I felt hopeful for the first time in days. I got out of bed and crawled into the shower, setting it for hotter than it needed to be. I had no idea how long I’d been in bed, but it was seven in the morning according to my clock. I hadn’t seen or heard from Darren, and I assumed he was with Adam. I should have called him, but the idea of reaching out, even to the only person in the world who would understand my sense of failure, made me flinch as if my face would get slapped.
My skin was raw and pink from heat and friction when I stepped out of the shower. I dried my hair and pulled out my brush. A twisted black hair tie was wrapped around the handle. Gabby had put it there when she worked on my hair for the Eclipse show. I put my palm on my wet hair and stroked downward, curling my fingers to gather a strand, just enough to string a bow. The sensation was nothing like when Gabby did it with her care and artistry. And all that was gone. All that talent went into the nothing and nowhere. All the music she would have made would never exist.
I hurled myself under the covers, naked and half wet, grabbing my phone on the way.
—don’t come nevermind—
I heard a phone ding from the living room and, soon after, a voice so close it shocked me.
“Too late,” Jonathan said. “Your front door was open.”
A blast of cold air hit me as the covers were moved, and in the next breath, I caught his new scent. He pulled the covers over us just as his phone dinged. He pressed his front to my back, spooning me, his clothes taking on the dampness I hadn’t gotten around to toweling off.
“I’m sorry, Monica.” He put his face in my wet hair and draped his arm around me. Ah. What’s this text I have here? It says go away.”
He slid his arm under my neck and held the phone in front of our faces with both hands. His breath tickled my ear. “Let me text back. Hang on.”
—I’d rather be here for you—
I waited for it to appear on my phone. He nuzzled into the hair pooling at the back of my neck as I typed back.
—And then what?—
His fingers flew across the glass.
—And let’s talk about the rest later. Today, you are the goddess my universe revolves around.—
In the seconds it took my phone to bloop, I had a million thoughts, not the least of which was that he was crazy. Out of his mind. Didn’t he see who he was curled against? For f**k’s sake, I’d killed my best friend, first with carelessness and then with ambition.
I started texting back:
—you have the wrong….
But then I felt his lips on my shoulder and his warm breath on my skin, and my sorrow dropped out of me. I couldn’t finish. My chest hitched and heaved, and the tears came so hard I couldn’t breathe. His arms held me tight from behind, and his voice twisted itself into little nothings of comfort. I went into a timeless blackness where I let everything spill out, because he’d catch it. I knew in every cough and sob, every hitched breath and chest spasm, that he’d hold me together. Whatever fell apart, he’d put right. I couldn’t curse him for not being everything I needed or failing to commit to me completely. I didn’t have space to reject his idea that I was submissive or the will to deny him control over me. He was there, and he was exactly what I needed.
When the crying slowed, I turned to face him. In the dark, I found his lips by following his breath and kissed him. He opened his mouth, stroking my tongue with his in a gentle dance. I wove my legs into his.
“Thank you,” I whispered, breathing it without a voice.
He started to answer, but I kissed away whatever came next. I pushed my hips into him. He was hard, and I was ready. I kissed him again, so I wouldn’t hear any objections when I pulled his shirt from his waistband. I wanted him naked against me. I wanted to feel good, if only for a minute, and to forget everything for as long as it took us to bind together and fall apart. I hadn’t earned it, but I wanted it.
A little light went on under the covers, and a bloop preceded a ding, but we ignored it. He rolled on top of me, mouth attached to mine, and stroked the length of my body. I gasped. The touch was so comforting, so distracting, a bow suddenly dragged across silent strings.
“Hello? Mon?” The voice sounded far away.
Jonathan and I separated.
“What was that?” Jonathan asked.
I twisted around. My phone was lit up under me. I must have rolled on top of it and answered the call by accident. Too late to reject the call.
“Hello? Darren?” I whispered. For some reason, I couldn’t engage my vocal cords.
Jonathan pulled the covers off us, and the light seemed as blinding as the air was cold. I already missed his warmth on my body.
“I need you to post bail, or I’m going to miss the wake.” He sounded dead, emotionless. “I found Theo. I hurt him. There are bail places all around here. So can you come?”
“Yes, I’ll come.”
I glanced at Jonathan as Darren started giving me the details. He was still fully clothed in a blue polo shirt and jeans, sitting up against the wall. I was naked and crouched beside him. He stroked my shoulder.
“What happened?” he asked when I clicked off.
“Darren beat up Gabby’s boyfriend. I have to bail him out.”
“Why are you whispering?”
I shrugged. I had no idea. All I knew was, I could whisper fine, but I couldn’t speak out loud.
“You’re not speaking at the wake, I guess?”
I shook my head.
“Where’s it going to be?”
He looked at his watch. “In seven hours? Are you prepared? How many people?”
“Debbie said it was Saturday. Today.”
Oh God. Darren had said he’d miss the wake, and I thought he meant he’d miss it tomorrow. How long had I been under the covers? Had I slept more than I thought? I stood up, panicked. It was Saturday. I had to put out food. Clean the house. Make myself emotionally presentable. And I had to bail Darren out of jail? With what money? And what time?
I must have been a sight, naked in the middle of my room, hands out, not knowing what to do first. Jonathan got up and grabbed my wrists. I had no words.
“I’m going to take care of it.”
“No,” I whispered. “It’s my job.”
He held my hands, pressing them together between his palms. He spoke in the voice that broached no questions, but he didn’t tell me to spread my legs or come. “I have to work for a few hours today. I’ll send a crew here to clean up, and I’ll get food in. How many people?”