He nods. “She hates her name.”
“And Jace is okay with you using his sister for these mutual needs?”
“We’re adults. I’m not jerking her around, making lifetime promises. It’s sex. He’s not exactly a saint either.”
It’s sex. It is sex. Not was sex.
“So … when they come visit … do you uh …”
Jake turns the gas burner to simmer and covers the pan. “Do I what?” He wipes his hands and tosses the dishtowel over his shoulder.
I roll my eyes. Why does he have to be such a dick about this? He knows damn well what I’m implying. “Meet needs, Jake. Does she sleep in your bed and suck your dick?” Pressing the heels of my hands to my forehead, I sigh. “I shouldn’t be here.”
Letting my hands flop to my sides, I give him a wide-eyed look. “Why? WHY?” Heat burns my cheeks as rage crawls up my chest, constricting my throat. “Because we are terrible together! Because you say terrible things to me. Because you’re leaving. Because I can’t stop thinking about you, but I need to stop thinking about you! Because you can’t figure out the three fucking words that you need to say to me. And because next Friday you’ll be in Milwaukee with Mo in your bed!”
Jake’s head inches back as his eyes widen like saucers.
Son … of a bitch. I have done so well with this. After the “makeup incident” at the rehearsal, I put myself together. Stood up for myself. I slipped a bit when I let him kiss me here last week, but I quickly righted that wrong.
I’ve fallen headfirst off the wagon.
“Why are you here, Ave? It’s not to iron my jeans or help me pack.” He steps closer.
I step back. We cannot be close. Our brains shut down when we get too close.
“Are you here to tell me what I need to say to make things right between us? Are you ready to stop playing this stupid guessing game with me? I love you. I am sorry. What three words? Those are good words. I’m an idiot. How do you like those three words? I need you. I want you. Are those the right words?” He takes another step and grabs my wrist to prevent me from distancing myself from him.
When I try to pull away, he tugs me closer, hugging my arms to his chest. His gaze slips to my hand. “Nice nail polish. Those are three words. Are they the ones you’re looking for?”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, you big jerk!” All attempts to tear myself away from his hold are futile. “You’re judging me because I have nail polish on my nails. I bet you were judging me when I walked in here with those five-hundred-dollar shoes. And my handbag that’s made of dead cowhide. And my makeup that’s covering up the bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. You can’t love me unless I’m the person you created in your head.”
I bring my other hand to my mouth and my cheeks puff out. Oh god … I’m going to be sick. Sydney will pay for this. She’s always grabbing the wrong water glass off the counter. Could there possibly be worse timing?
“Ave?” Jake loosens his grip on me.
I shake my head and pull away, keeping my mouth covered as I dart in the direction of the bathroom. Before I can shut the door behind me, I drop to my knees and expel the contents of my stomach as sweat beads along my brow.
“Go …” I hold out a flat hand as Jake hands me a cup of water and a wet washcloth. “I don’t want you to see this.”
“Too late.” He presses the washcloth to my forehead and shoves the glass of water into my hands as I sit back on my heels, wiping my mouth with a wad of toilet paper.
“Stay back. You don’t want this. Sydney’s sick. It’s contagious. Just …” I take the water, rinse my mouth, and flush the toilet.
He helps me to my feet.
“Yuck.” I frown at the few splatters of vomit on the floor by his toilet. “I’m sorry.”
I swish some water again and spit in the sink.
“I forgive you,” he whispers. Barely even a whisper, but I hear it.
I glance up at his reflection in the mirror. He leans his shoulder against the doorframe, crossing his colorful arms over his chest.
Coughing on a bit of sarcasm, I shake my head. “Gee, thanks. It’s good to know that vomiting on your floor isn’t unforgivable in your high standards.”
“I don’t give a fuck about my floor.”
I set the glass on the vanity and turn toward him, peeling a few strands of hair from my face. Why does he look so tortured with his lined forehead and downturned mouth?
“I’m saying it for me, and I’m saying it for you. I’m saying it for us. Those are the words, aren’t they? The three words. I. Forgive. You.”
Tears burn my already red eyes. I don’t want his acceptance. I want this. His love feels incomplete without … his forgiveness. All I’ve wanted to hear are those three words. Maybe it’s being raised in a church, or maybe it’s because I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but for whatever reason, forgiveness is the pinnacle of love. It’s unconditional. It’s a baptism of the soul.
“You think love isn’t the answer. You think I can’t truly love you unless I forgive you for Steve, for Megan’s baby, for poisoning me, for absolutely anything and everything about you that can be perceived as an imperfection. You’re so wrong.”
The tears fight their way to my cheeks.
Jake steps toward me.
“I’m sick.” I hold up my hand.
“So what?” He palms the back of my head and brings me into his chest. I nuzzle his neck and let more tears find their way to my cheeks and his shirt.
“Ave, I forgive you because I love you. You think love is not enough, but it’s everything. It’s all encompassing. It’s overpriced shoes and dead animals used to make bags. It’s bright red nail polish and dark eyeshadow. It’s jeans named after women and eyelashes that fall off. It’s dog shit on shoes and untimely cases of head lice.”
I laugh through my tears. “I didn’t have head lice.”
“You did. They ate through your hair extensions.”
“Shut up.” I cringe, pressing my hand to my nauseated stomach.
Thank you, Sydney. Thank you very much.
“Here.” He releases me, riffles through the bottom vanity drawer, and pulls out a new toothbrush.
“Do I want to know why you have a supply of new toothbrushes?” I take the toothbrush after he puts a dab of toothpaste on it.
He nods to the electric toothbrush by the sink. “Because I use that one most of the time, but the dentist gives me a new one every six months. Over time, you get a collection.”
I stare at him in the mirror, using the toothbrush in my mouth to hide my grin. After a quick brush, I shuffle my bare feet toward the kitchen where he’s shutting off the stove.
“Sorry about dinner. I’m not hungry now. I just want to go home.”
“I’ll drive you.” He grabs his keys off the counter.
“No. My car is here. I’m feeling a bit better, you know … that slight reprieve after you vomit?”
He nods once. Of course he knows. I poisoned him.
“But I’d better get going before a new wave hits.”
“I’ll get your car to you tomorrow. So, either you stay here tonight, or I drive you home.”
At the same time I say, “Home,” he says, “Stay.”
“You leave in three days. You don’t need to get sick.”
“I’m leaving in three days. It’s why you should stay.”
I frown. He’s so stubborn.
“I’ll sleep on the sofa,” I concede.
Jake sets his keys back on the counter. “You’ll sleep in the bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa. I’ll wash my hands and take extra vitamins.”
The frown won’t wipe off my face. It’s no longer his stubbornness, it’s me. I feel like crap. I hate being sick. I’m the worst at being sick. He doesn’t want to see this. At least at home, I have access to a doctor who’s used to whiney patients.
“I need to lie down. I need a bowl. I need a blanket.” I hug my stomach and walk toward the bed. “I need water, not too warm, not too cold. And my phone. It’s in my purse.” I melt onto the bed, curling my body into itself on my side.
“I’ll get you everything you need.” Jake covers me up with his blankets. I close my eyes and pray for this bug to be quick. I’m a wuss. Wusses can’t stay sick too long. It’s just a law of nature.
“Perfect temperature water. Your phone. A bowl. And some ginger candy.” He lines up everything on the nightstand. “Anything else?” The bed dips as he sits on the edge, stroking my hair and my back.
“Don’t get sick and don’t stay.”
“Where am I going to go?” He chuckles.
I crack open my eyes. “I mean Saturday. You go home. I don’t want you to stay here for me. You’re not an L.A. person. You said it yourself. And I need to get my life back in order before I can be truly … lovable. I need time. I need to go slow.”
This elicits more laughter. “I’m leaving Saturday. I have a business to run and guests coming next week. You’ll have all the time you need to do your thing.”