THE TEARS BEGAN to slow, and finally he just lay in my lap, very still, as if the tears had emptied him of everything. I stroked his hair; I made the noises you make when you know that the pain is so vast that nothing you can do will fix it. The soft Its all right, when you know that it isnt all right, and never will be again, and perhaps never had been.
Peterson opened the door for us. Jason wiped at his face and sat up. If hed been a woman he would have asked if it looked like hed been crying, buTHE was a man, and he didnt ask. We got out, hand in hand again. Theyd taken us around to the parking garage again. I hadnt even noticed. The world had narrowed down to the man in my lap and his grief.
Peterson led us up the back stairs, which meant there was probably some real Summerland newsworthy event in the lobby. Fine with me; Id had enough circus for a while. I was ready for some bread.
Peterson and the suit waited for me to open the door with the little key card. They waited until we were inside the room. I half-expected them to check that the room was safe, but they resisted the urge. Bully for them.
Thanks, I said.
Peterson handed me a business card. If you have any more incidents with the press, call. Its going to be a mess here this week. Its very unfortunate that your friend and his father are going to be caught up in it. The governor is very serious about helping keep you out of the limelight.
I appreciate the effort, Mr. Peterson.
My job, Ms. Blake.
I nodded. Good night.
I closed the door, locked it, and put on the flip-bar door lock at the top. I always locked up tight. Yeah, most of the things I hunted could bust through a door without a problem, but you never knew, some bad guys were only human.
I didnt expect bad guys tonight, but then I hadnt expected to need the gun today either. Id brought it anyway.
Jason had gone for the bathroom and closed the door. I heard water running. I almost left him alone, but I was starving. I knocked on the door.
The water stopped. Yes.
I want to order some room service, what do you want?
Im not hungry.
You have to eat, Jason. It wasnt just normal have to eat. Wereanimals all had better control of their beast if their bellies were full. One hunger feeds the other, and one emptiness calls another.
Nothing is going to sound good to me, Anita.
I know. I leaned my forehead against the door. Im sorry, Jason.
I heard him at the door, and moved away enough for him to open it without bumping me. What are you sorry about?
That your dad was so awful, I guess.
He gave a smile that was so bitter it hurt my heart to see it. Hes been awful to me my whole life. I guess I thought, hes dying, well have that Hallmark moment, but its not going to happen, is it?
I didnt know what to say, except, I dont think so.
He liked you, though. That surprised me.
He likes Mom all soft and yes, dear. He likes Roberta best of the girls because she always agrees with him. BuTHE liked that you stood up to him.
I shrugged. My peculiar charm, I guess.
He smiled at me. Is that what theyre calling it these days? He walked past me into the room.
I frowned at his back. Whats that supposed to mean?
It means he touched your scars.
A lot of people are fascinated by them.
No, they arent. They ignore them and pretend they arent there. Or they stare, but dont want to. Your scars embarrass people, make them uncomfortable.
I try to ignore it all, I said.
Yeah, but theyre your scars, so it bothers you. I get to just watch peoples reactions. He took off his tie and threw it on the floor.
I shrugged. I didnt know you were that interested in how people reacted to my scars.
He smiled at me as he took off his jacket. I like people-watching, you know that.
All wereanimals do; Ive always thought it was the same way a lion watches a herd of gazelles. You know, looking for the weakest link.
He shook his head and started unbuttoning his shirt. Ive always liked watching people, but then once I thought Id be an actor. We collect mannerisms the way other people collect stamps.
I thought about it. I guess that makes sense.
You took your high heels off the moment we came through the door last time. Get comfortable.
It seemed like days ago that wed first been in the room. I was drained from all the family shit that Id witnessed. Jason seemed okay, as if the crying in the car hadnt happened at all. He was a little hollow around the eyes, but other than thaTHE seemed back to his usual self. I knew it was a lie, it had to be. Which made me wonder how often Jason hid his emotional turmoil back in St. Louis. If he was this good at it, he could be hiding how he truly felt all the time.
What? he asked. His shirt was open down the front, with only the French cuffs with their gold cuff links left to unfasten.
Im just wondering how often you do this in St. Louis.
Do what? he asked.
Pretend everything is fine when inside its not.
His blue eyes hardened, and some of the strain showed in his face, but only for an instant. Then he smiled at me, and it filled his face up all the way to his eyes.
Ill eat if you make me. He moved close to me. And just like that, I wanted to move back from him. He hadnt done a thing, really. His expression was still pleasant. But there was a promise in the way he just stood there that made me uncomfortable.
Ill eat because youre right, he said. I dont need to be hungry when Im under this muchhe touched my facestress.
That one play of fingertips made me shiver. I closed my eyes, not sure whether I was closing them to keep the sensation closer, or so I couldnt see his face. His eyes werent smiling now. They held something too grown-up, too real, toouncomfortable.
His hand slid along the curve of my jaw, to cradle my face. He kissed me, and with me in the heels I was a little taller. It felt different enough that it made me open my eyes. I was suddenly staring into his eyes from inches away.
You look startled, he said, voice soft.
I had to swallow before I could say in a voice that was oddly breathy, I guess I am.
Why? Weve kissed before.
I stared down into his face. I couldnt put it into words, butI licked my suddenly dry lips and whispered, I dont know.
You look almostscared, he said, and he was almost whispering, too.
I stepped away from him, far enough thaTHE couldnt touch me. That was better.
He put his head to one side and looked at me. Youre nervous, he said, and he sounded surprised.
I walked to the little sitting area to the side of the room, with its chair and ottoman. I sat down and didnt look at him as I took off my shoes and set them beside the chair.
Talk to me, Anita, he said.
Lets order food, I said.
He came and knelt in front of me. His shirt was still held in place by only the French cuffs. The shirt spread around the smooth expanse of his chest, the muscles of his stomach bunching as he knelt.
I looked away again and started to get up. He put his hand on my wrist. My pulse sped under his touch. I stood up and was caught between Jason and the ottoman. I started to fall backward. He moved in one of those incredible too-fast-to-see moves. He was just suddenly standing, holding my wrists, pulling me forward. I ended up falling into his body, and he caught me around the waist. We were the same height again without the heels.
I was left staring into his face; the eye contact was so intimate, too intimate. I pushed at him, almost fought to get away.
He let me go, but said, Whats wrong?
I opened my mouth, shut it, took a deep shaking breath, another, and finally said, Im not sure.
Liar, he said.
I frowned at him. Im not lying.
Normally, I cant tell when youre lying. You dont even smell like youre lying, but your pulse sped, and your eyes showed it. Whats wrong, Anita, please, talk to me.
Lets order food first, and then while we wait Ill try to explain.
You want the time to organize your thoughts. He made it a statement.
Yeah, I said.
He nodded. Okay, lets find the room service menu. His face was careful, closed down. He did not need me to go all weird on him now. I was supposed to be his refuge while we were here, and I was blowing it.
He went to the desk at the side of the room and found the menu on top of it. He opened it without looking at me again. BuTHE was too good a friend for me not to see how he was holding his shoulders. The line of his body told me he was unhappy. Shit.
I knew what was wrongmy own weird internal argument with myself about sex. Nathaniel helped ease me through it, as did Micah, and Jean-Claude. Even Jason himself had helped me deal with some of my issues about Nathaniel when I was still trying not to be his lover. But though Jason could help talk me through issues with other men in my life, Jason had never tried to talk me through issues about him. I hadnt known I had any issues about Jason. But I had one.
I loved Jason. In that friend way, yes, buTHE lived on that emotional edge for me. That edge that felt familiar. The edge that Nathaniel had lived on for a while. That edge that Asher had lived on. I had other men who were more frequently in my bed, but none of them were as close to that emotional moment. Love, whether its friendship or more, is like a cup. It fills up drop by drop, until one last drop and the cup is full. The liquid hangs there almost above the rim, hangs there on the surface tension alone, and you can feel that one more drop and it will spill over. Once, I hadnt been aware of the process, but Id had it happen too many times now. I couldnt afford another spill. I couldnt afford another man in my life, not like that.
Could I just not tell the difference? Was that it? Was I so confused about sex and love that without Nathaniel or someone else I couldnt tell the difference between wanting a man for lust, and wanting him for love? Maybe, maybe. God help me, I didnt know.
I know what Im getting, Jason said. He offered me the menu. I took it, trying not to look at him. Trying not to let him read whatever was in my eyes.
He knew whaTHE wanted. I wish to hell I did.