I faced Jessica. She was beautiful. Exactly the girl I remembered. Her lips were parted, her breathing shallow as she pushed her hips into me. So close. I was so close to having her again.
“I’m sorry, Jess.”
“This.” I pulled myself off her and sat down by her feet.
She propped herself on her elbows, legs still spread. “What? Why?”
I stroked her calf and looked in her face, half cast in the moonlight. “Because. It’s been too much. I just… I can’t.”
She tucked her legs away and crouched, kneeling by me. She touched my face, and I saw her hurt. She had a deep fear of loneliness. Leaving her alone would undoubtedly be the hardest thing I ever did. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Is this spite? Or revenge?”
I got up. I owed her honesty, at least, after everything we’d been through, after all I’d promised her, after all the times we’d hurt each other. “It’s too late. I’m sorry. I’m not the same man.”
“Is it that girl?”
“Which girl?” I knew exactly who she meant. I was suddenly sorry I’d brought Monica to the show. Had I known Erik had walked out, I would have kept her home and writhed around with her all night, just to shield her from my ex-wife’s eyes. The thought of that bruised ass, and her attitude about it, even the guilt I’d felt at giving it to her, made my dick twitch to the point of pain. “It’s a dalliance, Jess. Don’t try to read more into it.”
Jessica didn’t answer. She just stared at me as if she was reading a book. She must have seen right through me.
“Just go, then,” she said quietly.
I wanted to say more, to apologize again or offer some comfort, but in a quarter of a second, I thought better of it. The front door. I just had to make it to the front door. I took long strides, looping my fingers in my keyring as I stepped into the night air. My Mercedes was five steps away. It had been her favorite. That’s why I’d brought it. Maybe it was time to get rid of it.
“Jon,” she called out. I took another step, getting my hand on the car, not looking back. I didn’t want to change my mind. I didn’t want another argument. I thought maybe I could get back to Echo Park in time to not make a rude ass of myself in front of Monica.
I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t heard Jessica. I looked back, just to say good-bye. I didn’t see her immediately, but once my eyes scanned the front walk, I saw her, balled up on the ground.
The visit was getting more dramatic than I’d anticipated. Did she feel this way when I’d gotten on my knees and begged her to stay? I’d been such a mess of tears I couldn’t remember her expression. God, I’d never do that again.
She cradled her arm. I went to her, and from the way she looked at me, I knew I wasn’t getting to my little goddess of Echo Park that night.
Dr. Fuhr was in Aruba, but a few phone calls and he’d managed to get us skipped ahead in the emergency room if we could get to Cedars in twenty minutes. It was late enough that the 10 was clear, and we zipped along with the top up, an ice pack on Jessica’s arm and a sulk on her face.
“She’s pretty,” Jessica said.
“Who?” I asked as if I didn’t know.
“The girl from tonight. Are they all that pretty?”
“Mostly,” I lied.
She looked out the window. “Do they all let you f**k them the way you like it?”
The foul language brought my breath in. That wasn’t her way of speaking, and her tone prodded. I took the bait because it was late, my balls ached, and Dr. Fuhr hadn’t been available.
“How do I like it, Jess? Maybe you can just repeat back to me what you told all your friends?”
“I needed to tell someone!”
“Everyone. You told everyone that I wanted to beat you. Beat you?”
“You changed, Jon. I was scared.”
We’d been through it so many times, the tracks of the argument were smooth and well worn, but that felt different. It felt like the last time.
“I changed because you changed me. And I’ll always be grateful. You made me right with myself.”
“And right with yourself means you want to tie women up and hurt them.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone. You’re so f**king vanilla, Jess. It’s like a religion. You can’t see outside it.”
I turned into the ER at Cedars, not facing her until I parked. Tears dampened her face. I hadn’t heard her crying in the white noise of the freeway.
I put my hand on hers, but she shook it off.
“I wish we could go back to the way we were,” she said.
Erik came an hour later, as she was in the x-ray room. We shook hands like gentlemen.
“Nothing happened,” I told him. “She’s all yours.”
The blonde lock drooping over his forehead swayed. He owned a surfboard company, but his face was permanently tanned from twenty years on the waves. “She never was.”
“Well, honestly, this is the last time I’m coming running. I’m done. And I’m sorry I had my foot in your yard for so long.”
We shook hands again, and I put my hand on his arm because I was really, terribly sorry I’d caused him grief over a woman who was completely wrong for me.
It wasn’t until I got on the 10 that I started to feel as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I pulled off on Mulholland to feel the Merc take the curves like a lumbering behemoth for the last time. I hated that goddamn car. I would get rid of it immediately. A smile spread across my face, and I laughed so hard I had to pull over. Laughter overtook me, turning to tears and back to a deep, silent laughter in my chest again. From relief. From a break in tension. From sheer joy. I was free. Fucking free.
The car was too small to contain me. I got out and sat on the railing, looking over the city, quiet, tearful bursts overtaking me. I looked at my phone, wanting to say something, connect with someone, but I couldn’t conceive the words.
When I recognized where I was, I sobered up. I’d kissed Monica for the first time there. I felt a stabbing twinge in my twisted balls. Oh God, I could have her. I could own her. She could be mine, without hesitation or reservation. Mine. The relief turned into excitement.
I looked at the time. I’d have to wait.
Thinking of Monica, I got calm and focused on my phone.