Near and Far
Page 2

 Nicole Williams

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It wasn’t a sickness I was searching out a cure for.
After “saying our hellos” last night, we both passed out about two heartbeats after. When I’d gotten up to start breakfast, Jesse hadn’t even shifted. I almost checked his pulse he was sleeping so soundly. Sleeping in for Jesse was snoozing a few minutes past dawn. For him to still be asleep when it was rounding onto seven, the guy had to be about as beat as a person could be before keeling over from exhaustion.
As the bacon sizzled, I tried to work up some anger, or at least irritation, at Jesse making that five hundred mile drive after being awake for twelve hours. As usual, it didn’t work. Truthfully, part of me was thrilled he’d defied exhaustion to get to me sooner. Another part of me, a part that seemed a bit larger, worried that one day, our luck would run out and something terrible would happen.
That whole “running out of luck” thing I worried about didn’t only apply to Jesse driving across two state lines late at night. It plagued my nightmares and the darkest recesses of my mind when it came to Jesse’s and my relationship. I tried to ignore it—that feeling that the bottom would surely fall out from beneath us any day—but it crept into my mind and spread like a cancer. I knew my natural mentality tended toward pessimism and that those premonitions stemmed from that, so I tried damn hard to suffocate the naysayer in my mind. It was a constant battle.
I’d never brought up my luck-running-out thoughts to Jesse, and I never wanted to. They were my demons to fight. It wasn’t that I didn’t want his help; it was just that I’d have to bring him into hell to be a part of the battle. Hell—my personal one or any other one—was no place for someone like Jesse Walker.
So I battled them on my own, swore to myself I wouldn’t let the self-destructive person I’d locked up months ago out of her cage, and would do everything in my power to make sure I never ran out of luck when it came to Jesse. Whatever came, whatever obstacles we faced, one thing was certain: he was there now. He chose to give his love to me, and that had left me forever changed, no matter what happened.
“You make me breakfast when you come to Willow Springs, and you make me breakfast when I come here. You do realize you’re spoiling me, right?”
My beam was back in all of its prior glory.
“I do.” I turned off the burner before turning around. Jesse had managed to find his jeans, although the top button wasn’t fastened, but he was still sans shirt. Probably because I’d tossed it behind the headboard when I peeled it off of him last night. “I kinda like spoiling you.”
His eyes ran over me in a slow, purposeful way. Not in a lustful, I’m-going-to-take-you-right-now kind of way, but in a worshipful kind of way. I doubted I’d ever get used to him admiring me that way. “That can make a man weak.”
“I know. That’s all part of my evil plan.” Whether it was the look in his eyes, or the way he looked in nothing else but a carelessly situated pair of tight jeans, I simply couldn’t not approach him.
“What evil plan?” His arms tangled around me, and he drew me close to plant a kiss on my forehead.
“To make you so weak and spineless you’ll cave to my every wish, whim, and want.” I nestled my head into his chest as I wound my arms around him. His warmth spread to me, and I knew if there was one position I’d want to spend all of eternity in, that would be it.
“Hate to break it to you, but that evil plan has been working since last June, Rowen.”
“Oh? Did I miss the memo?”
“I’m weak, spineless, and . . . putty”—I felt his smile curve into the top of my head—“to your every wish, whim, and want now. I have been. I always will be.”
“That so?”
“For you only,” he whispered into my hair. “For you, I’m a weak, weak man. I’m so weak for you that you could break me with one word. You could end me with one look. You could ruin me with one touch.”
I thought we were born knowing how to breathe. It was an instinctive thing. But right then, I had to remind myself how to do it. “You’re weak?” He was the strongest person I’d ever known. If he was weak, then I don’t know what I was.
“Incredibly.” He kissed my temple. “For you.”
After a few moments of re-learning how to breathe—so much for “instinctive”—I wove out of his embrace to plate up our breakfast. “Well, damn. There goes my meticulously detailed evil plan.”
Jesse chuckled. “What are you going to do with all of your free time now?”
Glancing over my shoulder, I gave him a once-over of my own. Mine wasn’t nearly as innocent as his had been. “Other evil things.” I lifted an eyebrow to fill in the blanks.
Jesse didn’t blush. He didn’t even blink. He did grin though. “Where do I sign up to take part in these other evil doings?”
I was about to forget all about breakfast and rush back to the bedroom—or hell, the table was faster—when the front door flew open. In dashed my quirky roommate with impeccably awful timing.
“ROWEN! Get your snarky ass out of bed! The day’s a wastin’!” Alex’s back was to us as she tugged off her knee-high, shiny black boots. Alex’s wardrobe was hardcore. I don’t think she owned a single thing that was cotton. She sported leather, silk, tulle, satin . . . did I mention leather? The girl was Hispanic, but she dressed like a Japanese anime character. Living with her was about as colorful and adventurous as her wardrobe.
“Hey. Alex. Lower it a notch or fifty,” I said, waving a spatula at her. I was back to breakfast since getting hot and heavy with my boyfriend wasn’t happening since Alex had arrived. “The landlord said if he gets another complaint from our neighbors about the noise coming from our apartment, we’re getting an eviction notice.”
Alex made an unimpressed sound as she wrestled off her other boot. “Puh-lease. He said that twelve warnings ago. Besides, if he evicted us, the sick perv couldn’t get his daily jollies peeking on you when you pass by his window.”
Jesse’s forehead lined. He wasn’t a jealous boyfriend, which was relieving in the way only a girl who’d been with a jealous, possessive a**hole of a boyfriend could appreciate. However, he was a concerned boyfriend. To answer his silent concerns, I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Alex sold drama like it was running out.
After tossing her boots aside, she spun around and saw that I wasn’t alone. Of course her gaze lingered over Jesse like mine had earlier. When I’d counted to five and she only looked about halfway done, I grabbed one of my pancakes and flung it her way. “Speaking of getting daily jollies . . .”
Alex dodged the flying pancake while managing to keep her eyes planted on Jesse. “Hot damn, I knew it!” A lesser man than Jesse would have squirmed from the way she was eye humping him.
“Knew what, sick perv?”
She rolled her eyes, still managing to keep them on Jesse. “There really is a God.” She finally shifted her gaze to me. With a wink, she gave me a broad grin and sauntered toward the coffee pot. As she passed Jesse, she smacked his backside so hard it made both Jesse and me flinch. “And there’s a devil, too.” She waggled her eyebrows at me as she grabbed a coffee cup and filled it.
“Hey. Crazy. Keep your hands to yourself, or I’m getting a restraining order.”
“What? You were keeping yours to yourself. Really, Rowen, when a half-naked man like this delicious boy-toy of yours is standing half-naked in the kitchen, someone’s got to not keep their hands to themselves. Men like him weren’t put on this planet so that women could keep their hands to themselves.”
“Men like me can hear, you know,” Jesse piped in good-naturedly. “We can even talk. You know, in case anyone wants to issue a good morning or a hey, how are you? before smacking my backside and making me feel like a piece of meat.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “Good morning, Jesse. Hey, how are you?” Even she couldn’t keep from smiling around Jesse. It was a bloody epidemic.
“I’m doing great, Alex. So nice of you to ask,” Jesse replied.
“So what were you two freaks about to do with your morning before I burst in and objectified, sexually harassed, and assaulted your boyfriend?”
I sighed in exasperation as I carried Jesse’s and my plates to the table. Living with Alex was like living with a one-woman circus. It was always loud, always intense, and always fun. “Something freaky.”
She giggled into her coffee cup. “Please—please—don’t let me stop you. I’m perfectly happy to watch whatever freakiness you were about to partake in. Just pretend I’m not here.” She hopped up onto the counter and got comfortable.
“Go medicate yourself or something.” I was tempted to throw another pancake at her, but I was hungry. I’d already wasted one pancake, and it hadn’t even shut her up for a second.
“Come on! I wouldn’t even say anything.”
“Alex!” I shot a pathetic glare at Jesse, who was silently chuckling.
“What, Cranky Pants?”
“Medication. Now.” I lifted my eyebrows and waited. Alex wasn’t really on medication—contrary to popular belief—but we’d learned to build healthy boundaries so we didn’t annoy the shit out of each other. She was about five seconds of stare-lusting over Jesse past annoying the shit out of me.
“Fine. Be selfish like that and keep him all to yourself.” She slid off the counter, blew each of us a kiss, and headed for her room. “Damn. I hope I put Julio on the charger. I need my Julio action after walking in on that fine piece of cowboy ass.”
I shook my head and dove into my pancakes.
“Julio?” Jesse asked, sounding like he was afraid to ask. He was right to be.
“Don’t ask,” I said, lifting my hand. The first week we’d lived in the apartment, I rushed into Alex’s room after hearing her high-pitched screams. Let’s just say there wasn’t enough brain bleach to wipe that image from my mind. Ready to move on from the Julio, giant-hot-pink-vibrator conversation, I changed the topic. “How’s the gang back home?”
Jesse’s face ironed out, and his eyes went soft. “Home?” He dropped his forkful of pancake back on his plate.
I shrugged and gave him a look. Not that I was complaining, but I didn’t understand what I’d said or done to generate that warm expression.
“Do you think of Willow Springs like that? As your home?”
Ah. I got it. He’d gone all soft in the knees, eyes, and head because I’d called his home my home. Honestly, wherever he was or wherever he went was my home. I might have been too big of a chicken to admit that to him, but I suppose that without realizing it, I kind of just had. Damn my subconscious and its agenda.
“Mi casa es tu casa. Tu casa es mi casa. Right? In terms of Webster’s definition of a home, I suppose Willow Springs is as close to one as I’ve ever had,” I said with another shrug. I knew my answer was the reason his hopeful expression dropped ever so slightly. I also knew I’d just upgraded—or would it be downgraded?—my chicken status to coward status, but the overwhelming, at times stifling, feelings I had for Jesse were difficult to admit to myself, let alone to him.