Sneak Peak

    Two's Company Three's a Crowd

Chapter One

-Wednesday Afternoon-

 

Six long, painful years later.

Jessie arrived at George’s Cocktail and Lounge, known as the Club, where she worked as a manager, hoping she could sit around the bar and talk with Keith, her bartender, before starting her shift. To see how the business was going to be like for the afternoon. She was about to order a soft drink when Keith cut her off. “Hey, sweetie,” he smiled and kissed her from across the bar. “We were just talking about you.”

“Oh.” She smiled back at the man that she has been dating now for over a year. “And just what trouble have I been accused of now?”

Keith was eight years older than Jessie and was married before, just as well as her. But, unlike her, he wasn't divorced. His wife died four years back, giving birth to his only child, leaving him to raise a new baby girl all alone. Jessie hasn’t met the little girl yet, and at times she couldn’t understand why, but all the same, she wasn’t ready to get close to any kid. Keith wasn’t too much taller than Jessie either nor much bigger. He was teased a lot about his built, being told that he was a little like a girl. Some even thought that he must be gay for being single so long and still living at home with his mother at the age of thirty-seven. Jessie is the first and only girl that he even considered dating after his wife’s death. Jessie didn’t mind him being a momma’s boy. She thought he was cute in his unique way, like a small businessman, with his sandy brown hair and brown eyes. He was a natural, laid-back type, always in collar shirts and slacks. Someone that looked too sweet and harmless, to put her in any danger. She was tired of the tall macho guys. Had enough dealings with them to last her a lifetime.

“Nothing bad, I promise,” Keith smiled back at the woman he hoped to marry someday. “George just wants to see you in his office.”

“Why?” she teased. “Is it time for me to start looking for a new job?”

“Are you kidding.” Keith had to laugh at her statement. “George would never get rid of you. And neither will I.” He squeezed her hand and raised it to his lips to kiss. “He’s in there talking to the new bandleader and wants you to meet him, as well.”

“Have you seen him?”

“Yeah. He seems innocent enough.” Keith shook his head, giving his opinion of the new bandleader. “Nothing too dangerous. We should be okay, this time.”

“That’s good. The last one was something.” She rolled her eyes and pulled her hand from Keith. “I didn’t think we would ever get people back in here.” She pushed herself away from the bar and stood up to meet her entertainment for the month.

George Silverton was the owner of the Club that Jessie has been managing for the past two years. He was a short fat man, barely reaching five feet eight, with a head full of gray hair and the most loving, caring blue eyes you could ever see. He was near his mid-sixties and a retired criminal investigator who was known to judge people carefully. After Jessie’s second failed marriage, she enrolled in a battered woman class and had met George. He taught the class and gave her the job. He was helping her get a good start on life, after hearing about her two marriages to woman beaters. Now, he’s like a father to her. Her birth father, Wade Peterson, had died over four years ago in a gas explosion at the chemical factory where he worked.

As Jessie reached the office door, she heard voices inside, so she pushed her hair back and knocked before entering. “It’s open,” George called out, and she entered. She came to a complete stop in her tracks when her eyes met the eyes of her first husband, Michael Davis. He was still the best-looking man that she has ever seen. He even had the same blond hair and bright blue eyes. He also wore the same western clothes from her past. Down to the cowboy boots and western belt, he wore around the waist of his tight blue jeans. She blinked and re-blinked her eyes, hoping her mind was playing tricks on her by bringing her past to life. But the image of Michael would not go away. She shook her head slowly and moved to turn from the office until George stood up and came to her. “Jessie. Honey.” He smiled at her like a father would and pulled her into the office. He was closing the door behind them, taking the only way out from Jessie as she continued staring at her pass. “This is Mr. Davis,” George went on saying. And at the sound of his name, Michael stood up. Still just as tall as before. If not a little taller. “He’s the leader of this month’s band.”

“Band?” Jessie caught the words that her boss spoke and frowned. Be cool, she told herself, this is some joke. Hell, it must be. Michael is supposed to be in freaking California.

“Yes.” George looked worried at her strange actions. “The Guys Around band that we signed up last week.” He watched as her body grew weak right before his eyes, and she fainted.

“Jessie, don’t,” Michael ordered before he rushed to her side and caught her before she hit the floor. The look on the older man’s face was enough to help Michael decide that he would need to take over. He carried her over to the office couch and laid her down. He brushed her long blond hair back and slightly patted her face. “Jessie?” After getting no responses from her, he looked around for the older man. Catching him running out of the room, hopefully going to get a wet washrag. “Jessie? Baby, wake up.” He patted her face again and begged. “Baby, please, don’t do this to me.” He leaned down and dropped a small kiss on her forehead. “Jessie, please, wake up.” His last pat made her eyes blink, and when they focused on him sitting there beside her on the couch, she jumped up and started to let out a scream. “Don’t scream,” he ordered and put his hand over her mouth. “The last thing we need is for you to scream, you hear me?” She shook her head with still wide eyes staring back at him. When he was sure of her not going to scream, he lowered his hand from her mouth. “Are you okay?” he asked, pushing her hair back from her face.

“What are you doing here?” she whispered back, frowning at him, too scared that someone will hear her. “Why are you here?” She moved to the other end of the couch away from him.

But before Michael could answer her, George rushed back into the room, carrying a cold towel. He shut the door again and rushed to Jessie’s side. “Honey, are you alright?”

“I’m fine. It must have been the heat from outside.” She forced a smile for him and stood from the couch, pushing her hair back from her eyes. “Thank you.” She turned to Michael and held her hand out to him. “It’s nice meeting you.”

“My pleasure, I’m sure.” He smiled and took her offered hand, understanding her distance. He shook her hand and held it in a squeeze longer than necessary. His eyes were smiling back at her. Showing he was pleased to see how grown up she had become. Not to mention, he thought she was still just as beautiful as before, if not more so. God, those eyes, he thought, someone could get lost in them.

“Jessie, here, is my manager.” George broke in on their stare, wrapping his arm around her shoulders, making her pull her hand from Michael. “Funny, but I just realized you two have the same last name. Davis. Any chance you kids are related?”

“No,” Michael answered, quickly, smiling at Jessie as she shook her head, refusing at high speed toward George’s question.

“Anyway, Jessie can run this club like a pro. So, if you have any questions, ask her. I trust her with my life.”

“I’ll be sure to ask,” Michael replied, thinking I use to trust her with my life, too. He watched the old man squeeze Jessie closer to him and dropped a kiss on her forehead when another thought came to his mind. Jessie, his brain took note, to think she is still going by that name, after all these years.

“You do that,” the old man said, showing the love for Jessie in his eyes.

Jessie surely wouldn’t go as far as getting herself a married ’sugar daddy,’ would she, Michael thought, as George pulled her over to the door, out of his hearing.

“I’m going to leave everything to you now,” George said, and Jessie shook her head agreeing. “Go over the contract with him before he signs it.”

“I will,” she whispered, feeling Michael’s eyes on them.

“You sure, you’re okay?” George frowned at the changeover Jessie. She seemed more defensive now then carefree from before.

“I’m fine. Promise,” she assured him with one of her best smiles. “I guess I’m just nervous about running the club.”

“You’ll do fine, honey.” George dropped another kiss on her forehead and gave her a friendly hug. “I have faith in you, but if you do run across a problem that you nor Keith can’t handle, don’t hesitate to call me.”

“Things will be fine, George. I promise,” she smiled and raised on her tiptoes to kiss his chubby fatherly cheek to assure him. “You just have fun in Florida.”

“I knew I could count on you.” He gave her one more hug before he turned to wave at Michael and smile. “It was nice talking with you, Mike. Good luck with your plans, and again, I promise you are in good hands here with my Jessie.”

“Thanks.” Michael returned the older man’s smile and met him across the room to shake hands. “You have a good time in Florida, sir. And do take the little lady to those beaches, I was telling you about.”

“I’ll do that.” George laughed back and turned back to the now, confused Jessie. He gave her one last hug and a sweet kiss. “Bye, sweetheart,” he whispered, but not low enough to keep Michael from hearing. “Remember, I’ll have my cell phone with me at all times.”

“I know,” she mumbled back and stared off after him as he walked out of the Club’s front door, leaving his business in her hands. And a nightmare that he doesn’t know anything about. She turned back to the horror and slammed the office door shut, before yelling, “What in the hell are you doing here?”

The Club’s main office was like any other office in a small business, with addition to a one-way looking glass. Giving management free will to observe employees working out in the dining area, without knowing. In return, the employees could not see into the office. There was a medium size desk set in the far back of the room, with a couple of half shelves behind it, topped with file folders, a stack of 500 sheet reams of copying paper: a copy machine and a fax machine. Plus, a couple of framed pictures of George’s family. The desk was topped with the usual items displaying a business desk: a desk lamp, calendar, pencil holder, stapler, and such. Plus, paperwork of the hourly reports of the business. To the right of the room, facing the desk, there were two four-drawer gray file cabinets, with different types of quote magnets on the side of them, and sitting on top was fake greenery and an honor plaque. Besides the file cabinets, was an end table, topped with un-necessary magazines, and an office couch. In the front office corner, sit a matching office chair. The walls were painted a soft cream color, and the lights gave off a soft glow, making the room have a relaxing environment to work.

“And hello to you, too, baby.” Michael grinned at Jessie, as he leaned back against the front of the office desk, crossing his arms over his chest. “You know, this is not quite what I pictured,” he said, and she passed him a dirty, confusing look before he went on to explain. “I always dreamed that when our path crossed, again, you would run back into my arms, and we would immediately pick up where we left off. Making love and not able to keep our hands off each other.”

“Not a chance,” she said and rolled her eyes at him. “And don’t call me baby,” she snapped, moving away from the office door and marched straight to the office desk and took a seat behind it. Making Michael having to turn to lean on the desk, now supported on his arms, still watching her.

“What’s the deal, baby?” he asked, ignoring her order, still grinning at her. “Are you all fired up because of seeing me? Or because your ’sugar daddy’ is taking the wife to the beaches, instead of you?”

“What?” She was shocked by his words and jerked her eyes up to him and frowned. “George isn’t my ’sugar daddy’. He’s my friend as well as Dory, his wife. They helped me get back on my feet after dealing with jerks like you.” She dropped her eyes from his, knowing that looking into those deep blue eyes was the last thing she needed to do. She pulled one of the desk drawers out like she was looking for something when really, she was trying to find something to distract her from Michael’s eyes on her.

“You sure, I mean,” he remarked, watching her closely, noticing that she was getting nervous. He turned from her and moved over to the office couch to give her some space. “It looked like love to me,” he gave his opinion, taking a seat on the sofa.

“Daughterly!” she snapped back, slamming the desk drawer shut. “Nothing more.” She ran her fingers through her hair before resting her arms on top of the desk. She dropped her head to hide her face in her hands. “God,” she moaned in her hands. “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten up this morning.” She rubbed her eyes in the palm of both hands before she raised to look at him. “Look, let’s get something straight here.” She pushed her hair back out of her eyes and leaned back in the chair. “I work here. Five to six days a week. This is my job. How I stay alive and together, we…” She pointed themselves out. “Will run a professional business, only. There is no hanky panky around here, and there never will be. What we had is in the past. We have nothing today. And nobody here knows or will ever know about us. Got it?”

“Sure thing, Casey,” he said, trying to keep a straight face and using a deep voice, saluting her like she was some drill sergeant. “Or is it Jessie?” He underlined her name with his normal voice, as he pushed down farther on the couch and laid his arms out across the back, grinning over at her from the look she shot him. “I mean, that is what Mr. Silverton called you. Right? I don’t recall him saying ‘Casey’ once.”

“Whatever,” she moaned at his question, shooting him a dirty look. “Let’s just get this started and hope that the month goes fast.” She stood up from the chair and moved over to the file cabinet to flip through, looking for his contract. “Damn it, when is my punishment going to be over?” she hissed under her breath, with her back to him.

“Why, Jessie?” He stood up, too, and moved over to stand behind her. Only inches, having a tough time not to reach out and touch her. He slipped his hands in the front pockets of his tight jeans to avoid the act.

“Because…” She turned to face him but stopped as she found him standing close, real close, to her. She took a deep breath, taking in the same cologne smell from years back and took a step back, before pushing herself to finish talking. “I have a feeling this month is going to be hell,” she said, trying to keep eye contact with him.

“No,” he re-asked his question. “Why are you still going by ‘Jessie’ and not ‘Casey’, after you begged for your real name back at the divorce hearing?”

“Because…” she whispered, then stopped. Not sure about how to answer. Her eyes searched Michael’s face then ran down his body. He was still solidly built, and he was also the same good-looking guy that she had fell in love with fifteen years ago and was married to for seven years.

“You still love me?” he asked, interrupting her thoughts. He raised his left hand to her face and ran his thumb across her lips. “If you do, I understand, because I might have feelings for you still, too.”

“I don’t,” she lied, moving around him, licking her lips. She walked around to the front of the desk, needing to get space between him and took a deep breath. “I tried to go by ‘Casey’, again,” she went on to explain. “But people started looking at me weird. Like, I was crazy when I didn’t answer them. So, I decided to stay with ‘Jessie’. Been used to it for so long, I guess.”

“I see,” he whispered back, not believing her. He followed her steps and moved back to the front of the desk and leaned back against it. “I still think it suits you better,” he volunteered his opinion, crossing his legs at the ankles and his arms over his chest.

“Yeah. Anyway.” She shrugged her shoulders and moved over to the couch and sit down, still needing to be farther away from him, not looking at him, but the papers she held in her hands. “Let’s go over the contract so that you can start tomorrow night.” Michael watched as she studied the documents, avoiding his eyes and letting her hair fall over her shoulder to hide her face from him. “It looks as if George has it where you will get a…” she went on mumbling.

“Jessie?” he moaned out her name, interrupting her. He pushed away from the desk and walked over to sit down beside her. Grabbing her arm when she started to get up from where she sat. “No,” he ordered and took the papers from her, dropping them to the floor. “This stupid contract can wait. Look at me.” She shook her head, refusing to raise her eyes, but closed them tight. “Baby, for this to work, we have to get rid of the tension.” He continued holding onto her arm, and with his free hand, he raised it to brush her hair back from her face and behind her ear. “We need to talk…”

“About what?” She jerked her head up and shot him a frown, jerking her arm from him.

“Us,” he said. “The past eight years. Maybe even our marriage.”

“No.” She shook her head and stood up from the couch, taking a deep breath. “I don’t want to re-live that pain.”

“It wasn’t all bad, baby,” he protested, watching her, leaning back in the couch and crossed one leg up over his other knee. “We had some good times together, too. Like the night we first made love as husband and wife. Back when you first enjoyed it. Even though my parents walked in on us.” He made an unsure laugh. “It was a beautiful night that I will never forget. I didn’t think you would either.”

“I haven’t,” she mumbled, now hugging her arms around herself with her back to him.

“And I remember the day we got married, and we felt that nobody existed, but us,” he said, still watching her closely. “You remember our wedding day, don’t you? We were both nervous as hell, but we wanted to be together.”

“I remember,” she mumbled back.

“And once we were married, we made love every night,” he went on. “I couldn’t wait to get home from work every day because I wanted you. I always thought that you wanted me, too.”

“I did,” she replied.

“And then what about the days we laughed and played with the twins?” He was on a roll, thinking that he was breaking through the tension. “Those kids…”

“Just tell me why, Michael?” she snapped, stopping him from going down memory lane. She dropped her arms and jerked around to face him, giving him a dirty look. The tension was back.

“Why, what?” he asked, raising to lean over on his knees, still watching her.

“Everything,” she snapped back, with a dirty look. “Did you hate me so much that you had to hurt them to get back at me?”

“I never hated you…” he tried to cut in.

“I loved you,” she went on, frowning at him. “But you made that love go away.”

“Correction, sister,” he cut in, again, with raised eyebrows. “You gave it away. To Tony.”

“And you, to God only knows who,” she snapped back, defending herself.

“Just because I couldn’t stand the idea of losing you!” he yelled back, defending himself. “Damn it, Jessie! I came home one day and found you wrapped up in a sheet. And to top that, you smelled like sex.”

“What are you talking about?” she frowned back at him, not remembering the day he was speaking.

“Oh, please,” he moaned, rolling his eyes. “Don’t deny it.” He tightened his hands, trying to gain control of his temper.

“I do not deny anything, Michael,” she snapped, crossing her arms, again, noticing his hands tightening up. “I just asked what you were talking about.”

“Let’s just say, I knew about my precious little wife and my so-called cousin before my father’s announcement the morning of Christmas of ‘88.” He waited for her to reply, but when she didn’t, he took a deep breath and stared back at her. She stared at him with no trace of shame in her eyes. He dropped his eyes and pushed his hands over his head and in his hair, as he went on. “I tried to pretend I imagined it because I didn’t want to believe I was losing you. After that didn’t work, I tried to tell myself that you were only doing it to get back at me for sleeping with Ginny. Instead, I lost it, and I paid five years in jail for it.” He raised his eyes at her. She still hasn’t moved from the last time he looked at her. “Those were the longest five years of my life. My thoughts were always on you and what I could have done better. The first three months, I had dreams, no nightmares,” he corrected himself. “About your marriage to him…”

“Tony?” she frowned, stopping him and questioning the word ‘him,’ and he shook his head, replying. “I didn’t marry Tony.”

“You might as well have; you were planning on divorcing me.”

“Who told you that?” she frowned at his words.

“Donna overheard you, telling him your plans,” he said and stood up, making her take a step back from him. He started pacing the office, as he went on talking. “Plus, Dana walked in on you and that bastard fucking in his apartment.” He turned to look at her and slipped his fingers in his back pockets. “All, while my rights were being read to me. Tell me, I’m wrong. That Dana was lying.”

“Is that why, you hurt the twins?” she asked, instead. “Because I was with Tony.”

“I tore the hell out of our room, first, then my music room,” he said, remembering the day his life was over. “I destroyed every machine I owned, with my favorite guitar. You would have thought a tornado went through that room.” His eyes turned hollow as he talked and remembered his actions. “The more I destroyed, the madder I got. God only knows how many times I wished the twins weren’t there.” He looked up at the ceiling, trying to stop the tears that wanted to fall. “They yelled at me to stop, but I didn’t. It was like; I couldn’t hear them. Like, there was a part of me that stood back and watched. I called you everything that I could think of to call you. I slammed that guitar into those machines and cussed you to hell, as sparks flew. I hated you for what you did, but I never stopped loving them.” He looked back at her, and tears rolled down his face. “Ischelle grabbed my arm, still yelling at me to stop, and I turned on her. I hit my baby girl with that fucking guitar, and then I remember grabbing Ashley. Things are blurry after that. I’m not sure what all happened. I know I hurt them, and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

“What you did to them was meant for me. Right?” Jessie asked, fighting the tears in her eyes.

“Jessie,” he moaned, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hands. “You’re not hearing me. I tried to kill them.” He slapped himself on the chest with both hands. “Me. Their father. I beat the shit out of our kids for no fucking reason. I became my father.”

Jessie turned away from him and walked over to pick up the contract. “I guess we can say you did kill them.” She left her back to him and rubbed at her tears.

“Why?” he asked, frowning at her.

“Because.” She jerked around to face him, again, letting her hair fly out around her shoulders. “I haven’t seen them since that day. You had my babies taken away from me.” She glared hateful eyes at him and cried, “And I hate you for that.”

Michael didn’t say anything, just stared back at her, wondering why or if he should believe her. He watched as the tears rolled down her face while she held his stare. The tears convinced him that her words were real. He wanted to hold her but was too afraid that she would reject him and push him away.

After what seemed like an eternity, she broke contact with his eyes and turned her back to him. She looked down at the floor, thinking. She hugged her arms around her body like she was cold and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Taking a deep breath, trying to gain control, and not re-live the pain again. Michael was the last guy; she wanted around if she lost control. In the past eight years, she has had sleepless nights and lonely days because of the twins and of the day she has tried so hard to forget. Just wishing and hoping that she would find news on their whereabouts. She was always wondering why she couldn’t see them or if she ever would see them again.

Michael sensed her pain and moved toward her. He took a big chance as he stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She didn’t pull from him, so he pulled her up against his chest. She was still a good nine inches shorter than him, and he had the feeling he could hold her there forever, without her ever pulling away from him. “I’m sorry, Jessie,” he whispered, against her head, dropping a small kiss in her hair. “I am so sorry.”

“I don’t understand why,” she cried, not moving out of his hold, but now turning around in his arms to face him. His arms around her gave her something that she hasn’t felt in such a long time. Security. Someone was taking charge of the burden on her shoulders. She just hoped they could give her the answers, as well. “They had no business taking my babies from me.” She went on crying against his chest and now holding tight onto his shirt. “I could have cared for them. Give them everything that they would need. I loved them more than anything. Or anyone.” She wiped her eyes off her hands that still held onto his shirt. “I want them back,” she cried harder, soaking his shirt now with massive tears.

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t,” he pled, squeezing her tight to him and dropping his head down against hers, trying not to cry himself.

“It’s not fair,” she cried on. “If I knew my life would have been over that morning, I would have never gone to bed the night before.” She stepped back out of his arms and looked up at him, rubbing at her tears. “I never loved Tony, Michael. It was always you. And yes, I was with him the day you came home. But the minute I saw you, I regretted it. It was the first and only time. Until that Christmas, of course, but by then, I figured it was over between us. I felt that you didn’t want me anymore. That everything we shared was over.”

“I’ve always wanted you.” He took her face in his hands and rubbed his thumbs under her eyes to wipe away some tears. “Baby, you meant everything to me. I had no life without you.” He forced a smile for her through his pain. “Didn’t you know that?”

“I guess not,” she whispered, watching his eyes and raising her hands to lay over his on her cheek. “It seemed that there at the end, you only yelled at me or told me to stop bitching. You stopped holding me and telling me that you loved me. What was I supposed to think?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled and pulled her back against him. “I just don’t know,” he repeated, closing his eyes and squeezing her tight to his body, hiding his face in her hair. They stood holding each other for several minutes, not saying a word but enjoying the feel of each other, holding each other, giving them the feel of the twins around. Michael hated it, but he had to know and broke the silence between them. “Baby, I need to know. Why haven’t you seen the twins? I was sure they were back with you.”

“No.” She shook her head slowly, stepping back out of his arms. “I haven’t seen them.” She looked up at him. “I haven’t heard from them or even about them.” She turned from him and rubbed at her eyes, moving over to sit down behind the desk. “The next day…” She watched herself pick up a big paper clip and started playing with it, as she explained. “I called the police department about them. They told me that they knew nothing. That I had to come down and talk to Mr. Harvest about your case.” She brushed aside some loose tears. “So, I did just that, but all he could tell me was that I was on six-week probation. I had to get a job and an affordable place to live, before I could get the twins back.” She put the paper clip down and stood up from the chair. She walked around the desk and started pacing the room, needing to be moving as she remembered the first part of the painful eight years. Michael sat down on the corner of the desk, listening to her. “I did that, too,” she went on. “It took me a few days, but I did what he said. Getting the apartment was easy, but…”

“Why did you need an apartment?” Michael interrupted frowning. “What was wrong with the house?”

She stopped pacing and shot him a funny look. “Are you serious?” she asked, and he just shook his head, like he didn’t know. She stared at him for a second, wondering if she should tell him the truth. “Larry and Linda took the house away from me,” she informed him, thinking if the truth hurts, so be it.

“What?” he asked with raised eyebrows, shocked by her words. “Why?”

“You really don’t know?” she questioned him, looking deep in his eyes for the truth when he shook his head, refusing. She made a small smile and pushed her hand through her hair and took a deep breath. “They took the house back the next day, but they did tell me that I could have everything inside. And gave me a week to get out.” She tried to ease the betrayal of his parents. “They said, they didn’t want anything that I might have used for…” she hesitated, thinking of the right word to use. “Well, I guess we’ll say, ‘entertaining’.”

“Oh, shit,” he mumbled, rolling his eyes. “If they only knew. I’m sorry, Jessie.”

“Forget it.” She blew it off with the wave of her hand. “That’s between you and your parents. I did what they said, so my conscience is clear.” She went back to pacing and back to her story. “As I said, I got an apartment, which was the easy part. Money talks, I guess, you know.” He just smiled at her words. “Anyway, the hard part was the job. Everybody told me the same thing. ‘No’,” she mocked the people’s words. “‘You’ll get nowhere in this world, little girl, without a high school diploma.’. It drove me crazy.” She released a frustrating sigh. “Finally, I broke down and begged this man for a job. Cleaning tables at a restaurant and filling coffee and tea glasses. I was willing to do anything.” She turned to witness the frown on his face, with tears in her eyes, and leaned back against the office windowsill. She crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath before moving on with her story. “Making money was slow. I lived off the money I made, selling most of our stuff. Momma got a great offer for your car. Something I never understood why your parents didn’t take from me. They took my car, but not yours.” She waited for a reply from him, but when he said nothing and continued listening to her, she went on. “But I didn’t sell it. Memories, I guess. I dropped it off at your parents’ house one night. In the middle of the night, so I didn’t run into them. So, they have it, the last I knew.”

“I have it, now,” he mumbled, licking his lips.

“Oh,” she mumbled back and took another deep breath. “Anyway, I found an apartment, got the job, and then called Mr. Harvest back to tell him my update. He gave me another number to call, to Mr. Fisher, I believe. I called that number, got no answer. The number was disconnected or something. So, I called Mr. Harvest back and was told he was transferred to another location, and they couldn’t give me a number for him. I called every childcare center and welfare office I could find. Nobody knew anything. No, Mr. Harvest. And nothing about Ashley Ann or Ischelle Bryan.” Tears came to her eyes, and she moved to rub them away, still talking. “Things went downhill from there. I lost my so-called job. My boss claimed I looked as if I did drugs because I didn’t get enough sleep and cried all the time.” She forced a laugh through her sad memories. “Once, I tried to take a little girl from her mother because I thought she was Ashley.” She pushed her hand through her long blond hair and sight. “Oh well, what the hell. It took me five years to realize that I lost them and to get my life back together after two failed marriages. The past three years have been good to me. George helped me realize that I was a person, not some animal, for men to kick around. He gave me this job and helped me a lot. He’s like a father I never had.”

After she finished her story, Michael pushed away from the desk and did his share of pacing, with a deep breath intake. “Hell, Jessie,” he moaned, turning to face her and rubbed his hands up over the back of his neck. “I don’t know what to say.”

“There’s nothing to say,” she replied. “What’s done is done. We can’t change it.”

“I do have one question, though,” he said, staring at her, thinking.

“What?” she asked, feeling tired and starting to get a headache from the conversation.

“What happened to the money I gave you?” he asked. “The account I told you about when you came to the jailhouse. You should have been living off that money, instead of selling our stuff. That’s what it was for, until I…” He came loss of words and shook his head. “Got out, I guess. So, where’s that money?”

“It paid for the divorce,” she said, getting confused.

“All of it!” He was shocked by her words, raising his eyes and frowning at her.

“Yeah,” she mumbled back, feeling as if she did something wrong. “Mr. Jackson waived part of the fees so that I wouldn’t start in debt.”

“What fees?” he asked and took a deep breath to control his temper from where he noticed his voice rising. “Baby, I paid for the divorce, as I told you I would.”

“I don’t know, Michael,” she frowned back at him, not understanding what he was talking about. “I just know that Mr. Jackson said that the 300 thousand you gave me would cover all the divorce fees. Give me my name back, custody of the twins, and cover all filing fees. So, I signed the account over to him.”

“Damn, that son of a bitch,” Michael hissed, pushing his hands up through his hair and then back down over his face. “Once I get my hands on that bastard, I’ll…”

“Mike!” she yelled at him, cutting him off and gave him a dirty look.

“Please, tell me you didn’t,” he moaned, turning from her and looking up at the ceiling, closing his eyes to gain back control of his temper. If he ever got the chance to get his hands on that bastard, he would kill him, he thought to himself.

“What?” she snapped, starting to get mad herself.

“Sweetheart.” He looked back at her and leaned back against the desk. “Let me lay this out for you. To put it bluntly, you gave your fucking lawyer 300 thousand dollars for nothing.” He raised his hand to stop her when she jumped to speak. “Wait a minute. One, you aren’t using your real name. And even if you were, the judge would have granted it back to you without a chunk of money. It only cost me about 300 to have the name changed in the first place. And two, look around, baby.” He motioned his arms around the room for her to look around them. “You don’t have the twins. The state still has custody, and they are God only knows where. And three.” He held his finger up to her, to indicate for her to wait and let him finish if she planned on interrupting. “A contented divorce only cost about fifteen hundred to two thousand. Now a non-contented would start about five thousand. Our so call divorce was contented. I was giving it to you. We agreed to it on mutual grounds. So, to wrap this all up.” He made a circular motion with his finger. “Unless you were divorcing the Roman Gods, which I am not, let me be the one with bad news. Baby, your hotshot lawyer bent you over and raped you, big time,” he informed her and couldn’t help but snickered afterward. “And singing the Jack Pot Party song, afterward.”

“I’m so glad you think this is funny,” she snapped, pushing away from the windowsill and snatched the contract between him and the club up off the floor. “Damn, what an idiot I was.” She moved for her chair behind the desk but stopped before she reached it. “And how do you know all this?” She gave him another dirty look, asking, then changed her mind. “Forget it. Don’t bother answering. We all know you’re Michael. You know everything.”

“Hey,” He grabbed her arm and pulled her over to stand in front of him. He stood her between his legs, holding his arms tight around her shoulders. “To me, it’s just common public knowledge, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t mean to laugh. I wasn’t laughing at you. I think it’s sad that anyone who we all supposed to count on would take advantage of you like that. You were in a volatile state of mind because of what I put you through. So, if there is anyone to blame, it’s me. And I’m sorry.”

“But, why would he do that to me?” She thought back, holding onto his arms that laid across her shoulders, thinking of Mr. Jackson’s words to her when he agreed to represent her for the divorce.

“You want to divorce the son of the big-time oil well millionaire?” Mr. Jackson had questioned her. “And he’s not fighting against the divorce?” She remembered Jackson had had a weird look on his face, at the time of her asking him to represent her. Now she knows why. “Before I hired him, did he know you? Or anyone from the Davis Family?”

“Our path might have crossed,” Michael admitted.

“Meaning?” Jessie was confused by his words.

“Meaning that Larry had a case against him once, and it didn’t go in his favor,” Michael said, choosing his words carefully. “I guess, after losing the big case, he was determined to get back at Larry.” Michael shrugged his shoulders and went on explaining. “When he heard that I got into trouble, he offered his service and Larry turned him down. I didn’t know he did family law until I saw him with you at the divorce trial. I guess he went through you to get back at us all.”

“What was the case about between him and Larry?” she asked, wondering and still seeing Mr. Jackson approaching her to take on her case.

“I have no idea,” Michael mumbled toward her question, bringing her back to the present and pulling her into a hug. Just love the feeling of her against him. “But don’t worry about it. Or the money. There’s more money where that came from, and you can have it all if you want.”

“No!” she snapped and jerked out of his arms, with a dirty look and pointing her finger at him. “And don’t start thinking that way. There is no us anymore. Just do your job here, as George wants. And let me do mine.”

“It’s going to be hard, Jessie,” he admitted. “I still care about you. I’ll admit that, even if you refuse to. I didn’t want the damn divorce. Can you honestly say, you did?”

“It doesn’t matter what I wanted then nor what I want now,” she protested. “What matters is this stupid contract.” She held the contract up to him and shook it. “George arranged for you to be the club’s live entertainment for this month. I need you to follow through. It’s too late to replace you now.”

“Professional business, only, right?” He forced a smile for her. “You stay out of my way, and I stay out of yours.”

“Right,” she smiled back, moving to the middle of the room, putting space between them. “I have a new life now, Michael. I’m sorry, but you don’t fit into it, and I’m sure I don’t fit into yours. From what George tells me, you’ll be moving on to another state after your shows here.”

“Right,” he mumbled, watching her closely. “I have to be in Tennessee by the middle of next month.”

“That’s great,” she said. “I mean that your music career is going the way you always wanted.”

“Yeah, maybe.” He dropped his eyes from her and stared at his boots, mumbling. “I’m just sorry you’re not a part of it.” When she didn’t say anything, he looked back up at her. “I’m sorry, Jessie. Sorry for everything that went wrong between us. I never meant to hurt you.”

“Forget it.” She waved him off. “I had doings in it, too. It wasn’t all you, but that’s water under the bridge now.”

“Me doing this.” He reached out and took the contract from her. “Can we at least be friends?”

“Yeah. I would like that,” Jessie agreed, shaking her head. “But I don’t want anyone here knowing about us, that we have a past together. I don’t want to answer a lot of questions.”

“I understand,” he said. “It can be our little secret, okay? Hell.” He made a small forceful laugh and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not like we never had a secret between us before.”

“Right,” she said, noticing the noise growing outside the office door. Telling her that a rush-hour was hitting the club, and then a tap came to the office door conformed it. “Yes?” she responded to the tap at the door.

“Jessie?” Michael raised his eyes to the man’s voice at the door. It was the man he had met earlier when he arrived. “We kind of need you, sweetie. Leslie called in, and she’ll be about thirty minutes late.”

“Okay. I’m coming,” Jessie promised, catching the strange looks passing between Michael and Keith before Keith closed the door back. “Go ahead and read over the contract.” She went back to being professional with Michael. “If you have any questions, let me know. If not, sign it and put it back here on the desk. I’ll get it or Keith.” She pointed to the closed door, indicating who Keith was. “He’s the bartender here.” He shook his head, agreeing. She danced for a minute on her feet, knowing she needed to help her workers, but didn’t want to leave things unsaid between them. “I have to get out there and make sure everything goes okay.” She backed up toward the door. “Bye,” she mumbled, blushing a little and rushed out of the office, closing the door behind her.

Michael smiled at her departure, remembering she was a blusher back in her childhood days. God, how he has missed that. “Damn it,” he scowled to himself, hitting the top of the desk. “Why does that girl make me so fucking tongue-tied. Anyone else, I’m cool as a cucumber, but with Jessie Lee, I’m a fucking idiot. Damn, Mike, you can’t still be in love with her.” To his surprise, he answered himself as well. “Yes, I am.”

Chapter Two

-Wednesday Night-

 

By closing time that night, Jessie sat back behind her desk, getting the energy together to go home. The night had been the longest night of her life. She was afraid it was never going to end. She kept seeing Michael with his new band, one that she felt he didn’t belong to, and obviously, his new girlfriend. Patty, she overheard one of the band members calling her. She witnessed them kissing once, and it made her sick to her stomach. Then the strangest thought came to her mind. “Did Ginny get this feeling when she caught Michael and I kissing, once she learned that he had a new girlfriend?” Why, she would never know, because she had never given Ginny, Michael’s old girlfriend before her, or any of those other people that they grew up with practically, a thought in eight years.

Patty wasn’t what Jessie would call Michael’s type; she had short shoulder-length brown hair that she kept pulled back in a ponytail. And her eyes looked a little on the hazel greenish color, outlined with black mascara and black eyeliner. She wore her makeup a bit too light, making her look more like a ghost than a living person. And her clothes were tight, like another layer of skin. And a western style, all the way down to her cowboy boots. Probably, the only real thing Michael could like about her. Michael’s new band was four guys, two girls, and Patty is one of them, kind of group. They came across Jessie as a rowdy bunch of people, all but one guy named Joe, who seemed to be at Michael’s side a lot. The kind of people that Michael in her days would never put up with. Jessie also noticed that everybody was calling him ‘Mike’ instead of ‘Michael’, even himself. She remembered overhearing him introducing himself to Leslie, one of the waitresses at the club, as Mike.

“You ready to start the party?” Someone broke in on her thoughts, inviting themselves into her office.

“Huh?” Jessie looked up, shaking her head from her thoughts, catching Leslie standing now in the office, holding a large cake.

“Jessie, tonight we’re having Keith’s birthday party, remember?” Leslie reminded her manager and close co-worker. “You planned this last week.” She frowned at Jessie’s stun look. “Why do you think I was late today? I had to go pick up the cake.”

“Oh, yeah. I remember.” Jessie tried to force a smile and stood up from behind the desk. How could she be so stupid to plan a party on a night like this? But, then again, a week ago, she wasn’t planning on running into Michael. Much less hire him. She couldn’t believe that after all these years, he still looked the same.

“Do you want to set this up in here or out in the club?” Leslie broke into her thoughts again.

“What?” Jessie jumped, thinking she better clear her head of Michael and everything that had to do with him, or somebody will learn their little secret if you want to call being married for seven years to each other a little secret.

“Jessie, are you alright?” Leslie frowned back at her friend.

“Yeah. I’m just tired.” Jessie forced a smile again and moved over to Leslie and led the way out into the club. “Come on. Let’s take it out into the bar and have the party. Keith only turns thirty-eight once, right?” Once out into the club and having the cake sitting on the bar, Jessie turned around to face all her closing crew. “Hey, guys! Listen up,” she called out, overall, the noisy closing task being done. Michael sat at a table, with his band members, looked up at Jessie, to hear what she had to say. “Tonight, I want to throw a birthday party for Keith, and I hope all of you guys will stay and help us celebrate,” she said.

“If we stay, do we have to treat you like the boss, or can we be ourselves.” Michael heard one guy ask, and frowned over at him, shaking his head, before turning back to Jessie.

“I hope you have always been yourself, John,” Jessie replied, smiling at the guy. “I’m just a normal person like you guys. Trying to make a living.”

“Can we turn the jukebox up and do some dancing?” Another employee asked.

“Sure, why not?” Jessie answered, shrugging her shoulders.

“Darling, since you’re not the boss lady tonight, I want the chance to dance with your little ass,” someone else said behind Michael. “You are one sexy babe.” Michael realized it was one of his band members at the last moment.

“Hey!” Keith yelled back at Michael’s band member, just as Michael turned and shot him a dirty look.

“Knock it off, man,” he snapped at his drummer before turning back to face Jessie, who was staring at him now. “Sorry,” he whispered, feeling shy suddenly, trying to avoid her eyes. He leaned back in his chair and reached for his glass of beer, brushing Patty back off his shoulder, feeling the need for some air space.

“It’s okay,” she mumbled back.

“No, it’s not.” Keith stood her ground by her side and gave Michael and his band a dirty look. “Nobody talks to you like that…”

“Keith, please,” she interrupted him by placing her hand up against his chest.

“No, he’s right,” Michael stopped her. “It won’t happen again. Right, Byron?” He looked over at his band member for a reply.

“Yeah, dude. Sorry,” Byron mumbled, with a silly grin on his face. “It won’t happen again.”

“He’s just drunk.” Michael turned back to Keith and Jessie. “He’ll be cool.”

“He better be, or you guys are out of here,” Keith snapped, giving Michael a dirty look.

“Look, man! I’m not responsible for these guys.” Michael jumped up from his seat and stepped over in front of Keith and Jessie. “I’m just the band leader, not their father,” he said, standing over Keith, who looked like a small boy up against Michael’s 6 feet 4-inch frame.

“Yeah, well, one more remark and you and your band are out looking for another job,” Keith warned, trying not to be intimidated by the bigger man.

“Thank God, I haven’t signed your fucking contract.” He turned back to his band and nodded his head at them. “Let’s go.” He moved to pick up his guitar case, just as Jessie called out to him.

“Michael, don’t!” She ran over to his side and grabbed his hand from his case. “Please, don’t go.” She turned to face Keith, still holding Michael’s hand. “Keith, stop this. George is counting on this band’s entertainment.” She frowned at his solid look of hatred. “Why are you so jealous?”

“George wouldn’t want you to be mistreated,” Keith replied.

“I won’t be.” She shot him a confused look, before looking back up at Michael. “Please, stay. Go over the contract, and I’ll work with or change whatever there needs to be. Just don’t go. We need you.”

Michael stared down at her for the longest. He was falling into the mysterious depth of her eyes. Oh, God, how he used to love looking in her eyes. Watching them glow and always shine up at him, as they revealed her love for him. As long as it took him to learn to read them, over the years, he was reading the message now. She was still in love with him. He smiled at her and his discovery, wanting so badly to kiss those rosy red lips of hers. He wanted to take her in his arms and be inside her. He wanted to take her to the top of the biggest mountain in the state of Texas. “I’ll stay,” he said and added in a low whisper. “For you.”

“Thank you,” she smiled back at him and released the held in breath, dropping her hand from his.

The party started slow and tedious to Michael that he was about to call it a night and head back to his hotel room until he watched Keith pull Jessie out on the dance floor. He watched as they went into each other’s arms, as a Garth Brooks song came out of the jukebox speakers. He watched as Jessie laid her head down against Keith’s shoulder and closed her eyes to dance, just as she had done with him. To top things off, Keith started stroking her long blond hair, as they danced, just as he had always done. Michael’s heart felt as if it was being stabbed, as he watched the couple dancing close together. A fly couldn’t even fly between them, for their bodies was so close. The control of his temper jacked up a notch when Keith raised Jessie’s lips to his. Michael held tight onto his chair as he watched another man drive his tongue down his wife’s throat, all while squeezing her tighter up against his body. Divorce or no divorce, Jessie belongs to him, and he couldn’t just sit here and watch this asshole rope her out on the dance floor. Michael jumped up from his seat to go stop the scene, he guessed, just as Jessie pulled away, frowning up at Keith and shaking her head. Thinking she was letting Keith know that what he was doing wasn’t cool. Michael started to sit back down until he thought twice about it. He walked over to the couple and tapped Keith on the shoulder. “May I?” he politely asked, once the couple looked his way.

“You got to be kidding?” Keith sort back at Michael, twirling Jessie away from him.

“Keith, stop it.” Jessie dropped her arms from Keith and took a step back from him. “It would be a pleasure to dance with you, Mr. Davis.” She smiled up at Michael, after giving Keith a warning look, and held her arms out toward Michael.

“Mike. Please,” he corrected her and took her in his arms. Twirling her out farther onto the dance floor. “But you can call me Michael, as you always have before.” He gave her a sexy smile, as he pulled her closer to him to finish off the Garth Brooks song, and once they were out of Keith’s hearing range.

Boredom kicked in for Michael, once birthday toasts started until Keith raised his glass and called for everybody’s attention. “Everybody, I want to thank you all for staying for this occasion, but I have to toast a significant person tonight and ask her hand in marriage.” He looked down at Jessie and took her hand in his, as he knelt on one knee. “Jessie? Sweetie,” he started, making Michael’s stomach turn. “We’ve been seeing each other for over a year now. So, what do you say we tie the knot?” he smiled up at her. “Will you do me the honor, Miss Jessie, and marry me?”

“What?” Jessie was shocked, as she stared down at Keith in front of her, and so was Michael.

Keith’s words took place at the same time; Michael was taking a swig of his beer. Hearing Keith’s words made him double over and spit the beer out of his mouth, before going into the coughing fit. Everybody turned his way, because of the coughing, like he was dying. Some looked concern, and others had a dirty look on their face. Michael beat at his chest to try to stop the coughing and stood up when it was doing no good. “Excuse me,” he coughed out and walked out of the club as fast as he could. Still feeling people’s eyes on him, but not caring, except for the big blue mysterious pair he knew was watching him. The last thing he needed right now was to hear the only woman he has ever love except a proposal from another man. “Don’t do it, Jessie Lee!” he yelled at the building as he climbed in his car and drove away as fast as he could.

Back inside the club, Keith turned Jessie’s eyes back to him. “What do you say, Jessie? Will you marry me?” he asked, getting the room off Michael’s weird exit.

“I’m sorry, Keith.” She gave a forced, sad smile. “I can’t.” She jerked her hand from him and ran to the office and locked herself inside. She cried soundlessly to herself, as she felt the pain returning to her heart. The look on Michael’s face was stuck in her head. A glimpse of hurt and betrayal. “Oh, God,” she cried, falling back against the office door and looking up at the ceiling and closing her eyes. What was this she was feeling? Was she still in love with her ex-husband?”

It was nearly four in the morning when Jessie entered her apartment that night. She kept thinking of her marriage to Michael, and all the times they spend together. Because of that morning, eight years ago, she has hated Christmas. She pulled out the old photo album that she was saving for the twins and looked through all the pictures. Remembering the past, they shared, and once the pain started rushing back to her, she put it aside and decided it was best to go on to bed. Hopefully, this whole day was just a bad dream, come morning.

She was standing nude in her bathroom, watching her tub fill up with hot soapy water when she heard her doorbell. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself, thinking it was Keith checking up on her and wondering why she ran out on him after he popped the question. But when she opened the door, she found Michael standing there instead. “Michael, what are you doing here?” She was surprised seeing him at her door. “How did you know where I lived?”

“I asked one of the guys at the club,” he answered. His eyes traveled her body, making him want to take the towel from her like he has done so many times before and make slow passionate love to her. He cleared his throat and forced himself to make eye contact with her. “I have some questions about the contract.”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow? Or rather later,” she moaned, holding the towel up with one arm and pushing her hair back with the other. “I mean, it’s late, and I was about to take a bath and go to bed.”

“Sure,” he mumbled. “I just thought that since I start tomorrow, the contract should be signed first.” He turned to leave. “See ya, and good night.”

“Michael, wait!” She grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Maybe, you’re right.” She dropped his arm and stepped aside. “Come on in.” She let him enter her apartment and shut the front door afterward. “Let me turn off the water and put something on, and then I’ll be right with you.” She walked off down the hall, calling out over her shoulder. “There are soft drinks in the fridge, so help yourself. I’ll be a minute.”

“Sure,” he mumbled back, watching her rear end move from side to side as she walked down the small hallway. He ran his hands through his hair after she disappeared from his sight and took a deep breath. “Wow.” He turned circles in the room, giving the apartment a good look. So many things looked familiar to him. On the far wall were their couch and their end tables, setting on each side of it with their coffee table in front. The only thing in the living room that wasn’t theirs was the recliner and the television set.

Behind him was the kitchen and the dining room area, with a short wall separating the kitchen and living room, used as a pass out counter. There were two bar stools pushed up underneath. The table and chair set in the dining room looked familiar to him, as well as the sizeable double cassette stereo system she had sitting off in the corner of the room. He remembered she had bought the stereo for him on her sixteenth birthday by working and helping an old lady in her garden where they had their first home together. They had played it many times at night to help settle her stomach down when she was pregnant with the twins so that they could get some sleep.

He turned back to the living room to take a seat while he waited for Jessie when he noticed the big poster size landscape picture hanging over their couch. The scenery looked familiar to him, but he couldn’t place it. He thought for a while and then gave up when he noticed one of their old family photo albums lying on the coffee table. He walked over to the couch and sat down. He reached for the photo album and set back to get comfortable as he flipped through the pages. He remembered each day each picture was taken. He came to one image of Jessie and the twins smiling up at the camera, with little Ashley hugging her arms around her mother and Ischelle was sitting close by her side, with her hand on her mother’s leg. He smiled at the picture, thinking it was the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He rubbed his finger down over the photo and had to take a deep breath to keep from crying. He hasn’t realized it, until now, how much he missed them. There hasn’t been a day in the past eight years that he hasn’t thought about the twins. Wondering what they looked like now. If they resemble him still or look more like Jessie.

“I was saving it for the twins.” He jumped at the sound of Jessie’s voice in the room. She was now wearing a bathrobe and still looked as beautiful as the day he first laid eyes on her. She moved over to sit down beside him, saying, “I thought they would like to have it.” She turned the page and smiled as she stared down at their last family picture made. “You remember us doing these?”

“Yes,” he whispered, staring at her, instead of the picture. She was so beautiful. He could smell the strawberry scent coming from her hair plus the smell of her baby soft perfume. He wanted to kiss her lips. He wanted to kiss her throat, and on down her body, as his eyes followed the strip of hair that fell over her shoulder.

“You were acting silly that day,” she laughed at her memories, pushing her hair back behind her ears. “But, anyway, maybe someday they’ll forgive us. I know many times, I wish I forgave my mother, but now it’s too late.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, watching her hair fall across his arm, as she closed the photo album. “What happened?”

“Oh,” she laid the album back on the coffee table and sat back from him. She turned sideways on the couch to face him and folded her legs up in front of her, sitting Indian style. “It’s a long story.” She gathered her hair up in a ponytail and pulled it around over to her left shoulder. “Let’s just say, Momma died in a car accident,” she said, watching herself playing with her hair.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he whispered, meaning the words.

“Are you?” She looked up at him, surprised by his words.

“Yeah, I am.” He reached over and took the strip of hair from her and rubbed the ends between his fingers, saying, as he watched himself with her hair. “Jessie, I know your mother and I didn’t get along. Never seen eye to eye on anything, and we fought like cats and dogs, but still, a car accident is no way for someone to die.”

Jessie was speechless; she just stared back at him. Thinking why, did this man have to be so loveable and caring at times, and then be heartless at other times. As she watched him playing with the strip of her hair, she noticed a scar above his right eyes and another one just at the edge of his top lip. “What happened here?” She touched the scar lightly above his eye.

“A fight,” he answered straight out, raising his eyes to meet hers.

“Oh,” she sighed, starting to feel uncomfortable with him. “Hey!” She stood up from the couch and went toward the kitchen. “We need to go over the contract before daylight. I need to get some sleep.” She grabbed two cans of cokes from the refrigerator and went back to the living room. “So, what questions do you have?”

He didn’t answer, just stared at her. She was so different from the last time he saw her. She looked about the same. Long blond hair that fell to her waist. Big beautiful blue eyes and a small button nose, with full rosy-colored lips. But the change was more considerable. Deep under her skin. He just wasn’t sure where or what yet.

“Michael, please. Stop staring at me like that.” She broke in on his thoughts, sitting down on the couch again. “We promised each other a professional relationship. So, stop looking at me like you’re trying to undress me or something with your eyes. We have nothing for each other anymore. We can’t. Okay?”

“You’re right,” he replied. “I’m sorry.”

She smiled back and reached over to pick up the contract he had laying on the coffee table. “So, what question do you have?” she asked, flipping through the pack of papers in her hand.

“Oh, yeah.” He leaned over closer toward her and turned the page back to his question. “Right here.” He pointed. “Back at the club, you said a thousand bucks for a show. Here it’s saying five shows. That’s not what we agreed upon from the beginning.”

“Let me see,” she said, reading over number sixteen of the contract, seeing the problem. “I know the mistake. It should have ‘per week’ in here.” She pointed out the error. “George wants you to play two shows a night. An early show and a late show. On Friday and Saturday, plus one early show on Thursday. Being Ladies Night at the club. A total of five shows per week and twenty thousand dollars at the end of the month.” She looked up from the contract to catch a glance at him, leaning overseeing what she was talking about. “I’m not sure about your band,” she whispered, still watching him. “I’ll have to ask Keith tomorrow.”

“I pay them,” he said, rising to meet her eyes, seeing the sudden change in hers. “Shit. This is going to be so fucking hard.”

“No,” she mumbled, shaking her head. “It can’t be.” She watched his lips move closer to hers, and like magnets, her eyes closed.

Their lips touched softly at first and felt so right being together. Then Michael brought his hand up to her face, and his fingers interlocked in her hair, pulling her head closer toward him so that he could get a better feel of her lips. His hand ran down the length of her hair and stopped to hold her at the waist. There he pulled her closer against him, as he opened his mouth and let his tongue outlined her lips.

Jessie let herself be moved over onto his lap, and the contract fell from her hands as she wrapped her arms around his neck. She allowed his tongue to enter her mouth, turning the small kiss into a warm and demanding one.

Michael eased her back on the couch and moved down beside her. His hand moved over her, and when he reached the bathrobe's belt, he pulled it loose. But just before he was able to touch bare skin, she pulled away.

“Jess, no!” he moaned, reaching out to grab her when she jumped up off the couch.

“I don’t want this. I can’t do this again,” she said and rushed over to the front door and jerked it open. “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

He stood up from the couch and walked over to her and shut the door back. “No, baby.” He took ahold of her face in both of his hands. “I love you. Don’t you see that? Can’t you feel it? I do, and I feel you love me, still, too.”

“No, I don’t.” She pulled away from him and took a step back, with tears in her eyes. “Please, go.”

“Are you going to marry him?” he asked, throwing her off guard.

“What?” She was confused.

“You heard me.” His tone turned sharp. “Are you going to marry Keith?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business.” She frowned back at him.

“Well, if you do. I’ll like to say; it will be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make,” Michael pointed out.

“Wrong!” she snapped back. “You were my mistake. I fucked up when I married you.”

“It won’t last, Casey,” he snapped, using her real name.

“You don’t know that,” she cried, hating it when he used her real name. Him using her real name hurts more than any abusive mark he has ever left on her. “You don’t know Keith, so you don’t know what will last or not.”

“You’re right, I don’t know him, but I know you,” he agreed and turned around and informed her on some facts. “If you love that bastard the way you are trying to claim, you wouldn’t have kissed me like you just did. That kiss told me more then you’ll ever know or admit up to.”

“Get out!” she screamed, jerking the door back open and pointing the way out of her apartment. “Just get the hell out of my house.”

He walked back over to the couch and jerked the contract up from the floor and signed his name to it, before catching sight of the big poster picture above the sofa, again. “I’ll be damned,” he mumbled, smiling, remembering where he has seen the scenery before now. “That’s the swimming pond from my grandparent’s farm in California.” He looked back up at her and pointed to the picture.

“What?” she frowned back, still holding the door open for him and looked confused.

“You had one of our photos blown up,” he said. “You’re decorating your apartment with our memories. Another fact that you still love me.” He grinned over at her.

“Get out, Mike,” she said, giving him a dirty look.

“You can’t refuse the truth, baby.” He moved over toward her, dropping the now signed contract back down on the coffee table. “Our couch, that we have made love on before and our table. The same table we had done some kinky shit on, like with the can of whip cream. I’m just wondering, do you have our bed, too, that we made love in almost every night for almost six years?”

“Get out!” she yelled again, cutting him off. “God, you are such a bastard. I’ll never know what I saw in you. I hate you.”

“I don’t believe you,” he snapped, slamming the front door shut and pushing her up against the front wall. He raised her arms over her head and held them in a tightly hold with one hand as he dropped his other to untie her bathrobe. Letting the belt fall to the floor as he brushed both sides away to get a good look at her nude body.

“What are you going to do, Michael? Rape me? Like your uncle did,” she asked, not bothering to pull loose from his hold. Knowing it would be a waste of time. He was much stronger than her. “It’s not like you haven’t before.”

“No,” he mumbled, ignoring her last remark and watching his fingertips brush down her fresh skin. Discovering her body had developed more luscious as she grew older. “I just want to see you, before I kiss you and tell you good night and that I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, watching goosebumps form on her cool skin, as his fingertips traveled over her naked breasts and down her stomach to the area below her waist. He dropped the hold on her arms and took her face in both of his hands. He trapped her against the wall with the lower part of his body. He dropped his lips down to hers and kissed her quickly, before resting his forehead down against hers and smiled. “You passed the beautiful stage, baby,” he whispered, keeping his eyes locked with hers. “And have reached the downright gorgeous stage. You are still one sexy babe, you know it?” He talked in a rush, not giving her time to respond. “My little Plain Jane no longer exists. You are now, without a doubt, one hundred percent, my Jessicalina.” He dropped another kiss on her forehead before he stepped away from her and smiled at her stunning look. “See you tomorrow, beautiful.” He turned for the front door. “I love you,” he smiled again, and then he was gone out the door, but not out of her life.

Jessie watched her front door closed after Michael, as tears fell down her face. She jerked her robe closed and slid down the wall to the floor, burying her face in her knees as she cried.

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