Warning: the following chapter contains adult content.
“So darling, was he salivating all over you? I mean, he’s divine, you’re divine. It’s too bad you can’t have more children.” Susie’s nasal pronouncement was slightly clipped.
“Are you smoking again?” Elle frowned into the phone. “You sound like you’re puffing on something.”
“Of course not. But answer the question, was the date a disaster or not?” A short pause was followed by a subtle exhalation. “I need to know if I can push for an extra week off. Andy wants to go to Bermuda.”
Well that explained it.
“Aside from threatening to fire you, I’d say it went OK. I mean, when he’s not being a jerk he is quite… intriguing.” Elle tapped her nails against the clean bench top and wondered how she was going to spend her day while Susie ignored the firing jab to go straight for the gossip.
“Intriguing… coming from you that’s a marriage proposal.”
“Ha, I don’t think so. He’s a force of nature and I don’t want to mess my hair.” She frowned at the tiny lines on the back of her hand, multiplying despite her expensive lotion. “Baby steps.”
Susie sighed. “It’s been years, hon.”
“I know. And it will be years before I’m ready to forget Ryan.”
“Elle, no one’s asking you to for-” Her friend paused, apparently deciding the sentence was better left unfinished. The topic had been raised and closed enough times in the past. “Forget about boys, let’s catch a movie. There’s that new wine bar next to the cinema, too.”
Elle struggled to think of an excuse and decided that the truth was her best defence.
“I haven’t been myself lately, Suz. I think I need a bit of time to think. Jim’s on a fishing trip with his friend, I thought I’d make the most of it. A bath and a good book. Maybe a handful of sleeping pills.”
Susie laughed. “Well go wild but don’t drown on me. Whatever you’re moping about, I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
If only you knew, thought Elle. It couldn’t get any worse.
* * *
The last thing she needed was more time to think. She was already full of thoughts that had no place inside the head of a decent woman. Flashes of wet lips and faint freckles, of damp, glossy hair clenched between her fingers. Elle would chase peace for an hour or two lost in the mess that was her organic vegetable patch, but the thoughts followed her everywhere, bringing with them a hot, prickling heat followed by a nausea that took her breath away.
The bath had been a mistake. She didn’t want to be faced with her naked body, folded in the warm water and jasmine oil. It made her lazy and seductive. Young. Without thinking she drew a leg up through the water and admired the smooth, tight curve of her calf. It was a nice leg, shapely and delicate.
She dumped it back into the water with a splash. She had no right to such thoughts, to admire her leg, when she still couldn’t face a mirror. In no time she’d be wearing low cut tops and drinking shooters.
Never mind poor Jim. Her son had spent the past week puzzling over her constantly averted gaze, finally accusing her of lapsing into another bout of depression. He couldn’t know that this was far worse than the thick, dark cloud that made getting out of bed an Olympic endeavour. Shame was inescapable, guilt its constant companion. Hot and heavy they sat tight inside her, ate her from the inside out until she longed for the cloud to return so she could go back to feeling numb again.
And yet when she reasoned it through she knew that much of her disgust was misplaced. She was angrier at her own pleasure, than the thought of hurting Chris. No young man should have the responsibilities that he carried, lightly, but relentlessly. She had given him something just for himself, and while he may have stormed out of the house pale faced and embarrassed, she knew he would probably one day look back on their dalliance fondly, joke with his work colleagues about his own ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and shake his head in wonder. She hoped time might grace her with the same perspective, and that she wouldn’t be left a dry old widow aching for forbidden pleasures and hating herself for it.
Her mobile vibrated next to the basin and threatened to launch itself onto the tiles. Elle groaned and pulled herself up, glancing down to see that Jimmy was calling.
There was a slight pause. “Hey… it’s Chris.”
She stood there, naked and dripping with the phone held slightly away from her ear. He couldn’t see her, but she was suddenly overcome with the need to cover herself.
“Is everything all right?”
She could hear the rumble of Jim’s voice in the background, a brief, angry shout followed by Chris covering the phone and muttering.
The line cleared.
“I didn’t want to bother you, but Jim’s had a bit too much to drink.”
Before she could answer it was muffled again, a dull series of thumps followed by Chris shouting at Jim to get the hell away from him.
“Sorry.” He gave a short, breathless laugh. “Obviously he doesn’t approve of this phone call. He’s wasted. He just abused the hell out of his girlfriend and her friend; they’ve both taken off in the car.”
“You had girls there?” Something Jimmy had forgotten to mention.
Elle grimaced and thought of Sophie. Innocent and utterly enamoured with her son.
“Look, I would never have called you, but he’s been climbing trees and running through the dark. He…” There was a pause as his voice dropped in discomfit. “I think he took something a little harder than booze.”
She and Ryan had experimented with drugs when they were Jimmy’s age. For some reason though, it didn’t soften the blow. She imagined him curled on the floor and felt the bile rise up her throat.
“Should I call an ambulance?”
“No, nothing like that. He’s just upset; I’ve never seen him like this.” He groaned and Elle heard something like a hammer being hit against a tin drum.
“What’s he doing now?”
“Making music, I think.” He made a short sound of exhaustion. “If something happens we’re stranded, and if he runs off again I might lose him. You know there are some treks around here where the hillside drops off-”
“It will take me half an hour to get to the cabin. Can you hold on that long?”
“Of course.” The line went quiet and she could almost feel his breath against her ear. “I’m sorry Elle. I tried-”
“It’s fine Chris.” She eased the tremor from her voice. “I know you’ll take care of him until I get there, then you won’t have to worry. If anything changes, call me OK?
His voice was so soft she barely heard him. “OK. I’ll be waiting.”
There was no moon, the old cedars looming out of the dark in a vertical rush, gliding through the headlights and disappearing again. The car gave a heavy jolt as one of the tires sunk into a pothole and bounced its way free, only to enter the turn too sharp and skid through the gravel shoulder. Regaining control she made herself slow down, too aware that Ryan had lost his life to much less. He was watching her now, she felt it.
After an eternity the small timber cabin glowed through the trees, deceptively peaceful. She hoped the boys were inside and that she wouldn’t have to trample through the woods calling for them. As the wheels crunched to a halt the door swung open and Chris stepped out.
He was clearly exhausted, taking in her five litre bottle of water and medicine box with a weary smile.
“Is he OK?”
She felt her shoulders slump in relief.
“Sorry,” he added, hefting the water from her arms and lowering it to the ground. “He was running around like crazy until a moment ago, then halfway through talking about climbing Mt. Warten for sunrise he fell asleep.”
He reached for the medicine box, held it in his hands and focused on the large red cross.
“I should have guessed he’d wear himself out. I just got worried, and I couldn’t think who else-”
“Chris, I’m so glad you called me. Truly.”
Passing beyond the front door Elle realized that he’d done a fine job of sugar-coating the situation. An attempt had been made at cleaning up, but setting a match to the place would have been easier. Jimmy had trashed it. A huge tear was gaping across the front of the couch, its stuffing ripped out and scattered over the floor in tiny clouds. Above them, tree branches had been hurled inside and stuffed into the rafters to create a canopy of pine leaves. It was as if Santa’s elves had launched a rebellion.
Elle ran her fingers over the table, rubbing at the light grey powder that coated almost everything.
“Ash, from the fireplace.”
She shook her head. “What was he thinking?”
“You should have seen it half an hour ago.” He rubbed his hands over his eyes and sunk into a chair. “It was meant to be a winter wonderland for the girls. Needless to say they didn’t get into the spirit of things.”
Elle could have cried. The cabin had been Ryan’s sanctuary, a place he took Jim to fish and romp through nature. For his son to destroy it felt like a desecration.
She forgot her disappointment as she glanced at Chris. “Oh no, your face.” In the dark she hadn’t noticed the angry purple bruise at his temple.
“It’s nothing.” He stood back up and started walking towards the bedroom, clearly avoiding her touch. “I wanted the phone and we got into a scuffle.”
Elle felt herself flush in anger. “Jesus. I’ve never known Jimmy to act like this. What on earth was he so upset about?”
Chris shrugged, but Elle caught a look in his eyes that worried her.
“What did he say?”
“He said something about living with ghosts. His father’s, and yours too.”
“I’m a ghost?”
“I wouldn’t read too much into it. He was high as a kite.”
Chris pushed the door open to reveal her son sprawled across the small iron bed, one long leg hanging off the edge, his body naked but for a towel that Chris had draped over his groin.
She leant against the door and wondered how it was possible to love someone so much their pain became your own, their weakness your vulnerability. He had so much to offer but seemed content to throw it all away. Soon he’d be out in the world, alone, while she was forced to watch him trip and stumble, her own heart balanced in his hands.
Chris sat in the back seat of the car, Jimmy’s head cradled in his lap. Elle drove through the night and filled the silence with a soft, lilting hum. He couldn’t help thinking of the day he’d sat just like this, gaze fixed on the curve of her cheek as the car raced towards the hospital. Then, the feelings had been frantic and exciting, but this was miserable.
He was amazed at how easily she’d slipped right back into playing the mother, frowning when he swore and carelessly touching his arm, as if the contact meant nothing. As if that same hand had not gripped that same arm, until the small half moons of her nails left a pattering of tiny bruises.
Chris was fine with that. He hadn’t ever expected her to give herself to him; what had happened between them was nothing short of a miracle. For it to continue, impossible. Part of him had hoped that they might be friends though, drop the charade she always felt compelled to keep up and admit that, for all the years between them, they were nothing more than a man and a woman with a different story to tell, each as valid as the other’s.
It was no small torture being stuck in a car together, the vague scent of jasmine cloying its way through his lungs and leaching into his bloodstream. And her mumbling song, awkward and self conscious as the whimpers he’d wrenched from her, pinned and helpless beneath him. He couldn’t think of that night without pleasure flushing right to the tips of his fingers, closely followed by tingling embarrassment.
A ten second lover, like those b-grade movies about pimply boys exploding as they fumbled at their girlfriend’s bras. What he’d longed to tell her, but couldn’t, was that the few times he’d slept with other women he’d performed very well, thank you. His embarrassment with her had not been a result of his age or inexperience, but because every shower and sleepless night for the past five years had been spent conjuring her face, body and voice to achieve a furtive, efficient release. He’d become a master at satisfying himself with little more than the thought of her.
To hold her, taste her and feel her tighten around him in the flesh…
Despite his tear jerking, teeth gritting grapple for control, he’d known at once he didn’t stand a chance. It was like sparking a fuse, only to toss the whole damn bomb in a fire.
As they got closer to town houses began passing by, straight, solid and unsympathetic. Her warble reached a high note that broke at the back of her throat and was covered with a short cough. Amber eyes flashed up in the rearview mirror only to lurch away again. He shifted the straining flesh against his jeans and grinned as he imagined Jimmy waking to find an erection at the back of his neck. It would demand an explanation, though Jim would probably rather he was gay, than bursting with the need to fuck his mother.
Elle, Elle, Elle. Her name had whispered and cried its way through him so many times it was as familiar as the pang of hunger, or the sudden urge to take a piss. He’d built a temple to her inside his mind and even if she never shared a genuine word with him again, he refused to let her demolish it.
Mrs. Benson. Chris gave a faint snort. He would always think of her as Elle, the sound of a sexy, sweet body, ripe as summer corn. It was the pale, swollen curve of her breast and the triangle of freckles in the hollow of her jaw, a constellation he could spend days exploring. Elle made his tongue press soft and smooth against his teeth, struck his thoughts high and clear.
Elle, spell, fell… Hell.
He was jolted awake as the car came to a stop.
“Chris? We’re at your house.”
He frowned at the peeling paint and rotted guttering and hated that she knew where he lived. The garden was tidy, but his part time job hardly covered the cost of the timber and tools needed for bigger repairs. Jim had promised to help him, but it hadn’t happened yet. They might get to work over the weekend, if they were still talking to each other.
“Won’t you need me to help carry Jim up your stairs?”
“He can sleep in the car if he has to.” Elle popped the boot and got out to hand him his bags and fishing tackle. “I feel like if I say thank you one more time, all my other thank-yous will seem meaningless. But thank you.” She laughed lightly, leaning against the car. “See? I can’t help it.”
He tried to smile and managed a semi decent attempt; her constant appreciation making his chest constrict. She may as well have taken her hand and gently pushed him away, a soft reminder that that his help was something unanticipated. Nonobligatory.
It must have been written in his face, as she looked at him with the pity of a nurse in a terminal ward. In an easy move she leant forward and brushed her lips against his, only to lift away before he could even taste her.
“I mean it Chris, thank you.”
Her hand caressed his cheek.
They sprung apart with the force of an electric shock, turning to see Jimmy’s shaggy blonde head swing upright and peer at them through the rear windscreen.
“What are you doing here?”
She didn’t say a word, didn’t even glance at him as she strode to the driver’s seat and slammed the door. A moment later they were gone, nothing more than a pair of retreating tail lights in the dark.
He raised his hand to wave at the empty night, then felt it drop against his thigh with a thud.
The fragments of newspaper crumbled to pieces as soon as she picked them up. She tried to tell herself that Jimmy hadn’t known what it was, hadn’t seen it as anything more than kindling for his ‘winter wonderland’. But without the small, square ad in the realty section on page 15, he never would have been born at all. She remembered it by heart, right down to the last line. “Inspirational fridge magnets will not be abided.”
When she’d dialled the number Ryan’s honey thick voice had rolled into her ear with just the softest hint of a Southern accent. It hadn’t been love at first sight, but first sound. She’d asked him about the magnets and without missing a beat he’d drawled, “Optimists just end up disappointed. Ask my mother; she was my roomie for twenty years.”
That five minute call had turned into a two hour conversation, the best she’d ever had. There weren’t many couples who fell in love and moved in together in the same week, but then there weren’t many couples like Ryan and Elle. Their whole life together had been set to fast-forward, the pregnancy three months later and wedding a month after that. Then, just as Ryan was giving up work to become a consultant and work from home, the funeral. An entire life’s journey crammed into twelve excruciatingly inadequate years.
Elle wiped her hands on her shorts and walked to the bin. The pieces slid from the dust pan to fall like snow into the folds of deep green plastic, from something into nothing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The crunch of tires broke her thoughts. Through the window she could see a beaten old pickup lurch to a stop, the motor giving a final cough before dying on the spot.
She rubbed the moisture from her eyes and walked to the window as he went to pull a broom and bin from the back tray. He was wearing a threadbare old shirt, his hair still wet from the shower.
Opening the door she watched as he passed her without a word, angling his body so that they wouldn’t brush against one another.
“I thought you might need some help.” He looked around. “Where’s Jim?”
“At home in bed with a bucket.”
The green eyes hardened. “Figures.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for us to be here like this,” she continued. “With everything that’s… you know.” Her shorts had ridden high on her thighs from squatting. She jerked them down.
Chris caught the gesture and looked away.
“I didn’t think we would be alone,” he said, appraising the mess. “But you could use my help, unless you’re worried you won’t be able to focus.” Behind his sombre expression, his eyes were teasing.
Elle bit her lip. “Not at all.” She took the cloth tucked in the waistband of her shorts and thrust it at him. “You can start by getting the shaving cream off the windows.
For the first hour they worked in comfortable silence, but as the day turned hot they stopped to snack on a stale packet of chips. Chris asked her about the cabin and Elle explained that they’d inherited it from Ryan’s grandmother, a Southern belle who’d decided she’d go no further north than Illinois, and no closer to town than the woodlands. Ryan had spent endless summers roaming the land as a boy and had often spoken of extending the cabin to move the family there for good.
For every word she offered there were a thousand she kept tightly inside. The fight they’d had over how much of his grandmother’s gaudy furniture to keep, and the night Elle had drunk so much wine she couldn’t stop laughing each time her husband bent to kiss her. He’d finally given up, pushing her over the kitchen table to take her so hard her giggles had turned into sharp, high cries that brought a five-year-old Jimmy running with eyes as round as saucers.
Chris listened to her stories so intently she realized that for all she was holding back, she was still sharing too much, blurring the definition of their friendship once more. She handed him the packet of crisps and stood up.
“Time to get stuffing.”
He’d collected the white fluff into a plastic bag. She picked it up and stood before the long, wide gash in the couch.
Elle took a big handful and pushed it inside the tear. “No I’m not.”
He lifted himself up and stood beside her, watching as her hands worked the stuffing. It was futile; the tear was too big and the harder she tried the faster it spilled back out again.
She righted herself and looked up at him. “Are you just going to stand there, staring at me?”
“Let me make you better.” He picked a bit of fluff that had settled atop the sweep of brown lashes, dark as wet wheat, with gold tipped edges.
“You make me feel worse.”
He gave a slight shake of the head. “You do that to yourself.”
A short, sharp exhalation and she was back over the couch, forcing its insides in. Elle felt the tall, warm bulk of his body move to stand behind her, his hands sliding over her hips to pull her back against his groin.
His palms moved up beneath her shirt, gliding along her ribs to cup her breasts. Brushing over her light cotton bra, his fingers coaxed her nipples until they tightened into points. She stood up and moved forward but he held her against him, his jaw anchored in the cleft between her shoulder and throat.
“Wrong for who, Ellie?”
Chris tugged on her chin until she turned in his arms. Eyes shiny as glass, her lips were parted in invitation, or on the verge of telling him to go to hell. He didn’t plan on waiting to find out.
He kissed her with the care of someone handling a frightened animal; careful not to get too close but near enough to keep her from getting away. At the first brush of her tongue against his lip heat crackled through his body. Chris controlled his breathing and tried not to become overwhelmed. It had taken all the grace of God to give him a second chance.
As his tongue slowly caressed hers his fingers worked the buttons of her shirt, the last one more ripped off than undone as his trembling hands got the better of him. Finally she stood in nothing but a sheer white bra and denim shorts, her long blonde hair piled on the top of her head and her legs and arms covered in smears of ash. For all his hours of lusty meditation, he’d never had the ability to conjure anything like this.
He pulled his own shirt up over his head and felt a wave of gratification as her eyes caught upon his strong chest, only to flick away in embarrassment.
“Look at me.”
She kept her gaze fixed on the floor, so he lifted her hand and ran it over his flesh, pressing it against the drum beat of his heart. His other hand slipped into the waist of her shorts and pulled her closer.
“My God Chris, you’re so young. You make me feel ancient.”
He nuzzled at her throat. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Every movement was carefully considered; nothing fast enough to spook her. With a twist of his finger the button was released from its denim hole and her shorts dropped to reveal her panties, a triangle of plain beige covered in faded roses. They were not the silky, strappy pair she’d worn on the night of her date.
“God, don’t look at them. It’s laundry day.”
He eased her back onto the couch and dropped to his knees.
“If you don’t want me to see them then take them off,” he murmured, sliding them down her legs and tossing them aside. She tried to pull her legs together but he wouldn’t let her, kneeling between them and pinning each knee between his arm and torso. Her squirming ended when he tugged her hips forward. “I want this,” he said, dipping his face low and grazing her with his lips. “So tell me what you want.”
She shifted in discomfit until he pressed his palm against her stomach, his other hand parting her in a slow, delicious stroke. He dipped his thumb inside and drew the moisture up to the top of the cleft.
“Does that feel good?” he asked, watching her eyes as they squeezed shut. She remained silent, her hands gripping the sofa.
Chris continued the long, slick caress until her torso began to curve upwards.
“Put your fingers inside me,” she breathed.
He obeyed, sliding them into the delicate flesh and savouring the sensation of her clenching around him. Struggling to stay focused, he gradually increased his rhythm in time with her breathing. He dropped his mouth and nudged his way beneath the curls to the small, swollen bud, sliding his tongue against it in counterpoint to his hand. She groaned and twisted her fingers in his hair, driving his face between her legs until he had to brace himself against her thighs.
“Don’t stop,” she whimpered as he kissed and licked until her thighs went rigid and clamped over his cheeks, her inner muscles convulsing. She released his hair, grabbing his hand and holding it still as the shudders worked their way through her body.
Languid in the afterglow, Elle collapsed back against the worn brown fabric, lashes lowered and chest moving in gentle undulations. She was so beautiful, he could hardly bear it.
The deep brown eyes cracked open, slid up his chest and locked with his gaze. Her mouth curved into a wry half smile, but before she could speak he was shaking his head.
“Don’t say thank you.”
The smile grew wider. “I wouldn’t dare, Mr. McKenzie.”
She leaned forward and released his belt buckle, eyes never leaving his as she opened his jeans and slid her hand inside.
“Come to me.”
This time she pushed him down onto the seat, lifting herself atop him until her thighs straddled his, her body rubbing against him. With prickling dread he thought he might embarrass himself all over again.
“We seem to have a thing for couches,” she smiled.
He raised his hands and unclasped her bra, watching the thin cotton fall away to reveal her high, round breasts. She lifted herself atop him and nudged him inside her, inch by inch.
It was more than he could take. Chris put his hands on her hips and impaled her in a single, brutal penetration. She gasped and tipped forward, her hair falling in a curtain of gold around his face. He kissed her while their bodies began to grind in deliberate, aching thrusts.
It was with no small sense of relief that she came a second time, Chris teetering on the brink from the moment he’d entered her. As she arched back and rocked against him in short, awkward jerks, her delicious pulsing pulled him over the edge with her. His body throbbed as he cried against the soft point of her nipple and felt the world slip away, every one of his senses alight and engulfed in her heat. There was nothing but Elle; warm and delicious, and his.
The sun bounced across the surface of the lake, a silent summer song. Elle lay in the grass with her head in Chris’ lap, squinting her eyes from the glare of it, but too dazzled to look away. She sensed him shift to pluck a head of grass from beside her. Ripe and bent with seed, he traced its furry top across her cheek.
He led it down the side of her throat to the valley between her breasts.
They’d spent so many hours just like this, their bodies touching as their minds wandered. The long days had begun to grow short again and Elle had finally decided to surrender to life, to pleasure, and her right to both. Wilfully greedy, she took everything Chris was able to offer. At times she grew scared because there was no end to what he would give and it was tempting to consume every luscious part of him. She knew every slope and curve of his body and he knew every secret, sensitive corner of hers. No longer did she blush to think of the fine white stretch-marks on her hips, or the swell of her thighs. He’s turned her into a Goddess and she was foolish enough to play the part.
They’d lost themselves in each other so many times she wondered if they might never find their way back.
“You know why I love summer Chris?”
He remained quiet, moving the seeds over her skin.
“It doesn’t have the hope of spring. There’s no anticipation of something wonderful, it just is wonderful.”
Chris tossed the grass away with a light flick. “There’s no hope, because there is nothing to hope for. Summer’s followed by autumn and everything dies.”
Elle turned her face and looked at him, breathed in the salt of his skin and the lemon of his laundered jeans.
“I guess so.” His eyes were focused somewhere beyond her, fixed on the ground in a hard glaze.
“You’re worried about leaving for college?”
He looked at her then, lowered his mouth and kissed her softly. “You know why.” His hand slipped under her shirt and massaged her breast in slow, possessive strokes.
“I’ll be in Chicago and you’ll be here.”
She could feel his body become aroused and her mind struggled against the pleasure of his touch.
“Chris.” She stilled his hand, dug her elbows into the grass and pushed herself up. “We can’t avoid talking about this forever, and you know I can’t think when you do that.”
His broad shoulders were pressed against the rough bark of an old walnut tree. With one long leg propped up and his arm resting atop it, there was strength in his easy posture, a resilience that hadn’t been there before. Elle was surprised to realize that he’d grown up over the weeks they’d shared together.
“I’ve decided not to go.”
“What?” Elle slapped his hand away as he reached for her. “Don’t joke.”
“When I return from college you won’t have me. So I’m not going to go at all.”
His jaw was set in determination, his eyes glaring at her dangerously. It was the exact same expression Jimmy had worn when they were arguing about his move to Carbondale to pursue his girlfriend, Sophie. It seemed her son’s acceptance into Northwestern was to be put on hold so he could get a job in a supermarket and wait for her to finish school each day.
It was no small miracle that Elle had grown closer to Jim over the summer, despite the terrible secret she’d been forced to keep from him. His ardent courtship of Sophie had kept him from discovering them, but as long as it continued the risk was always there, a Damoclean sword above her head.
Still, there was no doubt both their lives were happier. But just when mother and son had fostered a new appreciation of one another, Jim had announced his ridiculously irresponsible plan.
As if reading her mind Chris muttered, “I’m not your son; you can’t tell me what to do.”
“I can take away the reason you want to stay.”
The green eyes narrowed. “Just try. You know I’ll come for you. I’ll stand outside your window and call your name, and I won’t give a damn who hears me.”
For all his brooding threats, Elle had never felt such a strong desire to pull him into her arms and drink in his sweetness.
“You wouldn’t do that Chris.”
“You think I care what people say?”
“No.” She looked down and added quietly, “I think you love me.”
He smiled and looked away. “Finally.”
Picking up another head of grass, he stuck the stalk between his teeth. “You know, love can make you do crazy things.”
Elle looked at him seriously. “Lust maybe, but love… it’s another type of madness. One that makes you put someone else’s needs before your own.” She slipped her hand into his and tangled their fingers. “One day you’ll understand that I love you too, Chris. I always will.”
He pulled her into his lap and crushed his arms around her tiny frame. “So you leave me because you love me, and I let you go, because I love you too? Sounds pretty stupid to me.”
She relaxed into his embrace as the sun spilled over her back, marvelled at the streaks of gold and auburn in his hair that she’d never seen before. He had everything before him, joy and heartache, loss and triumph.
And so did she.
“Life is stupid,” she whispered, brushing her lips against his. “You’ll get used to it.”
Elle fingered the slip of paper, read and re-read the numbers until she knew them off by heart. It was midwinter and the house was freezing, but her brow was covered in a sheen of sweat. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so nervous. Glancing in the mirror she took in her wild blonde hair and eyes that glowed with apprehension.
It had been so long, she had no idea if he’d be happy to hear from her. What if he was angry at her for being so cold the last time they’d seen each other? Or worse, had moved on and found a girlfriend? She’d look foolish, and desperate.
She chastised the anxious reflection that gazed back at her. That was the old Elle, who found a hot bath more satisfying than sex, and invested more energy into worrying about how to remove a stain from a silk top, than what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
If there was one thing the new Elle understood, it was that life was short. Too short to spend another minute chewing her lip over a silly little phone call.
Dialling the number she waited, breathless as it rang. After a moment a deep voice came onto the line.
Taking a deep breath, she gave herself a final, furtive glance in the mirror. In the end, she had nothing to lose.
“Roland, it’s Elle.”
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