Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
For the nearly hour long drive, only a non-sequential fifteen minutes of it were taken up with talking. Sorcha didn’t think either of them wanted to have a serious discussion while being eavesdropped on by a cabbie who probably didn’t care to begin with.
When they crossed the Milton border Jeb said quietly, “if you want to get dropped at your place first, that’s fine. I’ll pay the fare.”
There was nothing at this end of town except for trees and street lights. Sorcha watched each pool of light grown and diminish as they passed under them. Thinking. “No,” she said. “That’s okay. We’ll go to your place.”
He didn’t react to this, but it was still a reaction—carefully schooled and maintained so she couldn’t see his real feelings in the dark.
When they got to Blackstone Coffee it was almost midnight. Jeb paid the hefty fare while Sorcha climbed up the steps to the apartment above the coffee shop. There was a black and white cat perched on the railing at the top, and from the small outside light Jeb left on when he wasn’t at home, she could see the black patch under its chin, curving upwards over its mouth like a smile. She scratched its ear while she waited.
He waited until the cab was driving away before climbing up the stairs to join her. He laid a hand on top of the cat’s head and she purred hugely, rubbing her head along his palm. Then he got out his keys and unlocked the door. He pushed it open and let her go through first.
Not the first time Sorcha had been to Jeb’s Felicity Harbour apartment, but possibly the second or third, she’d noticed he didn’t keep things. There was no knickknacks on shelves or magazines laying about or any of the regular detritus that indicated a placed was lived in. This apartment was hardly any better. When her uncle had lived here, the place had been covered head to toe in junk that should have been cleared out ages ago. All the junk was gone now. She tried to catalog how it looked compared to Jeb’s old apartment. There was a tv in the living room, and a couch that looked lived in. There was a half full water bottle on the coffee table.
Jeb said, “do you want a drink?”
“Do you have anything nonalcoholic?”
“Lemonade?” Sorcha asked. She smiled despite herself.
Jeb shrugged. “It was on sale.” He loped into the kitchen and poured them both a glass of lemonade. When he handed her the glass, their fingertips touched, an intimate gesture. She couldn’t remember the last time they’d touched each other, and the missing of it struck her deep in the ribs. The wanting touch him and be touched by him. She made herself breathe in deep and drink her lemonade.
He hadn’t touched his glass. It sat full in his hand as he looked at her. He looked so different. When she’d first met his hair had been bleached bone white and cut short in the back and sides, continually tousled from his habit of grabbing his own crown if he was stressed, or thinking, or nervous. When he’d come to Milton, it’d been dyed black—flat, and poorly done and as the months passed he’d let it grow out. Now it was short again, the black dye had faded to a dark, rich brown, what Sorcha suspected was his natural hair color. But it wasn’t just his hair—his hair was the least of it. He’d aged. He looked tired, especially now standing in his dimly lit kitchen. She could see it around his eyes and in the way he held his mouth.
Sorcha put her glass down on the table and stepped closer to him. “Jeb.”
“Sorcha.” He looked down at her dress, put his cup down on the counter behind him. “I remember the first time I saw you in that. I thought you looked like a diamond.”
“I know,” she said. “I remember.”
Something in the room hummed. The fridge, maybe. Or the blood in her veins. It grew louder, more insistent. She swallowed.
“Sorcha,” Jeb said again. The buzzing stopped. She took two steps forward, put her hands on his face, and kissed him.
His mouth parted so easily under hers. One of his hands scraped through her hair while the other one went to her waist, his fingers curling into her. Her dress wrinkled.
Sorcha pulled back. She inhaled deeply, trying to get her breath back. Jeb’s hand was just barely on her waist still. His eyes were half shut, his mouth closing into a flat line. “God,” he said. He let go of his waist and dragged his hand through his hair. “God,” he said again, and now there was a tremor in his voice. “I missed you.”
She’d missed him, too. She’d told him as much that night she’d appeared on his doorstep to rant and rage. And after that, the waters between them had stilled, but not enough to make them what they’d used to be. It’d made them polite and cordial. She’d never seen anyone put out such an effort to make sure she was never uncomfortable around them like Jeb had. And now she’d put a toe over the line. She’d kissed him, and what they’d had before was not content to let her leave it at that. She’d missed him. She’d missed him.
The first night they’d spent together in Felicity Harbour Sorcha had told Jeb she’d needed to use the bathroom and then hadn’t come back. She’d stolen into his bedroom instead, shedding her jeans, feeling sly and coy and sexy—the country girl in the big city, seducing and being seduced by someone who’d never seen trees on his skyline unless they were in a city park.
Even that first night he’d adored her.
She hadn’t responded to his statement. She hadn’t said out loud, I missed you, too, and now he was looking at her like he’d given her the words in a crystal glass, and she’d purposefully snatched her hand back at the last minute to let it smash on the ground. Sorcha picked up her lemonade glass and downed what was left in it. She said, “I need to use the bathroom.”
If he remembered the words from two years ago he didn’t say so. Instead he just stood there, licking his lips and watching her leave. She’d been in this apartment enough times to know where the bathroom was, and when she flipped on the lights the bright, ugly fluorescents made her squint when she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was tousled and her mascara had smudged. There were pink spots high on her cheeks and on her collarbone. Her brain warred. If she did this, was she rewarding him for bad behavior? Was she telling him that what he’d done to her was dead, and gone, and she forgave him, and everything was fine? Did it mean that all the nights she’d lain awake and stared at the ceiling and made herself heartsick—nearly physically sick—imagining him in bed with him didn’t exist anymore?
Let yourself care, she told herself. Because she did. And she loved him. And she wanted it to go back to the way it had been, even though it couldn’t.
There was no point smoothing her hair or fixing the wrinkles in her dress. She peed, washed her hands and splashed cold water on her face. Then she opened the cabinet and scanned the paltry contents until her eyes landed on the unopened little box. She grabbed it and took it back out into the bedroom. She set it on the bedside table where Jeb would see it and then she sat down and kicked off her high heels. She sighed in relief and dug her goes into the carpet. And then she waited.
It took him longer than she expected to come to the bedroom. After ten minutes she heard his slow, wary footsteps leave the kitchen and cross the living room, and she met his eyes immediately when he appeared in the doorway. “What are you doing?” he asked, his voice low and wary. Cautious. Full of want.
“Waiting for you,” Sorcha said quietly. She looked down at the floor, at her kicked away high heels. “I—“
She wasn’t going to talk about this. She stood and held out her hand to him. “Come here.”
Jeb came into the room finally. He put his hand in hers and she tugged him forward until they were standing hip to hip, She ran her hands up and down his arms, feeling the muscles that hadn’t been there the last time she’d touched him. He’d been softer, somehow, in Felicity Harbour. Protected. Living in Milton, he’d had to build himself a shell. She fingered the hem of his tee shirt, then pulled it upwards, exposing his stomach, his chest. He grabbed the back of his shirt by the neck and finished what she’d started. He let it drop to the floor. In the light from the bathroom she could see his chest rising and falling with each breath, the rhythm getting faster and faster with each passing second. He reached for her, and she let him. He found the zipper at the back of her dress and pulled it down—slowly. Reverently. Like he was experiencing something he thought he’d never get to, and he wanted to imprint each moment on his brain. She knew how he felt.
Sorcha let the dress, unzipped, fall down over her hips. She stepped out of it, kicked it gently to the side. This time he was the one to initiate the kiss. He was getting his bravery back, she thought with some humor, but she wasn’t upset. She’d missed his confidence. The first year he’d been here he’d walked around like a kicked dog, wary of kindness, always expecting the worst, and Sorcha had done her best to not give him either of those things. But now—
Now she willingly pressed her body against his, felt his chest with her hands. Taking care not to trip, she walked backwards to the bed, pulling him with her. She sat down with a thump, then unbuckled his belt, smoothing her hand over his groin.
“Sorcha.” He put his hand on hers to stop her. “Sorcha, wait.”
She stopped and looked up at him, letting her face ask the question—why?
“What are we doing?” He asked. “What is this?”
Sorcha licked her lips. “I—“
“Because—“ He grabbed her hand, keeping it still. “Because if this is a one time thing,” he said. “If this is just a pity fuck because I’m—“ He didn’t finish the sentence, and she wondered what the final word would have been. Sad? Heartbroken? Unmoored? A thousand synonyms. “Then I don’t want it,” he said. He was gripping her hand so tight it should have hurt. “I won’t be able to take it if you leave.”
“I’m not leaving,” Sorcha said. There was still so much to work through, too many more conversations to have, and some of them would be difficult. But they’d missed each other too much. It’d been like an ache in her gut for two years and she was ready to let it go away. She kissed the back of his hand, and then his stomach, above his navel. A tremble went through him, and he breathed a watery sigh like a great weight was sliding away, and the relief of it was almost too much to take. “I’m not leaving.”
He was touching her again. His hands were on her ribs, his mouth was on her collarbone, his leg was touching hers as he moved between her thighs.
She was touching him again. Her hands were on his back, her mouth was on his neck, her leg sliding up his waist as she pulled him in closer.
Every movement they made was in slow motion. The sheets were bunching at the bottom of the bed. “Is this okay?” he asked her. He kept asking her.
She kept replying “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
The pillow wasn’t big enough for both of their heads. The bed was too small. They pressed against each other, legs entwined, his arm around her waist, her hand digging into his shoulder. He was kissing her open mouth, breathing in each of her gasps. She’d missed this—she’d missed this so much. She’d missed him so much. She wasn’t thinking about any of the things that had happened—right now, they didn’t matter. There was just…this.
“Sorcha,” he whispered. His hips ground slowly into her. In the dim light still coming from the bathroom, Jeb was shadows moving darkly. He moved on top of her, and she pressed herself up, wrapping her arms around his back. She felt his shoulder blades moving, felt his hair against her jaw as he kissed her neck, the edge of her ear. “Sorcha,” he said again. “God—goddamn.”
“I know,” she breathed, and then she was laughing. Short, helpless giggles that made her stomach trip, then fall flat on its face as he moved inside of her. Her abs contracted, almost painfully, but she still couldn’t stop laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Jeb asked. His mouth was still by her ear, and the vibration of his voice made her shudder.
“That was just so you,” she giggled. “I missed it.”
Now that they were in the same bed, no clothes, sheets on the floor, it was all she could think about. How much she’d missed him. She didn’t know how either of them had lived through the past two years—they’d made everything so much harder on themselves.
But this midnight might not have happened otherwise.
She was getting close.
“Sorcha.” He couldn’t stop saying her name. He kept repeating it like a mantra that had kept him alive for so long that now he was here again he didn’t know how to stop saying it. He was rolling his hips in a way that she thought was going to make her crawl out of her head. Her chest heaved. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Jeb pressed his mouth to hers. Hard. Insistent. She felt him inside her with the same feeling, but he still wasn’t close enough. There was still too much space between their skin. It would never be enough. She wondered if this was what it felt like to be drunk on love, completely inebriated on it, intoxicated entirely out of your mind. She squeezed her eyes shut and let the feeling overtake her.
Sorcha came out of the bathroom and flipped off the light. The worn out wood flooring under her feet felt cool and stabilizing. Her eyes burned with exhaustion, but her body thrummed with the kind of adrenaline she only got after sex.
Jeb slouched against the headboard, one foot dangling off the side of the bed. The screen glow of the phone he held in his hand lit his face. It felt incredibly bizarre to see him holding one, just like it was strange to see the scar on his arm where his device had been. When he heard the door open, he looked up and dropped the phone on the mattress. They looked at each other for a long moment. The last time they’d been here, Sorcha thought, it’d been more than two years ago in a different city in an apartment that belonged to neither of them anymore.
Sorcha had grabbed Jeb’s tee shirt from the ground before going to the bathroom, and now she worried at the hem as she wandered back to the bed. “Good look for me?” She asked.
“Always was,” Jeb said. “Miss the undercut, though.”
Sorcha ruffled her hair. It was long now, almost past her breasts. “It was a pain in the ass to upkeep,” she said, draping herself across the foot of the bed. She reached for his phone to check the time. Almost one in the morning. The coffee shop was closed the next morning—or later on this one, she supposed, or else both of them would have been sorely regretful when they had to take the morning shift. She wondered if he, like her, wouldn’t have regretted staying up so late anyway.
“So,” Jeb said softly. “What now?”
Sorcha dropped the phone back onto the mattress. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess we’ll have to see where this takes us.”
“So you’re staying,” he said in the same soft tone.
Sorcha flicked the bottom of his foot, and he snatched it away. “I already said I was.”
Jeb moved so that his feet were against the headboard and his head rested against Sorcha’s side. “Thanks,” he said.
“I’m not doing it for your benefit,” Sorcha retorted in mock outrage. She said, seriously, a moment later, “we needed to take a break, Jeb. I needed time.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate that.” She slid her hand toward him on the bedspread. Not even a moment later, she felt him take it, twining their fingers together. Touch had always been so important between the two of them. The silence turned drowsy and still.
After a while they both crawled under the covers, laughing when legs and arms tipped over the sides because the bed was still too small. Just as Sorcha was fading into sleep, Jeb said, quiet and sardonic and so much like his old self that she forgot where she was, “Cara’s going to have a field day.”
“Oh, my God,” Cara said. She stood up on her tip toes and stage whispered, “you fucked him, didn’t you?”
The smell of banana bread wafted in from the back. From where Sorcha stood writing specials on the board, she could hear Jeb banging around in the kitchen washing pots and bowls
“I didn’t fuck him,” Sorcha said. “We slept together. There’s a difference.”
“There is literally no difference,” Cara said at full volume. “If you were both in the same bed and neither one of you were wearing pants and, also, he stuck his—“
“Cara,” Sorcha interrupted. “I love you. Shut up.”
There was a particularly loud clank from the kitchen, the kind of noise that was meant to cover up a laugh. Cara stepped back a few paces to stare into the kitchen. “This is disgusting,” she said. “If you two are together now, I’m gonna split up your shifts. I don’t want to have to witness you two making out between customers, or sneaking off to the supply closet—“
“For God’s sake, Cara,” Sorcha said. She hopped down off the step stool and picked it up. “I think we have complete control of our hormones, thanks. We’re not fifteen.”
“Mhm,” Cara said, her tone doubtful. “We’ll see.”
Jeb came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel. His walk was that slow swagger he used to do when he was walking around Urban Grind before opening—confident and at ease. Except this walk was even looser than that. Because even then he hadn’t been at ease, not with everything else that had been going on at the time. Not with the third strike hanging over his head.
“Bread’ll be out in an hour,” he told her. He examined the flour still under his fingernails. “Also, you wanna come have dinner tonight?”
Happiness settled in the pit of Sorcha’s stomach. “There isn’t a lot of take out around here. Are you cooking?”
“If the fucking stove cooperates.”
They were going to take this slow. They said so this morning when they’d dressed, and Jeb had cautiously kissed her on his outside landing. But they were going to give it a try. “My uncle always said the fact that the stovetop ran so hot was good to make burgers on, if you had a cast iron.”
Jeb grinned at her. “Burgers then. You can grab the fries.”
“You two,” Cara said from the front of the coffee shop where she was flipping over the “we are closed” sign, “are disgusting.”
Sorcha smiled a private smile, and she knew Jeb caught the edge of it before he went back into the kitchen, towel slung over his shoulder, sauntering like he was finally king of the world.
She had a good feeling about this.