Page 130 of We Were Once

“I do,” I reply pointedly, crossing my arms over my chest as if this man didn’t already hold so much of my heart in his hands. Joshua sits back with Hems—Dwayne Evans—wrapped in his arms. Not wanting Frankie to feel left out, I go get her and bring her back. Crossing my legs in front of me, I cradle her in my arms. We stare at each other. “Do you want to share those reasons?” His voice is calm, comforting.

My apartment was already my safe space and having him in it doesn’t change that. It makes it feel better, in fact. Homier, like it was missing him as much as me. “I know what he means to you, but his name hurt to say, so one day, when I was tired of feeling so much pain, so much loss of you in my life, I decided I would change it for my own well-being. My therapist agreed.”

His hand comes to rest across my ankles, and he says, “I’m sorry for hurting you. And I’m sorry you were caught in the crossfire.”

“I wasn’t caught. I was the reason for the battle, Joshua.” I dip a foot to the floor and set the pot down. Scooting across the middle cushion dividing us, I take the pot from Joshua and set him next to Frankie. Then I climb onto his lap and wrap my arms around his neck.

“There should have never been a war.”

I stare into the clear amber of my future. “But we survived. You and I outlasted them all.” I kiss him and that leads to him carrying me into the bedroom.

As our bodies tangle, the layers fall away, allowing the seed we planted years earlier to bloom again. This isn’t sex. It never was with him. Our bodies are slick with sweat, creating love with every kiss, touch, and thrust.

47

Chloe

The late afternoon sun shines in the living room, but the bedroom remains dark with the curtains closed. I’ve drawn a million figure eights on his chest, through the hair he allows to grow naturally, over the ebb and flow of his stomach muscles, not wanting to fall asleep. Instead, I want to enjoy every minute I have with him before we have to leave for work.

In the peaceful aftermath of losing ourselves in each other again, he asks, “Do you sleep on the couch?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

The truth is the only path forward with him. “It wasn’t only your bonsai’s name that I struggled with. The bed . . . this bed . . . when I pulled it out of storage, I used to lay here just to feel you next to me again.” I angle up to see his face, his reaction from my words, “I could still feel you next to me, but when I’d open my eyes, the bed was empty. I was empty.” Everything about me felt empty in those moments.

Stroking my hair, he whispers, “At night in jail, I didn’t know if the visions I’d had of you were real. They were so real I could feel the heat of your skin under my fingers. I couldn’t tell if they were dreams to comfort me or nightmares to haunt me.” He rolls his head to the side, his gaze finding me in the dark. “Seems we suffered the same.”

“Even.”

“Even.” Taking my hand, he kisses my palm and then my fingertips. “I’ll never take something so simple for granted ever again.”

“My hand?”

His smile arrives with hesitation, giving away more than he appears to want me to know. For all that makes him tough on the exterior, there’s still a boyish charm on the inside.

His incredible eyes leave me momentarily while he thinks of what he wants to share, or maybe admit fits better. “The first time I saw you, I liked your face and your bonsai.” As usual, he hits me with honesty. “But then at the diner, it was your hands.”

“So it’s been an ongoing love affair with my hands?” I hold the free one up to analyze it.

A chuckle rumbles the mattress, and then he shrugs. “You have very elegant hands.”

“Is this a sexual fetish I need to know about?” I twist my mouth to the side, but I can’t suppress my grin.

“Now that I think of it . . .” He rolls his eyes. “No, seriously. There’s a gracefulness in how you use them. Steady like a doctor’s.”

He’s speaking my love language, and I don’t want him to stop. He continues, “Caring in their touch.” I run my fingers through his hair again, scraping my nails lightly against his scalp. His eyes dip closed as pleasure takes over. He kisses my shoulder, and the feel of his lips on me sends a spark of electricity through my body.

Wriggling, I shift enough to try to satisfy the craving deep in my belly that he’s created before moving on top of him and straddling his hips. “And other than my hands and my face?” I’ve never had anyone else feed my ego, and I can’t complain. It feels pretty dang awesome.

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