Unexpected Consequences, page 4
“We tried to tell her she didn’t need to come once we knew you were going to be okay, but she insisted. Don’t be too hard on her, Mary.” I can hear the remorse in Zeke’s voice. He’s the only one who has a clue how much I dislike my mother. I blame a few too many margaritas and the overwhelming love and respect he has for his family for my momentary lapse. He was going on and on one night about how awesome his family is and I told him he’s lucky to have that because some of us have people like her as our parents. I typically keep that unpleasant piece of my personal life locked away, especially from people like Zeke who can’t understand that not every family is as close as his.
Turning to face me, I feel Zeke’s hands cupping my cheeks. When he leans in to kiss me, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the first time he’s kissed me like he means it, his tongue chasing mine as the air around us begins to heat with desire. I place my hand on his thigh, wishing I could curl my body up against his as his tongue traces my bottom lip. My lips part, my body pleading with him for more of the connection I need. The sound of a throat clearing has him pulling away from me before I can get another taste of him.
“Good morning,” Jeff says with a knowing smile. “You’re looking good today.” As he makes his way to the bed, I can’t help but compare my two men. Shit, my mother cannot be here with both of them!
Jeff’s strong hands frame my face as he leans in, his lips claiming mine for the briefest moment. His kiss is firmer than Zeke’s and yet still chaste. As he steps away from me, I look from one man to the other, thinking about all the ways they’re two halves of a whole for me. While I can’t think of a single way in which either of them is lacking, I also can’t fathom not having both of them.
He glances over his shoulder to make sure we’re still alone before gripping the back of Zeke’s head and drawing him in for a possessive embrace. Jeff crushes his mouth over Zeke’s, his fingers digging into his back. Jeff pulls back, whispering something into Zeke’s ear before releasing him. Watching the two of them so openly sharing an intimate moment lights a fire inside of me. A fire that I know will remain untended for a while thanks to my injuries.
“Where is she?” I ask, effectively pouring a bucket of ice on the hormonal inferno building in the room. I lean over to look around the wall of muscle blocking my view of the door. I wish there was a way they could be a permanent shield from her caustic personality.
Jeff stands by my head, running the back of his fingers down my face. I lean into his hand, a soft sigh escaping my lips as he continues stroking gently. The gesture is out of character for him, so I allow myself to sear the sensation in my memory. “She stopped the doctor out in the hall so he could tell her everything about what’s going on with you.”
My head falls against the pillow, knowing all too well what the near future is going to hold for me if she has not only flown halfway across the country, but she’s now being debriefed on my condition. “Because I’m incapable of telling her, right?” I sneer, wishing they had waited before calling her, possibly not calling at all.
“Babe, would you honestly tell her how you’re feeling?” Zeke chuckles. Jeff raises his eyebrow in question but Zeke pays him no attention. Even though he said he didn’t understand my need to keep it to myself, he promised he wouldn’t tell anyone that I am far happier knowing that my mother is a thousand miles away. Apparently, he’s a man of his word. Maybe if I hadn’t been so adamant, he would have told Jeff why calling her was a bad idea and I wouldn’t hear the clicking of her heels along the linoleum floor right now. “She’s worried about you, that’s all.”
“Sure, she’s probably pissed that I didn’t kick off since she’s the beneficiary on my life insurance. You know, that would be a huge chunk of money she could have lost at the casino.” My shoulders slump forward, knowing that the guys have no clue what a vile woman she can be. The only reason I put up with her at all is because I promised my father, right before he died, that I would never give up on trying to make amends with her. Instead, I watched her self-destruct from the age of fifteen until I left home at eighteen. My need to get away from her was so great that I applied for every out-of-state scholarship I could find. She tried to dissuade me, pointing out the difference in cost between in-state and out-of-state, but I didn’t care. My dad made sure my tuition and living expenses would be taken care of because, even if he hadn’t died, he believed that it was his job as a parent to set us up to succeed in life.
“Well, it’s nice to know you’re just as ungrateful as ever,” my mother says haughtily as she walks into the room. Her critical, and disapproving, sneer as she sizes up Zeke is about as subtle as a freight train. Despite the fact that it’s barely nine in the morning and I’m assuming Jeff just picked her up at the airport, she looks flawless from her black patent Michael Kors pumps to the impeccably styled, freshly dyed hair on her head. After all, in the world of Loretta Brunner, looking perfect is more important than acting like a compassionate human being. “And you are?” she asks him, holding out her hand in greeting.
“I’m Zeke, ma’am. Mary’s boyfriend.” I swallow hard at his words. It’s the first I’ve heard him refer to me as his girlfriend in any way. My mother’s eyes narrow as she looks from Zeke to Jeff and back again. I know what she’s thinking. Zeke’s appearance screams bad boy to her pretentious mind. He’s wearing faded jeans, t-shirt, vest and clunky black boots, compared to Jeff’s neatly pressed khakis, polo shirt and loafers. Of course, there’s only one of these two who could possibly be good enough to bring to her home. Oh, if she only knew what is really going on…
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that Jeff was her boyfriend,” she says, limply shaking Zeke’s hand, not making eye contact with him. I’m surprised she doesn’t run to the sink the moment she lets go to keep from having his ‘filth’ on her. “I’m Loretta. Mary’s mother,” she sneers, emphasizing her unearned title. As if that places her on some pedestal where people should bow to her greatness. Zeke, being the smart guy that he is, simply purses his lips and nods.
I look to Jeff, silently pleading to know what he’s told my mother about our arrangement. Before the accident, we were all content to go with the flow and enjoy each other’s company and bodies. We didn’t feel the need for labels. Now, I’ve heard both of them call themselves my boyfriend. While it doesn’t upset me, it’s not a comfortable feeling either.
I need to get my mother out of here. She needs to get on a plane back to New Jersey before she can start pressing me for information. Or worse, work her black magic to poison what we have. The way she’s still leering at Zeke, there’s no doubt in my mind she wants him out of the picture.
Despite his best efforts to be careful, it feels as if Jeff hits every pothole on the short drive down University Avenue. My mother is in the passenger’s seat, commenting about how run down everything looks here. I try to tune her out, knowing that unless every building was sleek and contemporary, she would find a reason to complain. Never mind the fact that Madison is much like my hometown. That’s part of why I feel so comfortable here.
Zeke’s staring out the window, likely trying to tune out her incessant complaining. His hand runs mindlessly up and down my casted leg. Even though I can’t feel his touch, knowing that he’s there is comforting to me. A couple of times, he looks over at me, winking or giving me a sly smile that shows the faintest hint of a dimple. When he looks at me that way, I want to believe that he feels the same draw to me that I do him.
“I need a nap,” I admit to him as his arm steadies me. Between the bumps and my mother, I doubt even prescription painkillers can dull the pain coursing through my body.
“Okay, baby,” he says softly. Once I’m settled into the wheelchair I was adamant I didn’t want, he checks the brake so he can go around to say something to Jeff before we head upstairs. If my daughter had just been released from the hospital, I would be out of the vehicle as soon as it stopped, helping get her comfortable. My mother? She’s sitting in the front seat, not even lo
“What was that about?” I ask, seeing Jeff pulling away from the curb, my mother still sitting primly in the passenger’s seat.
“I asked him to take your mom to lunch and bring something back for us,” he says as we enter the lobby of his building. “I figured it would be easier for you to rest without her hovering.”
I could easily let my guard down enough to love him. With little effort, he gets me. Even better, he does little things like this all the time that show me he cares. When I think about it, I know he’s been doing this from the day we met with no expectation of anything in return. The only problem with me falling for him is that he’s the one who keeps saying what we have is no-strings and that’s why it works.
“Do I want to know?” I ask, nodding at the broken mirror and cell phone in the living room. The coffee table is covered in half-empty beer bottles, one tipped on its side leaving a trail of dried beer across the glass top down to a stain on the cream carpet. It’s not even that big of a mess, but I can’t stand seeing it there, knowing I can’t do anything about it.
“Sorry, babe. We kinda ran out the other night when Liam called to tell us about the accident. I haven’t been home since then.” After shifting me from my chair onto the couch, Zeke grabs all of the beer bottles, returning with a glass of water, a damp rag, and bless his heart, my pain pills in his pocket. “Do you need more pillows?” he asks, seeing me shifting to get comfortable.
“Yeah, that would be great, thanks.” I smile up at him, for once ecstatic with his caring nature while hating that it took something like this to make me realize how lucky I am to have someone like him in my life.
The pills are starting to work their magic by the time Zeke returns with two pillows for behind my back and two more to prop up my left leg. I barely register his lips brushing against mine as I drift off to sleep.
I flop into the club chair in my living room, finally allowing myself to relax a bit for the first time in almost five days. I’m well past the point of exhaustion, but I can’t sleep because I know I’m going to have to talk to Dylan at some point. Ever since that unfortunate interruption in the emergency room, he’s been avoiding me. We run a business together, so it’s not like I can write the man off.
Once I know Mary is sound asleep, I contemplate running up to Dylan’s place since I would still be in the building if something happened, but I’m not ready to leave her alone just yet, so I shoot him a quick text, asking him to come down if he has time.
Me: Can you stop by my place? Mary’s sleeping but we need to talk about the other night.
Me: Yeah, now.
Dylan: Not sure there’s much that needs to be said.
Me: Don’t be a punk. You want me to beg you to still be my friend?
Dylan: If I’m such a good friend, why lie to me?
Me: I don’t want to do this by text, can you please get your ass down here before Jeff and Mary’s mom gets back?
Dylan: Give me 10.
I should feel better knowing we’re finally going to get this all out in the open, but I’m more nervous now than I was when he walked in on me and Jeff kissing. He’s right, I shouldn’t have lied to him, even if it was by omission. I’ve tried telling myself that his reaction is the exact reason I’ve kept it to myself, but I’m not even fooling myself with that bullshit. When I hear the elevator signal that it has stopped on my floor, I crack the door open, not wanting to risk him knocking and waking Mary now that she’s finally comfortable.
“Hey man,” I call out quietly when I hear his keys hit my dining room table. “Need a beer?”
“Unless you have something stronger,” he responds, leaning against the granite island in the kitchen. “How’s she doing?” he asks, looking over his shoulder. Whiskey sounds like a damn good idea right about now, but it’s too early to hit the heavy stuff. I reach in the fridge, grabbing each of us a drink as I begin to answer.
“Better than she should be,” I say, thankful that we’re having this conversation at home and not in the hospital. “She’s got a long road ahead of her, but they don’t think she’ll have any permanent damage. How’s Tasha?”
Dylan stares out the window, shaking his head. “Knocked up,” he blurts out. “And somehow, she’s still that way after getting mowed down by her fucking ex. Can you believe that shit?”
“Wow!” I’m not sure what else to say. Dylan has never mentioned wanting kids and I can’t tell how he feels about this development. I remind myself to ask about that last comment, but the baby news seems more important, at least for a minute. “Did you know before the accident?”
“Yeah, she found out about two weeks ago now. That fucker should have never been allowed to post bond. If someone had been doing their job, none of this shit would have happened.” I nod my head down the hall, wanting to take the conversation into my home office where we can have a bit of privacy.
“How do you know it was him?” I ask, feeling completely out of the loop.
“Fucker was stupid enough to do the job himself and use his own car. Security camera down the street caught his plates. The little snake had better hope the cops find him before I do.” Dylan makes himself comfortable, propping his feet on the edge of my desk as soon as he’s sitting.
“Let me know if you need a hand getting rid of the body,” I deadpan. I mean it, if Dylan kills that son of a bitch, I’ll gladly help him hide any evidence. “But Tasha’s okay otherwise?”
“She will be. Her wrist is broken and she’s bruised to shit, but it could be worse.” Never before has silence between the two of us been uncomfortable. One time, we managed to sit in the same car for an eight hour drive without saying a word. But now, I’m shifting in my seat, trying to figure out how to start the real discussion that needs to happen.
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Jeff,” I say, staring intently at my day planner filled with missed appointments and leads that are more than likely lost at this point. I look up and see him studying me.
“You think this is about Jeff?” Dylan asks sarcastically. “This is so much bigger than Jeff. It’s about the fact that you’re Zeke, non-committal playboy who used to spend every weekend with a different woman by his side, and I walk in and you’re kissing a dude.”
“It’s not that I was trying to hide it from you. I just… it’s a part of me that I’ve worked hard to bury for a long time.” Right about now, I’m really wishing I had listened to Dylan and pulled down the Johnnie Walker. I’m irritated that I’ve driven this wedge between us. Dylan has been there for me since college. He pushed aside his aspirations to help me start the promotions company when he could have easily been hired on with any fancy corporation and raced his way up the ladder.
Dylan’s feet drop to the floor as he leans over the desk. “But why? If you’ve been burying it, that means this wasn’t a surprise to you. Why wouldn’t you tell me what was going on in that thick skull of yours? Some of the shit we’ve been through together, I can’t think of a single fucking thing I would keep a secret from you.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, D,” I groan, tilting my head back against my chair. “I just… if I told you, I’d have to tell Tommy. And if he knew, everyone would know and I’m not ready for that. Maybe someday I’ll have someone in my life and I’ll have to tell them, but until then, I don’t see a reason for my family to know.”
“Seriously? Do you really think Tommy would run to your mom? And even if he did, I think you’re imagining a worse reaction than they’ll have. You have the type of family most people would kill to have.” He reaches across the desk, slapping me across the back of my head. The cockeyed grin on his face lets me know that while he might be upset with me for keeping this secret, he’s not angry and this won’t be the death of our friendship.
“You’ve met my family. What do you think they’re going to say when they learn that I like
“Fair enough. But I’m not them and I highly doubt Tommy would say anything. After all, he knows them just as well as you do and I don’t see him throwing you under a bus.” I get what he’s saying, but it’s too late to change it.
“You could have told me.” If I’m not mistaken, Dylan sounds more hurt than angry. That shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. It wasn’t until recently that the man showed any sort of emotion. “You should have told me, man. You and me, we’re closer than I am with my own brother. I just…”
“I get it,” I groan, utterly uncomfortable with how sappy this is getting. The group of us guys really are turning into a bunch of chicks. Before you know it, we’ll all be going for spa days and watching romantic comedies on a Saturday night. “I’m sorry I didn’t. Before I started fucking around with Jeff, it was easy to ignore. I didn’t see a point in saying anything to anyone because it was all in my head. I think part of me never expected it to be anything more than curiosity.”
“And now? Is it something more?”
“I can’t explain it, Dylan. Being with Jeff feels right to me,” I admit. “At the same time, I don’t know that I would ever go looking for anything with a guy. Never have before and can’t see it in the future.”
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