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|Reluctantly, my eyes opened, as the morning sun finally overwhelmed the burgundy draperies holding it back and streamed into the bedroom. I let out a tiny growl, and was rewarded with a sweet answering snarl from the other side of the bed. Jim’s arm, furry and warm, slowly fell across my shoulders, his forearms knotting as he reached around, running his fingers through my chest hair. “Morning, cub.”
“Good morning, bear,” I crooned, snuggling back against the hard pillows of his furry pecs, his arms closing around me. “For once this week, I actually beat you waking up – of course, on my last day here.”
His grip tightened. “That’s right – you’re flying home today.” He sighed gently. “Dan….this past week has been so wonderful. It’s going to be strange not having you here.”
“You know,” I said, rolling over to face him, “all you have to do is ask…..and I’ll be here. Whenever, wherever you want. And….” here goes nothing…….”I would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
His face fell, hazel eyes turning misty. “Oh Dan…..dammit, I knew you were going to say that, I just knew it.” He turned over, burying his face in the pillow, his shoulders heaving.
“Jim, I’m sorry, I……I didn’t mean to –“
He looked up, his eyes red, tears smeared on his cheeks. “No, Dan…..it’s OK….it’s not you, it’s me. I think the world of you too….but there are just too many…..complications. We just can’t do it.”
“Jim…..sweetie…..I promise you….whatever it is, we can work it out –“
“No, Dan…..we can’t.” He raised himself up on his elbows. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear….and it’s not because I don’t care about you….but this is too much. I can’t – I WON’T – ask you to deal with it.”
My hackles and Irish temper rose. “Look, Jim, why don’t you TELL me just what ‘it’ is, and I’ll make the decision whether I can deal with it or not.”
“NO, Dan,” he barked back, eyes blazing, biceps and shoulders knotting. “I’m NOT putting anyone – especially not YOU – in that situation. You’ll only wind up getting hurt—“ and he abruptly cut himself off at my reaction.
“Hurt? Jim, are you in some kind of danger—“
“No, no, cub, no,” he murmured, pulling me close, his chest against mine, his eyes welling anew. “I’m fine and I will be fine.” He looked at me wistfully. “God, that is what I love about you – fiery and feisty one second, tender and caring the next. You’re quite the cub, Dan Evans.” He turned away for a second, his back tautening, staring up at the casement, then back to me. “You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Please….please….don’t ask me to tell you why, just trust me when I say we can’t do it.” His eyes met mine, pleading.
So this is what true heartbreak feels like, I silently said to myself. I could feel the hot tears dripping down my cheeks, wanting to break loose in deep sobs…..but I can’t do that to him. I squared my shoulders. “You know I’m disappointed…but….I trust you, Jim.” I offered my hand. “Friends?”
He took it in his strong paw….squeezing it….then gently planting a kiss on my wet cheek. “Friends.” He looked at me softly. “I’m sorry, handsome. Tell you what – you’re leaving this afternoon, why don’t we do a – “ he suddenly stiffened, cocking his head to the side, his eyes taking on a sudden far-away look….
“Earth to Jim……come in…..do a what?”
He snapped back, blushing….”Sorry sweetie….just remembered something I gotta go do.” He jumped up, heading for the door. “Let’s do brunch in an hour. See you at Harvey’s—“ and he was off, his feet pounding on the stairs, the front door opening and slamming shut a heartbeat later.
I laid back on the pillows, staring up at the ceiling, mind turning over and over. Why me? Why do I always find the good ones who can’t commit…..I rolled over groaning, and suddenly I saw it – a brown square on the nightstand. Jim’s wallet! He’ll be back for that in a second, I thought, sliding out of bed, pulling on my shorts. I grabbed the wallet and headed downstairs, shivering as the cold of the morning soaked into my feet, sliding on my house shoes, grabbing my jacket – and stopping stock still as I saw Jim’s overfleece still hanging on the peg next to mine.
Wait a minute, I thought……he was naked in bed too – SURELY he didn’t……I ran to the door, pulled it open, the brisk air and bright sunlight making me sneeze….what in the hell, his car’s still here…..I looked up and down the block. Where could he have GONE?
A sudden banging from the narrow alley next to the house caught my attention…..I walked back and around to see a figure moving in the shadows….”Hey! Come out of there! I’ll —“ and suddenly a pair of hands closed on my face, forcing an acrid moist cloth to my nose….I swung wildly, but instantly my legs turned to jelly, collapsing, the world spinning, sunlight dissolving into a surreal riot of colors….and then blackness.
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