch worth the anguish?

“I can’t drag this out – this is gut wrenching…”

His thumbs skated over her cheeks and intense blue eyes darted back and forth between hers as he willed her to comply.  He wouldn’t beg, but he would demand.  The question was whether or not she would obey – him OR her heart.  “Stay.  Just… just stay.”

Not willing, or maybe able, to deny either of them she exhaled and he knew he’d won this round.  She was going to be his for a little while longer. 

“I’ll stay with you tonight and we’ll have this one last night.  Say all the things we wished we’d said…. hold each other one more time.  But tomorrow we walk away.  In return, you won’t make me do the big goodbye scene at the airport and you won’t ask me to change my mind.  You won’t be that heartless.”

He felt like he was making a deal with the devil; selling his soul for one night, but tomorrow seemed like a long time away to Jon.  Right now he had her in his arms and she was willing to be in his bed, where they ‘d always communicated best.  Maybe by morning he’d be able to change her mind.

“Jon? Promise me that…. you won’t tear my guts out when I have to leave…. and we’ll have tonight.”  Holding up her pinky finger for their symbolic pinky swear, Rachel was the one demanding now – and questioning him with her eyes.

He couldn’t believe that what she said was going to happen, but resigned himself to the fact that she believed it was inevitable.  If it came to that, he could do it.  Even so, he dismissed her scenario as a possibility and hooked a pinky around hers, wordlessly promising what she needed to hear.

It was enough to make her tense shoulders go lax and she willingly twisted toward the back stairway with him at her side.  As they had done countless times before, they climbed the stairs to his bedroom, pinkies entwined in a symbol of trust. 





Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Chapter 84

Greetings ~~

"Love For Sale" is nearing completion.  If all goes as planned there will be two more chapters after this post.  Not sure of the posting schedule but our intention is to post the final two as soon as editing is completed, in the next few days.  

We hope you enjoy!!

xoxo~

Audra & Em



Rachel found the drive back to his house to be as relaxed as the rest of their day together.  After she’d gotten past the initial shock over his unexpected appearance, everything had become gratifyingly “normal” between them. 

While sexual attraction still plainly simmered just below the surface, she was now reassured that they could keep that attraction at bay and focus on the less physical aspect of their relationship.  It simply reaffirmed her decision to break up when they did.  If things had degraded any further, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy one another this way and, in Rachel’s opinion, that would be a heartbreaking loss because she genuinely liked Jon.

After a quick stop in the studio to retrieve his laptop, they strolled across the darkened grounds to the Pub in comfortable silence.  Stepping inside, Rachel found the lights burning dimly, reminding her of the many nights she’d spent in this room.  The couch cushions sank under her backside as Jon stepped behind the bar and the sensation, along with the combined scent of pool chalk, wood and leather brought to mind the many times they’d made love on this same couch.

They’re memories, Rachel.  They aren’t meant to be relived.

“It may not be your favorite tequila, but I think you’ll enjoy this,” he announced jovially, interrupting her reminiscence with the ‘pop’ of a wine cork.  “It’s one we bought from that private little vineyard in Napa when we were there with your sister and her husband.  You know... the one with the castle.” 

“You’re such a wine snob,” she snorted as she crossed her legs, grateful for the distraction.

Jon emerged from the business side of the bar and handed Rachel one of the two empty glasses in his left hand.  He made sure that hers was filled before tending to his own and setting the bottle on the table behind the sofa.

“ME????”  She loved his mock outrage as he laughed, dropping onto the cushion beside hers.  “You’re the ungrateful one who bitched about the fine bottle I chose for our oceanfront pizza experience.” 

“That’s why I stick to tequila – it never disappoints,” she chuckled before taking a sip.  The fruity flavor exploded on her tongue much more favorably than the Quickie Mart vintage and she couldn’t stop herself from humming with approval.  “Ooh…. that IS much improved!  Good call to come here.” 

“Oh sure, now you APPRECIATE this wine snob don’t ‘cha?”

“I do!  That’s one of the many thing I learned from you – how to be a proper wine snob,” she chortled, angling herself toward where he sat as she tucked her hair behind her ear.  The cooling glass was cradled between the fingers of her right hand as she lifted one corner of her mouth in caustic amusement.  “Among all the other crap you’ve left at my house, I found at least three contraptions touted to be the best wine opener on the market.”

He shrugged, completely unapologetic.  “Wine and coffee – they’re both worthy of snobbish equipment.  You love your coffee machine.  I know it, but you’ll never admit it to me.”

“Mm hmm... maybe,” she evaded, tipping her glass up for another sip before realizing...  “Geez!  I should’ve given you all your stuff when you came by today.  I never even thought of it.  There must be a thousand dollars’ worth of sunglasses you left scattered around, and God only knows how much in watches.”  She shook her head, grinning.  “The money tied up in those things explains why you don’t have a single shirt at my house that is without holes.”  

“Yeah?  Well there’s every bit as much money tied up in face creams and hair products that you left all over my place so don’t go getting all high and mighty, missy.”  He shook his finger playfully in her face.  “I can get my stuff when I take you home tonight.” 

“Except for the skull wine opener and the Ray-Ban sunglasses. I use those,” she grinned back. 

Eventually, Rachel had to stop over-indulging in nostalgia and remind him why they were there in the first place.  Prodding at him until he was forced to fire up the laptop and share the songs he’d poured his heart and soul into, she listened with intent curiosity to each and every one of them while he silently took in her reaction. 

After noting the curious quirk of her head, he confessed that ‘Superman Tonight’ had been started when he was in California – after their first night together – and she recalled hearing him play parts of it on the piano in her living room.  

‘Broken Promiseland’, he said, had been the result of a series of conversations with her, early in their relationship.

He didn’t need to explain ‘When We Were Beautiful’.  Rachel had lived through that one and still thought it was one of the saddest songs she’d ever heard.  

‘Fast Cars’, it turned out, had nothing to do with cars at all.  It had also been written during their early days together when she had seemed to be stuck in the past and unable to really move forward with him. 

“I predict this one will be a big hit,” she declared after the second chorus of ‘Thorn In My Side’.  “Everybody loves a good ‘we broke up but I can’t get you off my mind’ song.”

“Think so?” His lips twisted in a slight grimace, without concern as to whether anyone liked it or not.  “Ya know… THAT’S the problem with falling for your neighbor.  When the thing falls apart you’re reminded of her every single time you look out a window and see her house.”

She toasted him with her near-empty glass.  “Yeah.  It’s no better watching the string of women come and go from your ex-lover’s place in the morning.” 

“That’s bullshit.  You’ve not seen any women leaving my house in the morning.”

“Hmm… Is that because there haven’t been any or because you get rid of them before daylight?” 

The question was posed in a teasing tone, but Jon wasn’t about to go down that road and redirected the conversation back to the music.  His hope was that she would be distracted enough to forget the whole topic, because he certainly didn’t want his shameless bachelor ways brought into focus just when he finally had Rachel in his house again.

“So…  ‘Thorn In My Side’… is that the one you like best?” he asked while draining the last of his wine.

“Nice segue to another subject, Mr. Bongiovi, but I’ll play along.   No, actually I’m partial to ‘Broken Promiseland’.  Something about the combination of the music and the lyrics speaks to me.  It feels very… personal.”  Rachel sipped from her glass, peeking through her lashes at him over its rim before continuing quietly, “I guess I really sucked the life out of you, didn’t I?”

A heavy scowl etched into his face as he met her eyes and he very nearly growled, “Why would you say something like that?”

“Because the music tells the tale…”

She, like the rest of the world, saw what she wanted to see in the lyrics and music of a song.  He should be used to it, and he was – from everybody else.  Not her, and he didn’t want her thinking what she was thinking. 

“Nah, not really,” he mused aloofly, breaking eye contact and reaching for the dark green glass bottle that still held but a fraction of its original contents.  “There were other songs, these were just better suited to this record.”  He emptied the last of the wine into her glass and rose to retrieve a fresh supply from the wine refrigerator under the bar.  “Don’t feel like you were a downer, because you weren’t.”  

“Alright, but don’t open that bottle on my account.  I’ve already had two glasses.”

“You’re not driving.”  He ignored her, topping off her glass and refilling his own.  “I’ve known you to have A LOT more than two glasses.” 

“That’s when I wasn’t worried about doing something I’d regret in the morning.”

There was something about her tone that made his hand stutter as he put the wine on the table and he cut her a searching look.  Thunking the bottle safely to the wooden surface, he found eyes that betrayed the purely platonic mood she had carried like a shield all day.  In that moment, she wasn’t feeling even a little bit platonic.  Her gaze was full of the same intensity her words had instilled in him.

Now we’re getting someplace, baby.

“You’ve never done anything with me that you regretted in the morning,” he said softly, wanting to hear her admit it.

But as soon as he spoke, the serious moment was gone.  Rather than moving forward, she retreated back into her platonic cocoon and made light of it.  “Well, there was that crazy night in my hot tub in California.”

And the shield is up again.

He swallowed a sigh of disappointment, but, for once in his life he was patient and didn’t push, biding his time to cash in on that intensity.  It hadn’t disappeared; she was just hiding from it.

Besides, he couldn’t help but laugh at the memory she was referring to.  It had been one of their most sexually adventurous nights together and she’d been slightly embarrassed the next morning.  That is, until he’d convinced her to immediately repeat most of those ‘embarrassing’ acts. 

“Oh yeah… after we had dinner with your family at that vineyard near your house.  I DO remember that night, and in the end I don’t think you regretted one thing about it.”

“Maybe not,” she tittered, twirling the delicate glass wine stem between her fingertips.  The brittle, awkward sound was one that he readily identified as her nervous laugh.  She was trying to cover up what she was really feeling.  He knew it in his bones.  “But I don’t want to be tempted to repeat it.”

And, on cue, there was the intensity again. 

That one little word ‘tempted’ was very revealing, he thought.  Or was it just the wine creating the idea of a revelation?  He couldn’t be sure and, to be honest, he didn’t really care.  It felt like that little word – now uttered twice – had opened a door and, by God, he had to walk through it. 

“Would it really be so bad, Rach?” he asked quietly, fisting his hand into his thigh to keep from reaching for her.  “To repeat that night?  Or any other?  We had great nights.”

Rachel’s eyes had always been the proverbial door to her soul and tonight was no exception.  The difference was that where he’d once seen the fringed edges of desire, or even love, he now saw sadness. 

That sadness was reflected in her tone when she slowly replied, “We did have great nights.  Amazing nights, in fact.  But yeah, it would be bad for me to go there again... and have to walk away.  Again.”

Before Jon even had the conscious thought to touch her, his fingertip was out of his lap and grazing her cheek.  Just as automatically, his hand slid around to cup her chin and tilt her face to his. 

She didn’t have to walk away, but he didn’t have the words to explain it in a way that the stubborn little minx would accept.  So Jon chose to bypass verbal communication in favor of the physical intuitiveness that they’d always shared.  When it came to Rachel, his mouth was much more effective at kissing than reasoning.

His lips scarcely touched hers, but it was enough to send fireworks off in his head, making him forget everything but them and he could see the same fireworks working their way through her.  The flush to her chest and cheeks was always a dead giveaway with Rachel – he’d seen it the very first time they kissed.  She wanted him every bit as much as he did her and he was damn well tired of being patient. 

“Maybe you wouldn’t want to walk away this time,” he breathed over her lips before taking her face in his hands and kissing her the way he’d wanted to all day. 

She might have been timid at first, but it was only the briefest of seconds before her hand tunneled into his hair and she was returning his kiss with the familiar passion that she’d always shown him.  There was nothing passive or unsure in the way her tongue tangled with his, the way her body melted against his.   These two bodies were intimately familiar and seemed to have a will all of their own as they clung to each other with the desperation from the months they’d been apart. 

Fuck.  I didn’t imagine it.  She really does feel like home. 

One of Rachel’s hands slipped beneath the collar of his shirt to grab the handful of hair she always favored.  The other crept under the hem of his shirt and around his side, hungry for bare skin.  Her touch was like none other and his body responded to her with the same fervor as the first time she put her hands on him. 

Just as he scooped her bottom onto his lap, leaning back into the sofa cushions and pulling her down on top of him, Rachel withdrew.  She used a fingertip to wipe the moisture from beneath her bottom lip, huskily whispering, “This is such a bad idea.”

Ignoring her protest, Jon twisted her off to the side, pinning her between him and the back of the couch.   His thumb slid under the bottom of her sundress, bunching it up along her leg and moving across her thigh.  The calloused tip had just barely slipped under the elastic of Rachel’s panties when she rolled into it and simultaneously gasped at the invasion.

With that one sharp intake of her breath, the woman who had stolen Jon’s heart a year ago was squirming and pushing him away.  “No.  I’m sorry... but I can’t get sucked into this again, Jon.  I have to go.”

His hand could still feel her heat as she struggled to climb over him and stood beside the sofa straightening her clothes and giving him nothing but her back as his heart pounded in his chest.  There wasn’t a shred of doubt that she wanted him – needed him – just like he did her, but for some reason she was determined not to have him.   

Jon was frustrated beyond belief, but had enough sense to know the moment was gone and that her shield was firmly back up.  If he pushed her, there would be nothing gained but another argument and with his dick at half-mast he wasn’t interested in arguing.   

“Okay…” he sighed, swinging his feet to the floor and rubbing a restless hand over his nape.  “If that’s what you want, I’ll take you home.”

She was fingering her hair back in place when her clothes were back to rights and she turned to look at him. “It’s a beautiful night.  I’m fine walking home alone.” 

That wasn’t happening.  Even if they weren’t ending the night in his bed, he wasn’t ready to let her vanish.  God knew when he’d see her again and, maybe, in those few minutes’ time he could come up with a way to change her mind about this being a bad idea.

“I said I’ll take you home, Rach.  I need to get my stuff, anyway.”

Traveling side-by-side, yet not touching, they stepped into the starry night and onto the path that led to Rachel’s house.  The sound of their footsteps was the only noise that stirred the night air, except for the faint chirping of crickets in the distance, and Jon commandeered all of his Rachel knowledge to assimilate a way around that shield of hers.

They were halfway between his house and hers when she spoke, shattering the blanket of quiet. “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t being a cock tease back there.”

The crude words startled Jon out of his seducing thoughts and he snapped his head around to look at her.  It was so out of character for Rachel to use such raunchy talk outside of bed that he actually snorted in laughter. 

Sometimes seduction is nothing more than enjoying each other.  And there was no one he enjoyed like Rachel – in or out of bed. 

He couldn’t resist throwing his arm around her shoulders as they walked and crooked his elbow at her neck.  “Aww, honey…. Even after all we’ve been through, you still entertain the hell out of me.”

It took a hesitant moment, but she eventually chuckled and let her arm curl loosely around his waist, almost leaning into him as they matched their gaits.  

Comfortable silence reigned as they walked that way until they got to the front porch of Rachel’s home.  She was comfortable and relaxed again.  It was time to go for the hard sell.

When she tried to pull her arm away from his waist to retrieve the front door key, Jon held it firm and traced his hand down from her elbow to palm.  Snaking his fingers through hers, he twirled her around and pulled her flush against him. 

Feeling her familiar touch as they had strolled the short distance...Well, when she moved away from him to open the door, it had made him crave her all the more.  She wasn’t going to walk through that door alone without him having one more taste – without getting one more taste of what they were.  Of what they could be.

It was supposed to be just a taste when he bent to brush his lips against hers, but somehow it lingered...  and deepened – into a torrid, scorching make out session that any teenager would’ve been envious of.  Hands were tangled in hair and clothes, lips were throbbing from the ferocity of the passion and relief gave Jon a hard-on that wouldn’t quit. 

This was his Rachel. 

A guttural, feminine moan that was sweeter than honey found his ears a split second before he realized she had broken the kiss.

Blood was rushing loudly through his veins, screaming in denial as he stared down at her through a gaze of lust.  Her left hand, which had dipped into the waist of his jeans, came up to his chest to meet the right hand that had been burrowed under the opening of his shirt.  Her touch was soft, but when he tried to lean close again, she put pressure against his sternum to keep him at bay.

Dammit!

Her breathing was as shallow as his and her eyes were dilated under the incandescent glow of the porch light.  A blind child could see that she wanted him, but it didn’t stop her from saying,  “It’s probably not a good idea for you to come in and get your stuff tonight.  This is gonna get out of hand and we’ll regret it in the morning.”

“I won’t.”  He was confident of his earlier assessment that she had never regretted anything they did.  This would be no different once she let herself go.  She just had to let herself go.

C’mon, Rachel. 

“Maybe you won’t regret it, but I will.  There’s nothing to be gained from this but more heartache, and I just can’t.”

Like a shadow in the night, she slipped inside the door with nothing more than a murmured goodnight.  The quiet click of a deadbolt left him alone on her front porch, torn between anger, disappointment and resignation.  It was all he could do not to kick the door with frustration, but his pride wouldn’t allow it.

Don’t be a pussy, Bongiovi.  Walk away knowing that your dignity is still intact. If she doesn’t want to be in your bed, you know plenty of women who do.   







Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chapter 83


Spring passed into summer, with the weeks and months offering Jon nothing more than the rare sighting of Rachel in town or passing on the road.  When she walked out of his life, she made sure the door to their relationship had firmly closed behind her. 

Even so, he'd picked up the phone no less than a hundred times to reach out to her.  Each and every time, Pride slammed it back down and his good buddy Alcohol hurried in right behind, convincing him it was the right thing to do.  

The funny thing about that was that, eventually, after a little more time together, his good buddy Alcohol would then convince him to pick the phone back up - and revert to his single ways.  He and his new wingman systematically worked their way through his contact list, calling one number after another, reconnecting with women he could rely on – first to serve well in his bed and more importantly, to be gone before morning. 

Rachel, on the other hand, filled her hours by throwing herself into work – and when that distraction wasn't enough to keep her from picking up the phone to call Jon, she ran.  

She thought it ironic how Jon had accused her of always running away when things got tough, because when things really got tough, she actually did run – three to four miles, usually.  And sometimes the angst was so high she ran twice a day.  In fact, most days, she ran twice a day. It was the only thing she could count on to burn enough energy to allow her to sleep without burying her face in a bottle of her favorite tequila every night.

Jon had never really noticed the house next door until the day he found Rachel standing at the gates to it.  Now?  Now it was a constant eyesore he couldn't escape.  It seemed to be visible from every damned room in his house. 

And when the “For Sale” sign went up today, he saw it from a mile down the road, or so it seemed.  All the neon on the Vegas strip couldn't have made that sign any more noticeable to him as he came home from a visit with his kids.  It was like a bucket of ice water had been poured over him and ran straight down his spine.

Where’s she going? 

More importantly, how far away would she be?

Even though they’d been apart for a couple of months now, having her just next door had created a false sense of security that allowed Jon to never quite accept that they were truly over.  In fact, he still carried the key to her house.  It was bizarre and he’d never admit it to another living soul, but it allowed him the illusion that they were still connected. 

His car bypassed its own driveway in favor of Rachel’s.  It wasn't a conscious decision on Jon’s part; it just seemed the SUV had a mind of its own as he drove through the always-open gates that would lead him to her.  Thankful that she couldn't depend on them to open when she needed them to, the access would have allowed Jon to drive straight to the door if he hadn’t spotted her by the pool. 

And, once he saw her, his eyes never left her.

He couldn't recall stopping just shy of the house or shifting the car into park, let alone the walk across the grass that had him standing a foot from her lounge chair.  The ear buds tucked firmly into her ears had kept her from hearing him drive in, giving him a moment to roam his eyes over her prone form.

The turquoise bikini wasn't familiar to him, but the body under it certainly was.  In close proximity, the first thing he noticed was that she had lost weight.  It was evidenced by the pelvic bones protruding above the bottom of her bathing suit and by the smaller, but still enticing, breasts peeking from the tiny, triangular top. 

He was taking inventory of the hollow at her collarbone and the lashes resting on sculpted cheeks when some sixth sense seemed to alert her to his presence. Fluttering her lashes, she used one hand to shade her blinking eyes as she turned in his direction and pulled out the earpieces.

“Hey,” Rachel muttered quietly, her heart pounding fiercely against the confinement of her ribcage.

Some things never change, she thoughtIt was the way they had always greeted each other.  She hadn’t consciously chosen the simple, ineloquent word.  It had just habitually fallen from her lips when her mind went numb with surprise at his presence.    

Bending to kiss her cheek like he might an acquaintance at some Hollywood press party, Jon then dropped onto the chaise next to hers with an equally quiet,  “Hey, sweetheart.”

Having him appear from nowhere, without warning made her suddenly uneasy, wondering why he was here. 

This is Jon, she chided herself.  You wanted to be able to be friends.  Apparently, he’s decided to take you at your word.  Offer the man a drink.

She immediately sprang up and walked to the refrigerator in the outdoor kitchen just beyond where she’d been reclining.  Returning with two bottles of icy water, she offered one to Jon before she sat back down on the edge of the chair, facing him but saying nothing. 

“Thanks.”  It was an appropriate reply, Jon thought, yet somehow the conversation didn’t take off like it normally would have with them.  He had to struggle to put more words out there, hoping to lure her into something more. “How’ve you been?”

She nodded as she swallowed and put the cap back on the bottle.  Her back and shoulders were stiff as she leaned forward to gingerly rest her forearms on her thighs but her words seemed relaxed enough.  “I'm… good.  How about you - what brings you by?”

“Hangin’ in there.”  Suddenly, he was lacking that polished swagger he was known for in the media.  Jon felt as awkward as the captain of the chess team asking the head cheerleader for a date. “I… uh… saw the ‘For Sale’ sign and… wanted to come by… Ya know… to see what your plans were.  Is it… okay… that I just… stopped by?”

You’re making him uncomfortable, Rachel.  This is exactly the thing you wanted to avoid.

She leaned even further forward and placed a friendly hand on his knee.  Customary summer cargo shorts left the skin bare and the coarse, masculine hair there felt entirely too familiar under her fingers.  Her hand pulled away almost as quickly as it landed.  Things should be friendly, not familiar.  Right?

Resorting to the water bottle in her other hand, she screwed the top from it again, not actually removing it, but immediately re-tightening it as she strove for the right blend of friendly and honest.

“Yeah, of course… I’m sorry… I… just wasn't expecting to see you and it kinda threw me for a loop.  Of course it’s fine that you came by.”

Jon silently and slowly released the breath he’d been subconsciously holding.  She wasn't kicking him out or overly unhappy with his presence here.  That allowed him to latch onto a sliver of his swagger.  He commented inanely on the weather, willing her to respond in such a way that he could prolong their exchange – and she did.

The conversation covered all the usual, politically correct topics:  weather, family, kids and then work.  What began as awkward and strained smoothed out into the more natural, comfortable familiarity they’d shared as lovers.  Jon found himself watching her lips move as she told him something about the repairs being done on her house, but he was so lost in thought, he didn’t really hear her. 

God, I've missed her.

“So, tell me about your new record.  Is it done?”

“Have dinner with me and I’ll tell you all about it.”  The impulsive invitation came tumbling out of his mouth before he even realized it, but he didn’t regret it in the least.  This was the most normal he’d felt since she walked out of his life and, call him a selfish bastard, but he wasn't ready to let go of that feeling just yet. 

“Mm… I wish I could.  I have to meet a photographer at a new listing in Belmar at 6.”

“I’m pretty sure they have food in Belmar,” he countered.  “Maybe even oceanfront dining – unless you don’t WANT to have dinner with me.”

He could see the wheels spinning in her head and wondered if he should have even offered her the out.  Would more applied pressure have had her agreeing or digging in her heels and refusing?  Right now she was obviously on the fence.  The way she nibbled the corner of her bottom lip told him she was arguing with herself – she wanted to have dinner with him, but she didn’t want to want to have dinner with him.

Rachel worried her bottom lip between her teeth as she argued with herself.  Part of her wanted to extend this time together, but another part of her knew this was an abysmally bad idea.  She’d missed his company so much that this could easily turn into something that it shouldn’t. 

All of her strength and fortitude during the past months could go to hell in a hand-basket if wine and food were added to the mix.  They’d find themselves back where they were; no better off than they had been when they broke up.

“It isn't that.  I'm just not sure that’s a very good idea for us.”

“Aw, c’mon!   As breakups go, I’d say ours was pretty nice.”

“If you can overlook me slapping your face, yeah, our breakup was a Harlequin Romance.”

Her laughter sounded like the sweetest music he’d ever heard.  It had been a long time since they’d laughed together and it warmed his soul.  “Smart ass.  We can still care about and appreciate each other…. remain friends.  Friends have dinner together from time to time, right?”

God she had missed him.  It was dinner.  Nothing more.  Dinner with a friend whose company she had always enjoyed.

“I suppose they do…   You wouldn’t mind me fitting in an appointment?”

Thank you, Jesus, Jon mentally sighed at the same time his mind executed a fist pump.  It was embarrassing, really, how excited he was at the thought of just being in her company. 

The thing about Rachel was that she had stimulated his mind as much as she had his body.  Since she’d been gone, his one night stands with the bimbo crowd had left him more empty than he could ever remember being before. 

He would hand out her real estate flyers up and down Main Street just to feel the way he did when he was with her. Sitting on the sidelines while she dealt with her appointment was a no brainer.

“Nah.  God knows you were tolerant enough of my phone ringing off the hook with one business call after another.”

Her features went from uncertain to relaxed and she smiled at him with a subtle nod.  “Well… sure, why not?  The house is right on the beach – not nearly as nice as your beach place, but the view is amazing.  I think you might actually enjoy it.”

“My first apartment was out by there - I know the area well.”

“Really?  I never knew that.  I've been working so much, I haven’t had a chance to check out the area in detail.  I’ll have to do that to run comps for the bank.”

If he played his cards right, he could spend more than just dinner with her... 

“I’ll take you out there and show you around.  You can do your bank research and we’ll make an afternoon of it.  Whaddaya say?”





                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




The summer afternoon passed easily as they drove out to the New Jersey coastal area of Belmar.  Jon showed her his first apartment and surrounding Bradley Beach, even sharing some of the stories of that era and how they’d shot the “Slippery When Wet" album cover in that very driveway. 

There was nothing tense or awkward remaining between them by the time of Rachel’s appointment.  Their natural rhythm returned as if they’d never been apart. 

While the photographer finished up taking the needed shots, they decided the view from the upstairs deck of the property couldn't be beat.  The property was located across the road from the beach and offered unobstructed views of the ocean and approaching sunset, with privacy he’d never find in a restaurant. 

To that end, Jon offered to walk down to the local pizzeria and bring back dinner while Rachel finished up with work. 

When he returned with the pizza and a bottle of wine with plastic glasses from the corner liquor store, he found Rachel alone.  He watched silently as she made some sort of notes on the papers in the blue file she’d carried all day and wondered how on earth he’d ever let her slip away from him. 

When she noticed him there – or the scent of the pizza – she lifted her head and an easy smile made her just as dazzling as the sunset.  “I didn’t realize how starved I was until I got a whiff of oregano.  Are you ready to eat?”

Dinner was simple, the view breathtaking and her company completely captivating.

“Sippin’ wine and killin’ time...”

“I’ve missed this, Rach… just talking with you.” 

“Me too.”

He could feel it.  She felt the same way he did, missed him just like he’d missed her.  He was certain he could see tears beginning to form in her eyes, and the smile she threw him was nothing more than a disguise to cover it all up. 

“Yanno,” he mused tentatively.  “It’s hard to remember why we split up…”

“Well, if we hadn’t walked away when we did, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this time together – this beautiful view, the sunset... This pathetic bottle of wine.”

And just like that, the woman across from him dropped her head back and giggled.  It was one of the things he’d missed most  - the way she could take some heavy moment and find the lightness in it.  It made him laugh right along with her. 

“It's pretty bad, isn’t it?” 

“It IS!  What were you thinking?”

“Hey!  I’ll have you know I paid twelve bucks for this bottle of wine at the Mini-Mart-slash-gas station down the street.  The good news is I've had so little, I won’t have any trouble driving.”

With their dinner over and the sun now long gone, Jon became a bit wistful.  He knew the evening would end once they made the short drive back home.

Unless he could find a way to extend it...

He was out of practice in trying to woo a woman.  Sorely out of practice.  His arsenal of charm and schmooze was empty and he couldn’t even recall any of the patented Sambora Slickness moves.  It had Jon resorting to throwing out the only bait he could think of on such short notice – listening to his own record.

“I know a great place down the road with a much better wine selection – and I could probably be persuaded to give you an advance listen of the new record.  You were an influence on it, and God knows you’ll never BUY it…. Whaddaya think?”

The amusing way she rolled her eyes at him, feigning annoyance, was as familiar to him as the back of his hand. 

“Just because I’d never heard of your last record doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy THIS one….sheesh….”  Blonde locks shook slithered back and forth over her shoulders as she shook her head with a laugh.  “I’ll never live that down…”

“Got that right!  No way will I ever let you live that down.” 

Even as the amusement lingered on her face, she hesitated and Jon feared for a moment that she was going to decline. 

C’mon, Rachel.  Don’t do what you think IS right, do what FEELS right. 

“Fine.  I’ll take that bribe.  Some obscenely overpriced bottle of wine in your collection while I listen to the lastest Bon Jovi creation… I feel so special.  What’s the name of this new masterpiece, anyway?”

Whether she was subject to his mental telepathy and encouragement, Jon would never know – and didn’t particularly care.  Things hadn’t been this light between them for months before they broke up, and damn, if it didn’t feel good.  He just wanted to feel good a while longer and her acquiescence gave him a shot of silly adrenaline.

“Ah ha!!!” he laughed with relief, waggling a triumphant finger in her direction.  “You already agree it’s a masterpiece!   Good to know all that hard work I did to brainwash you wasn’t totally wasted.” 

Jon had always thought to himself that Rachel felt like ‘home’ and, finding that he was a little drunk under the influence of her giggles, his epiphany now became even more profound: 

If ‘home’ had a soundtrack, it would be their voices laughing together.