In the quiet hours of Sunday morning, Kylie swirled her fork in the pancake syrup coating her plate, lost in sensations she wished she couldn’t remember from the night before.
Nessa sipped her coffee, studying Kylie.
“That was really cool how Dan sang Stacy down the aisle.”
“Hmm,” Kylie agreed, not really listening.
“They seem really nice.”
Kylie nodded. “They are.”
“Same with Aria and Brent.”
“Yeah.” Kylie let out a sigh and closed her eyes. Instantly, she could feel the heat of Jimmy’s skin beneath her fingertips, the fire of the memory racing to her chest where her heart hammered in palpitations.
“Chief’s a pretty cool guy,” Nessa tried again.
Nessa slammed her coffee mug on the table, startling Kylie out of her trance. “Are you ever going to tell me what’s going on with Jimmy?”
Kylie shrugged and watched the butter and syrup swirl in the wake of her fork. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Start anywhere.” Nessa lifted her mug to take a sip and settled into her chair with her feet tucked underneath her, ready for story time. “Just talk to me.”
Kylie dragged her eyes away from her plate. “I can’t do this with him. Not again.”
“So, do it different this time.”
Kylie shook her head. “There is no different with Jimmy. It is what it is.”
“You never told me how you guys met.”
“He was dating Ash. You knew that.”
“But how did you meet him?”
“I don’t know.” Kylie exhaled a deep breath she’d been holding onto for too long. “They’d been together a few weeks, maybe a month or so, when Ashley dragged him to one of Mom’s summer barbeques. That’s where I first saw him.”
“How long ago was this?”
“While I was pregnant with Brayden.”
Three years later, Kylie could still remember that first sighting of him as though it had happened only moments earlier.
“He was sitting at the picnic table over in the corner of the yard, wearing a dirty pair of jeans and an old t-shirt, concrete dust on his arms, looking like he’d come straight from work. He had a ball cap pulled down low over his eyes and was drinking a beer real slow, like he was pissed off at the world. He did not want to be there, and everyone was giving him space, even Ashley. He had this vibe coming off him that I can’t explain… Something powerful, almost dangerous, and for some reason, it drew me to him.”
Kylie closed her eyes and took a breath as her body reacted to the memory of him.
“He looked me over as I walked past him, like in this really intense, studious kind of way. I swear, I could physically feel his eyes travel over me. I didn’t so much turn towards him as… It was more like I was pulled. When our eyes met it was like someone stabbed a hot poker through my chest. There was this slow, deep burn that spread to the pit of my stomach. It felt amazing and terrifying at the same time, and I wanted to run, but more, I just wanted to touch him and see if he was real… I knew how he’d been treating my sister, and I hated him for it, but the way he looked at me set me on fire.”
“What did he do to Ashley?” Nessa asked.
“What didn’t he do?” Kylie laughed bitterly as she carried her plate to the sink. She leaned against the counter and thought back to the Jimmy she’d first met. “She was young and stupid, and he took advantage of it. He’d get her drunk, or she’d come home high. He screwed her six ways to Sunday, cheated on her with anything that breathed. They never went anywhere. He didn’t call her. I honestly don’t think he even liked her, but that didn’t stop him from using her for sex whenever he couldn’t get it somewhere else. And she didn’t care. She took whatever she could get from him, whenever she could get it, and went back begging for more.”
“We were all young and stupid once, Ky,” Nessa reminded her. “And your sister’s always been pretty messed up.”
“I know she has,” Kylie agreed. She couldn’t gloss over anything with Nessa. She knew Ashley’s troubled past as well as Kylie did. “But he took advantage of her weaknesses.”
“I used to work at this bar downtown called Captain Jack’s. He’d come in with his brother, Brent, and I swear Jimmy took home a different girl every night… and Ash didn’t care. I think that’s what pissed me off the most—that she just didn’t care.”
“Sounds like you were the one making more out of their relationship than what it was.”
“Ash may have screwed around on him, but she was in love with him. She still is.”
“I doubt that,” Nessa said.
“She is,” Kylie insisted.
“Let’s just forget about your sister for a minute. Pretend they never dated.” Nessa collected their coffee cups for a refill. “It’s just you and him, a guy and a girl. Why would you sleep with Jimmy if he was such a jerk?”
“I don’t know.” Kylie laughed at herself. “He wore me down… Dan and Stacy tricked me… I was stupid. Take your pick.”
“What’s your pick?”
Kylie took her time adding cream and sugar to her coffee before she confessed, “I fell in love with him.”
Nessa nodded, encouraging her on. “And how did that that happen.”
“I don’t know…” She stirred her coffee and tried to find the words to explain her heart. “He grew up a little, I guess. He quit messing around with the girls and would sit at the bar all night and just talk to me while I worked. He mostly harassed me and gave me shit, but every once in a while, he’d let his guard down and I got a peek at a different Jimmy, the one who was really sweet, and kind, and interesting…
“He’s smart as hell, Nessa, and he’s got some really big dreams that he doesn’t share with anyone, but you can hear them in his voice when he talks… He started coming to more of Mom’s holiday dinners with Ashley, and he was always great with Brayden. I started thinking about him all the time. If he didn’t come to the bar for a few days, I’d text him and see what was up. And I hated myself for it because he was still with my sister in the messed-up thing they called a relationship, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“That night we finally got together, I knew what we were doing was horribly, horribly wrong, but it felt so incredibly right that I never wanted it to end. I wanted to make love to Jimmy, be consumed by his fire, for all of eternity. I loved him… I still love him…”
“So why don’t you try to work it out with him?” Nessa suggested, her tone gentle as she ran a hand across Kylie’s shoulders. “You can’t just throw love away, not when it’s real.”
“I have Brayden to think about,” Kylie said. “As much as I love Jimmy and as good as he makes me feel, I know he’ll cheat on me again. It’s who he is, and he’s never going to change.”
“Kylie—” Nessa started to protest, buy Kylie cut her off.
“Look, if it was just me, I’d still be with him. I could handle the occasional broken heart. It hurts like hell and feels like death when it’s fresh, but it eventually heals. I know that, and I’d be willing to suffer through a few if it meant I could still be with him—”
Suddenly, she stopped, and had to laugh at herself.
“I totally understand Ashley now, you know? That’s got to be the same way she felt about him. Otherwise, she would’ve dumped his sorry ass and moved on right from the start.”
“Probably,” Nessa agreed reluctantly. “But that’s not—”
“Sharing Jimmy is a sacrifice I’d be willing to make for myself, but that’s not a healthy lifestyle for Brayden. He shouldn’t have to suffer for my weakness. It about killed me to listen to him cry every night for his Jimmy, and it would happen over, and over, and over again. We would love and fight and break up and get back together, just like the tide. I watched the exact same thing happen between my mom and Charlie for years before he finally up and left, and I refuse to force that kind of life on Brayden. It hurts, Ness.”
“But I saw those two together. Jimmy loves Brayden! He loves him more than some fathers love their own kids.”
“I know he does. And Brayden thinks the sun rises and sets on Jimmy. But it’s not enough that he loves us, and that we love him. I have to be able to trust him as well, and I don’t. Especially not with Marissa. She will always be there. He can’t seem to let her go.”
“Was Jimmy faithful to you up until that night?”
“As far as I know, he was faithful, but knowing that he cheated on me once makes me question if it was the first time he did it, or if it was just the first time he thought he might get caught.”
“Especially with his history,” Nessa said.
“Exactly,” Kylie agreed. “And he drinks so much, Nessa. It’s really bad—especially since his dad died. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to help him to bed in the middle of the night because he couldn’t even stand… It was for the best that all this happened. I was too blind in love with him to realize how bad his drinking had gotten. Looking back… Brayden never should’ve been around him.”
“Did you ever talk to him about it?”
“Only a hundred times. It didn’t do any good. He puts way too much pressure on himself, especially with the business, trying so damn hard to be perfect. And then when his dad died it was like he didn’t know who he was anymore. I don’t know what demon he’s trying to drown every night, but if he doesn’t get help he’s going to kill himself before he ever does.”
“You should talk to him, Ky. Talk to him for real.”
“I know… but I can’t. Not yet.” She sighed heavily, hoping to signal the end of the conversation. “I’m going to go call the airline. Mom wants us to stay one more night, so we can have dinner with her, but hopefully they can get us out early tomorrow morning.”
“We’re leaving?” Nessa asked, her disappointment obvious.
“I have to get out of here.”
“Oh… But… Could we stay at least another day?”
“It this about Chief?”
Nessa blushed deeper yet, the kind of blush that usually only meant one thing.
“Nessa!” Kylie laughed in surprise. “Tell me you didn’t!”
“No, I didn’t, but I definitely, definitely wanted to. He’s taking me out again tonight, so I’m going to have to take a rain check on dinner with your mom.” Nessa clutched onto Kylie’s arm, her eyes pleading. “And can we stay the week like we planned? You can say no, and I’ll totally understand, but this never happens to me, Ky. Ever!”
“Omigod! Of course, we can stay!” Kylie laughed as she pulled Nessa in for a hug. “I’m so happy for you!”
“I’m happy for me, too!” Nessa laughed and squeezed Kylie tight. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this.”
“In love?” Kylie guessed.
“Horny,” Nessa corrected, and Kylie laughed.
“So, will you be moving to Allman Falls to be with your man?” Kylie teased.
Nessa’s face scrunched up into a grimace. “I don’t know about all that. It snows here, remember?”
“Don’t you dare break Chief’s heart when you go. He’s a sweet, sweet man.”
“Yeah, he is.” Nessa smiled again, blushing like a school girl with a crush.
“And you thought you’d hate it here.” Kylie couldn’t help but smile with her as she started washing up the dishes.
“I’ve been wrong before. Doesn’t happen often though, so don’t get used to it.” Nessa handed her a stack of plates. “So… are you going to talk to him?”
“I don’t know,” Kylie answered quietly, her voice barely rising above the noise of the water rushing into the sink. “I just want to go home and forget.”
Nessa rubbed her hand across Kylie’s shoulder.
“What would you do about Jimmy if you were me?” Kylie asked.
Nessa gave her a sad smile. “I don’t know. I don’t have a son to think about like you do, but if it were me, I would think long and hard before walking out on love.”
“You mean lust,” Kylie corrected.
“No, I mean love. Lust doesn’t hurt when it goes away, it just gets replaced. Losing love is like losing your reflection, like you’re suddenly floating around, unanchored, unsure if you even truly exist anymore.”
Kylie nodded. That was exactly how she felt.
“What are the plans for today?” Nessa asked.
“I need to get some decent clothes,” Kylie said, cringing as she glanced down at the kitty cat nightshirt she had borrowed from her mother. “And I have to find Frog Man’s damn hat. You want to go shopping with me?”
“Does a cow go moo?”
“Mooo.” Brayden giggled from the doorway, instantly bringing a smile to Kylie’s heart.
“Moo to you, too, Little Man.” She scooped him up with her wet hands, and he wrapped his arms around her neck, squeezing her with one of his strong-man hugs.
As long as she had him in her world, she would survive.