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I just wish I knew what she’s afraid of.
Being with me?
Or is it something else?
By the time we’re driving back to the motel, it’s past ten o’clock. Pretty early compared to my normal bedtime, but all I can think about doing is lying down and shutting my eyes.
That kiss took a lot out of me emotionally. I’d forgotten how intense a kiss could be when it isn’t linked to sex or foreplay. Kissing just to kiss usually has meaning behind it. That kiss Jax and I shared definitely meant something, but I can’t figure out exactly what.
Okay, who am I kidding? Everything we’ve done has meant something. I’ve just been living in denial. My heart is about to get broken again. I can feel it in the pit of my stomach, a gnawing ache that won’t go away.
To distract myself from my thoughts, I send a text to Nelli. When she doesn’t respond right away, I start to panic and end up calling her even though Jax is in the car with me and will be able to hear everything that’s said. I just keep thinking about all the times my mom tried to wander out of the house at night. What if she got the door unlocked and made it out without Nelli knowing?
“Clara, what’s wrong?” Nelli answers after four rings, sounding exhausted.
“I tried to text you, but you didn’t respond.” I turn toward the window, trying to keep the conversation as private as I can.
“That’s because I was asleep.” When she yawns into the receiver, the two hour time difference dawns on me, that it’s after midnight back in North Carolina.
“Oh shit, Nelli, I’m so sorry,” I apologize, feeling horrible. “I forgot how late it is there.”
“It’s okay. I needed to wake up and check on your mom, anyways.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Good. She even helped me bake a cake for Mr. Garlifed and went with me to take it to him.”
“You didn’t return with any roosters, did you?”
“Nope,” she assures me. “Well, not that I’m aware of.”
I rub my heavy eyelids. “Good. I’m glad everything’s going okay.”
“Are you okay? You sound either tired or upset... I can’t tell which.”
“Tired,” I tell her through a yawn. “It’s been a long couple of days.”
“I bet it has.” She pauses. “How’s everything going with the safeness?”
I give a sidelong glance in Jax’s direction. “I thought we agreed not to talk about that ever again.”
“And I thought I made it pretty clear that was never going to happen.”
“Fine, yes, the safeness is going well.” I can feel Jax’s eyes burning holes in the side of my head. “I’ll let you go now. Sorry for waking you up.”
“No problem, Clara… Stellar. Call me if you need anything.”
“Clara Stellar? You’re slacking.”
“I’m tired, but I’ll do better next time.”
“All right, Nelli Tiserelli. Talk to you later.” I hang up then slump back in the seat.
Jax is watching me intensely. “Who’s Nelli?” he wonders as he flips the brights on.
“Huh?” Did I say her name out loud?
“You said Nelli on the phone.” He treads cautiously. “I know that’s not your mom’s name.”
My phone clanks as I drop it into the console. I try to conjure up a lie, but I’m so tired my mind blanks out on me. “She’s my aunt.”
He cranks down the volume of the stereo. “You called your aunt… Why?” There’s a speck of insinuation in his tone, probably because I rarely mention my family.
“She’s staying with my mom while I’m gone.” I can tell he wants to ask questions, so I add, “This kind of falls into the stuff I don’t want to tell you about.”
“But I thought we agreed we were going to talk more about that stuff when we made it back to the motel room.”
“I don’t think we ever agreed to that.”
“I’m pretty sure we did,” he replies.
We’re quiet the rest of the way back to the motel and I sink into my thoughts about what exactly he expects to happen once we get to the motel room. Does he think I’m going to just pour my soul out to him? Just like that? Then what? He realizes what a mess my life is and ignores me until we get home, then sends me on my way. I’ll end up alone again, with no one, with no Jax. And I like having my Jax, even if the time we have together is limited and rule restricted.
My mind is unbelievably wired during the drive, but by the time we make it to the room, I start to crash. All I want to do is pass out.
“Road trips are exhausting,” I mutter as I kick my sandals off and flop face first onto the mattress. “I just want to go to sleep.”
“Then go to sleep,” Jax replies as he closes the door and flips the lock.
I twist my head toward him. “I have to shower first and wash the Dirty Tiger stench off me. Plus, I’m not sure I can actually fall asleep. My mind’s too wired with thoughts of dirty stripper poles and toothless, pervy men.”
“How about this.” He drops his wallet and keys onto the nightstand then climbs onto the bed with me. “You go take a bath while I go raid the vending machine? Then we can stream a movie until you fall asleep.” He swings a leg over me to straddle my back then places his hands on my shoulders and starts massaging my sore muscles.