Page 19

 Kristen Ashley

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“So bid it out,” he returned. “And I’ll ask around. Been in Chantelle a few years, know a few guys. We’re comin’ out of a recession but all of them felt that sting so they’ll be happy for the work. I’ll see if I can swing you a deal for a marker or your promise of a discount at the yard.”
This kind of brought us around full circle so I rolled with it.
“I’d appreciate you doing that, honey,” I told him quietly, holding his eyes, lifting up and taking my chin from my knee. “But this reminds me we have to finish our conversation about you paying for the insulation.”
He shook his head, saying, “I’m payin’.”
“Emme,” he cut me off, leaning toward me, “I’m paying.”
I unwrapped my arm from my leg to throw it out to the side. “That’s crazy.”
“Nothin’ crazy about it,” he replied.
God, his thinking it wasn’t crazy was also crazy.
I dropped my leg so I was sitting cross-legged in the couch and leaned into him. “Honey, you remember everything so I don’t have to remind you I haven’t seen you in nine years. I dig it that we reconnected and I love having you back.” I again threw an arm out, this time toward him and back to me. “This is great. You and me spending time together, shooting the breeze. I missed that. And I get it that friends make gestures, but this is too much.”
His eyes warmed during this speech and he took his arms from the couch, bent his legs, leaned into them, and me, and put his elbows to his knees, never releasing my eyes.
“Baby, I want you warm and liquid. The first bein’ physically, the second bein’ financially. You stop payin’ so much for heat, you’ll have more money for the rest of the shit you gotta do.”
This made sense.
But he’d again called me “baby.”
And I needed to address that.
So I asked, “What is that?”
His head cocked and his eyebrows drew together. “What’s what?”
I drew in breath and on the exhale, stated, “You calling me baby.” Then I went on quickly, “Not that I don’t like it. It’s sweet. It’s just not…” I hesitated, “us.”
Something happened to his eyes, his face, his whole big body and that something made me brace at the same time it made my heartbeat escalate.
“You know what it is,” he said softly.
I didn’t.
“I don’t,” I shared.
His eyes stayed locked to mine and I knew him relatively well, or I used to. But even if we hadn’t been separated for years, I still would not have been forewarned to the fact he was about to blow my mind.
“Before, we had Elsbeth between us. My head was f**ked about that, about her, and it took almost a decade to get it unfucked. Lookin’ back, havin’ you back, I now know and I reckon you know, that’s the way it was. She was between us. She knew it too. And she didn’t like it. But it didn’t matter. My head was f**ked so I couldn’t see clear of her and not doin’ that, I didn’t see you.”
I knew my lips had parted. I also knew my eyes got big. And last, I had no clue what to say.
So I said nothing.
“Now she isn’t between us,” he finished.
It was then I knew what the “baby” business was.
I just had no idea how to react to it because I never considered it. He was beautiful. He was kind. He was smart. He was funny and interesting and affectionate.
But he was my best friend’s boyfriend.
That didn’t mean my mind didn’t go there in vague ways, not stupid enough to wish for something I could never have, just silently covetous of what Elsbeth had. And, because of all that he was and that Elsbeth had it, in the end, infuriated she threw it away. Angry enough to end an important friendship because of it.
Sitting there, all that was Jacob, and all that being spectacular sitting across from me, holding my eyes, I finally understood that the reason I was angry at my friend was because, in throwing Jacob away, she took him away from me.
And now I had him back, but also, he was saying I’d always had him a different way, we just didn’t go there and he was going to take us there.
Yes. I had no clue what to say but my body had a clue how to feel. Warm and there were a lot more tingles.
“Jacob—” I started on a whisper.
But he interrupted again.
“You saw me, asked me out to dinner that same night, no f**kin’ around. Since then, you’ve called twice for no reason except to connect, and, baby, before you freak that I noticed that and what it said, I’ll tell you, I’m f**kin’ glad you did and I’m also f**kin’ glad about what it said. The boyfriend you were on the fence about, you got off the fence in less than twenty-four hours after seein’ me again and decided to get shot of his ass. And you didn’t waste any time gettin’ me right where I am tonight. That is not friends reconnecting. You know it. So do I.”
“Don’t deny it.”
I shut my mouth.
When I did, the skin around his eyes got soft and his mouth twitched and I’d seen that before but not during an intense discussion where Jacob Decker was essentially telling me he was into me. So although before I liked it, now it made my hands start shaking. Therefore, I clasped them both around my beer bottle in my lap.
“Now, layin’ this shit out for you, I f**ked up,” he continued. “In a big f**kin’ way that I been dealin’ with since summer. Hung up on a bitch, and Emme, honey, I know you two were once tight and women don’t like men referrin’ to women as bitches but there’s no denyin’ what Elsbeth pulled this summer exposed her as just that. I thought she was what I wanted and my only shot at gettin’ it and to be the man I felt I needed to be, I’d selfishly let that go. I been kickin’ my own ass about that for f**kin’ years then kickin’ my own ass when it hit me I shouldn’t have been.”
He stopped and it appeared he wanted a response from me and the only one I had was to nod, which fortunately was all he needed for he kept talking.
“But I got a kaleidoscope that I’ve been carryin’ with me everywhere I go for the last nine years that I was too blind to see until very recently that holdin’ that thing with me proves that shit irrevocably wrong.”
At the mention of my gift to him, my pulse started beating so fast I could feel it in my fingertips.