Wild Is The Wind, Part 44
Heading home after work, Sue Ellen wasn't surprised when all the lanes of cars on the busy freeway began to slow and back up. It wasn't rush hour in Dallas without some kind of traffic jam. And from experience, she knew all she could do was patiently wait until she was moving again.
Easing her Mercedes to a stop behind the truck in front of her, she settled back into her seat and turned on the radio, hoping to catch up on the latest news as she waited. But as she listened, her thoughts soon wandered off into a review of the day. She was tired, but the kind of tired that felt good. For the first time in weeks, things had actually gone as planned.
John Ross was back in school on his regular schedule. J.R. was recovering and feeling stronger every day. He had even decided to visit Ewing Oil earlier in the morning. And for the first time in over a week, she had spent a full day at her office, catching up with her secretary on messages and going over her revised schedule. After so much chaos, it was feeling like her life was finally back in order … almost normal.
Normal … that thought made her smile. Her life had literally been blown apart by the tornado and nothing about it was the same. But somehow, the way it had reassembled was such a better fit. She felt warm … alive … even loved … for the first time since before Nicholas died. And it felt good.
That good feeling was still tempered with pangs of the guilt and sadness she had lived with for the past year. She wouldn't let herself forget what happened the night Nicholas died. But since the tornado, she also knew she couldn't continue to let her grief pull her back into the darkness and despair she had lived with since that night. Not when almost dying herself had reminded her how much she had to live for.
The laughter of her son was now a constant reminder that he was one who deserved her time and attention. The way warm sunshine felt on her face reminded her of the moment she emerged from the dark storm cellar after the tornado in such an uncomfortable parallel to the emotional darkness she had been stuck in. Then there was the way she was able to so easily come apart under J.R.'s touch, reminding her again and again how amazing it felt to be the center of his attention. Waking up with him just that morning had been the perfect example.
Coming out of a deep sleep, she felt the gentle, stirring brush of his lips against her naked skin as he kissed her shoulder. And with each kiss that followed as he slowly moved higher, she could feel the subtle flicker of his facial muscles as he smiled.
That smile. Devious charm personified yet sexy as hell. It had been the downfall of so many. She'd fallen for it herself too many times to count. Falling for it now, though, was pure pleasure.
"You make one hell of an alarm clock, J.R.," she sleepily murmured against her pillow then shivered at the way his satisfied chuckle warmly grazed her skin.
"I do love wakin' you up," he murmured while trailing more kisses across her shoulder even as his fingers brushed away her hair to expose her neck.
Now he was kissing her from the base of the neck to just behind her ear. She was only able to tolerate the hot teasing for so long before she turned onto her back to face him. And he shifted in counterpoint to allow her movement then settled in against her once more as he leaned down to kiss her on the mouth, all with the same enticing movement she gladly fell into.
Oh, she was enjoying having him wake her up, too.
The impatient honk of a car in the next lane brought Sue Ellen back to the present … her car, the crowded freeway. But she wistfully ran the top of her thumbnail over her lip as her memories lingered on those sexy, shattering moments that followed.
She hadn't dared let herself think she could feel an attraction and need like that again and especially not about J.R. Not after the part he had played in Nicholas' death. Not after the years of his cheating and lies that had led up to it. Yet he had become the dubious hero who had saved her life, both emotionally and physically, pulling her back from the depths of grief and bitterness just as he had rescued her during the tornado. And at the same time, he was reinventing himself as someone she could …
She stopped her thoughts before they mentally admitted what she still couldn't say verbally. Not yet. Not before he really proved to her that this new version of his character wasn't just another fleeting attempt at repentance. Because despite how far they had come since the tornado, he was still going to have to work damn hard to prove he was worthy of her. Maybe then she could let herself love him again.
Taking a deep breath, she released it along with any other thoughts of the past and future and focused back on the here and now as the traffic started to move again. She had promised herself to see out this new relationship with J.R. one day at a time, whatever it led to. Nothing more, no promises from either other them. And she could do that for now … especially if he kept making her feel the way he did earlier that morning.
The rest of the drive home was uneventful and it wasn't long before Sue Ellen pulled into her driveway. But as she came up to the front of the house, she found her parking space occupied by J.R.'s silver Cadillac Allante. Thinking about it for a moment, she reluctantly shook her head then grinned, glad to know he had obviously been cleared by his doctor to drive again but also a little annoyed he had so arrogantly parked wherever the hell he wanted.
"Typical," she muttered, still smiling as she got out of her car then reached behind the seat for her purse. But as she shut the door and walked towards his car, she felt such a mixture of contentment and excitement at having him there that she affectionately ran her fingers along the polished, silver fender of his car as she passed it.
Opening the front door, her enjoyment continued as the soft chatter and laughter of John Ross and J.R. came from inside. It was such a nice sound to come home to. So much better than all the empty, lonely times she had pushed open the same door to silence.
Proceeding into the entryway, she closed the door behind her and sat her purse down then followed the sound of their voices into the living room. J.R. and John Ross were seated on the couch with papers and photos spread out in front of them on the coffee table. They were so engaged in their conversation they didn't hear her come in.
"Homework?" She asked, her smile lingering as she continued to observe at them.
They both looked up at her at the same time in the same way. So alike in so many ways, she thought to herself.
"Mom!" John Ross exclaimed with a grin.
"Hey, darlin'!" J.R. said at the same time with the same grin as he stood up to go to her side and kiss her on the cheek. "How was your day?"
"Good," she replied, nearly laughing at the odd reversal of having her ex-husband greeting her after a day at the office. For the first 10 years of their marriage, it had been just the opposite with her dutifully waiting at home for him. "What's going on?"
"Dad's been showing me some cool stuff from Ewing Oil," John Ross proudly answered.
"So I see," Sue Ellen replied as she surveyed the piles of papers then looked across the room at the small row of boxes stacked up against the wall. Leaning against the side of the boxes was the portrait of Jock Ewing that used to hang in the Southfork living room. The last time she had seen it, it had been hanging in J.R.'s office.
She walked over to the painting then stopped to thoughtfully admire it. J.R. looked after her then followed.
"Sorry 'bout all this," he softly said so only she could hear, gesturing to the boxes. "I promise, it's only temporary. I just needed somewhere to put the things from my office I thought I might need. But it's only 'til Sly gets my new office space set up. A week or two at the most."
Sue Ellen slowly nodded then looked up at him, still not sure what the boxes being there meant. "Do I dare ask how it went at Ewing Oil?"
"It went good … I didn't see Barnes," he grinned, amused by his own humor, even as she glared at him in mock disapproval. "But I did finish up what I needed to."
"So, do the boxes and painting being here mean you're really done with Ewing Oil?"
"I am," he nodded then paused to look at her for a moment, his humor gradually fading, leaving him with a thoughtful expression. "Ewing Oil as I knew it … what I had there with my daddy … it's just a good memory now. And I'm all right with that."
"You know, even after all these years, you can still surprise me," Sue Ellen remarked, clearly impressed. "I thought hanging on to Ewing Oil was all that mattered to you. Now you're walking away from it. Just like you did Southfork."
"I'm just walkin' away from fights I don't give a damn about anymore," he gently corrected then gestured over at John Ross. "What I do care about is that boy over there." Then he looked back down at her and softly grinned. "And his mamma. And now I'm done with Ewing Oil, I'm lookin' forward to havin' even more time to spend with the two of you."
Sue Ellen had always thought he could be one of the world's greatest used car salesmen. But this time his pitch had resonance because it was centered solely on their son … and her.
"Well, to be honest … I'm looking forward to you spending more time with us, too," she agreed. "I've enjoyed having you around the past few weeks."
"Have you now?" He replied, his tone playfully arrogant as he enjoyed the small victory of having her approval.
She responded by crossing her arms across her chest and assuming her own playfully arrogant pose. "Yes. And it will be interesting to see if you can continue to settle into family life."
"You still doubtin' I can do it?" He questioned with an air of amusement.
"Let's just say," she carefully replied but also smiled, "it will be a another very pleasant surprise if you succeed."
"And I do love surprisin' you." The look he gave her confirmed the sexy double meaning of his words. When a faint blush tinted her cheeks and she softly laughed, he gently changed the subject, realizing John Ross might be listening to them. "It felt good surprisin' my little brother today, too. I offered him some of the Ewing Oil properties I got back from Jeremy Wendell as a final gesture of good will."
"Did you now?" She impassively replied, knowing his tactics too well. "For an outrageous fee?"
He shrugged his shoulders but slowly grinned at her for so quickly grasping his underlying motives. "Only 20 percent above the appraisals."
"Only?" Sue Ellen sarcastically echoed then she reached up to touch his chin in mock examination. "I don't see any damage where he punched you. Or did Bobby just tell you what you could do with your offer?"
J.R. couldn't help but laugh at her teasing and played along. "We'll see when his counter offer comes in." He cocked his head to the side and contemplated what he was about to say. "Ya know, Bobby's gonna do just fine runnin' Ewing Oil. I really ain't gonna miss it that much. Besides, I got a whole new set of fish to fry."
"So much for wanting to spend more time with John Ross and me," she gently chided.
"Oh no, I meant what I said, Sue Ellen," J.R. replied, his tone and expression turning serious. "You and the boy come first now. The new company is just somethin' to keep me mixed up in what's goin' on in this town. 'Cause I ain't the least bit interested in battlin' to be top dog anymore."
Sue Ellen considered what he said even as she searched his eyes for any hint of deception. Not finding any, she slowly nodded, realizing he might finally be telling her the truth.
"But you do need an office to go to," she said, acknowledging his point of view as she traced a lingering touch along his jaw before lowering her hand. "With deals to make … and business lunches at the Oil Barons Club to go to … and site visits to your fields and rigs. You can't ever be too far from the oil, J.R. It runs too deep in your blood."
J.R. nodded, appreciating her even more as the one person who understood him so well. "Exactly. I intend to show some of the so-called players in this town that despite the setbacks I've had, I still know more about what's happenin' with the oil and energy business than they do." Then he grinned. "And who knows, I just might relieve them of a little of their money while I'm at it."
Sue Ellen marveled up at him, both amused and intrigued. As it had been during the past few weeks, she was truly starting to understand J.R. Ewing. Being in business for herself had given her unique insight on just how tough it was to conduct business in Dallas, even using some of the tactics she had learned from him in her own dealings. She might not always agree with the way he struck a deal, but she could certainly appreciate his skill behind it.
"You're like a shark out of the tank now you're done with Ewing Oil, aren't you?" She remarked. "Free to move between the deep and shallow waters looking for that next new bite?"
Her knowing analogy pleased him and he nodded. "Yes."
Sue Ellen slowly turned away from him and back to the boxes and painting. As J.R. watched her, he felt like there was something she wanted to say, something she was holding back. He briefly wondered if he'd miscalculated by bringing the boxes back to her house. But he waited and watched, letting her set the tone of what was about to happen between them. And after a few moments, she didn't disappoint him.
"How about if we move these things into the library?" She finally said and looked back at him. "Maybe make it your temporary headquarters until Sly gets everything ready?"
A mixed look of surprise and relief brightened J.R.'s expression. "Really? You wouldn't mind?"
"No," she easily replied.
"You don't feel like I'm movin' too fast?" He cautiously added.
"Moving too fast?" She half laughed at their entire situation and being involved with him again in a way that until recently she wouldn't have even thought possible. "Considering I wasn't even talking to you a few weeks ago, my darlin', I'd say we've jumped right over moving too fast and headed out to light speed."
The amused sparkle in her eye and her use of one of her favorite endearments for him made a spike of pleasure run up J.R.'s spine. He'd never felt such a combined connection and attraction with a woman as he did at that moment. Sue Ellen understood him completely and still wanted him. So if telling her the truth was going to keep kicking back profits like that, he intended to keep right on doing it.
"Mmm, but what a couple of weeks it's been," he suggestively sighed, the tone of his voice now low and tempting as he gave her a long, lingering look.
She raised an eyebrow and nodded. "You do make one hell of an alarm clock."
It turned into another one of those moments when their eyes locked and a look passed between them that only the two of them understood, a look that briefly shut out the rest of the world and allowed them to express so much to each other in ways words never could. But the spell was unintentionally broken as John Ross approached.
"Dad," he asked, pointing to the grainy, gray photo he was holding, "is this Grandpa?"
J.R. reluctantly tore his gaze away from Sue Ellen to look down at the photo then lifted it out his son's hand to look at it more closely. As he did, Sue Ellen leaned in against him to look at it, too, and J.R. wrapped his arm around her back as she naturally fit into the crook of his shoulder.
"It sure is, son," J.R. confirmed. "That's your granddaddy standing in front of his first well."
"Ewing 1?" John Ross guessed from memories.
"That's right!" J.R. proudly grinned. Sue Ellen gently nudged his side in approval and he gave her a quick squeeze in acknowledgement. "I'm impressed you remember that, John Ross. You couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 when I took you out there."
"Sure, I remember," John Ross nodded and smiled up at his parents. "I remember you telling me it was the first well Grandpa pulled in … the one that started Ewing Oil. Is it still open?"
"Still open and pumpin' away to this day," J.R. replied as he put his free arm around the boy's shoulder. "As a matter of fact, I was just tellin' your Uncle Bobby this morning that since you are your granddaddy's namesake, someday it'll be yours."
"Wow … mine … really?" John Ross said with both awe and disbelief.
"You bet, son," J.R. nodded. "Whatever you choose to do with your life, that field and the revenues from it will always be yours to do with as you please."
"Wow!" John Ross exclaimed again, making both of his parents softly laugh at his enthusiasm.
"Say, how 'bout if we take another trip out there one of these days to see how it's doin'?" J.R. added.
"Can we? Really?" John Ross excitedly replied with a big grin as he looked up at his father. Then he looked over at his mother. "All three of us?"
"Sure!" J.R. happily nodded then also looked down at Sue Ellen. "How 'bout it? You wanna come out there with us and wear a hard hat and get all dirty?"
"Yeah, Mom … please come with us!" John Ross added.
"That depends." Sue Ellen looked from John Ross up to J.R. "You going to teach me the oil business, too?"
J.R. paused to consider her question. "Why, you thinkin' about gettin' into the oil business?"
"Well, since I sold Valentines, I am a little short on prospects and do need to diversify," she coyly replied. "You know of anything that might interest me?"
"Oh yeah," he nodded, realizing she was doing the leading now and he gladly followed, seizing it as an opportunity to gauge her interest and reinforce what he had already planned to ask her. "There's a new company startin' up … just a bunch of boxes in a living room, really. You could get in on the ground floor … end up makin' one hell of a profit. You interested?"
"The oil business," she said aloud, attempting to process what they were really talking about.
"The energy business," he gently corrected. "Teachin' two of you will be just as easy as teachin' one. Besides, you're smart as a whip, Sue Ellen. You impressed the hell outta me with Valentines. And oil and energy is just another commodity to someone with your wicked business sense. So, how 'bout puttin' all that know-how into somethin' a whole lot better than tryin' to sink me?"
"Like working with you instead?" She asked, already knowing his answer.
The significance of that moment suddenly struck J.R. There he was, holding both John Ross and Sue Ellen in his arms, the two most valuable things in his life that had nothing to do with oil, discussing their future of working together. He gave them both a quick squeeze.
"Somethin' even better," he replied, his gaze never wavering, showing her just how serious he was. "We'll be workin' for this boy here … workin' together on his future."
As it had been since the tornado, Sue Ellen found it difficult to say no to J.R. But that no longer bothered her.
"I'd love to do just that," she replied, trying to sound business-like but was unable to hide her excitement as she smiled up at him.
"I knew it!" J.R. gleefully exclaimed as he looked back down at his son. "The game is on, John Ross! With your mamma on board, we're gonna show Dallas the Ewings are back in business. Well, the Ewings that matter, anyway."
"Yes!" John Ross shouted, no longer able to contain the excitement that had been building inside his chest as he listened to his parents talk.
Seeing them becoming closer every day was all he had wanted the past year. All he had wanted for most of his life, really. And now they were together and would be working together for him made him prouder than he had ever been before. He was finally beginning to understand why his father took so much pride in being both a Ewing and an oilman. If it felt this good, he never wanted it to end.
"When can we go out to Ewing 1, Dad?" John Ross excitedly asked. "Tomorrow?"
"Now hold on, son," J.R. cautioned even as he grinned at his son's enthusiasm. "You just got back to school full time and your mamma and I are gonna have a whole lot goin' on with the new company. We'll need to stick around town for a while. But as soon as things start settlin' down … say early in the summer when you're out of school … we'll pack up the car and head out for a week or two and visit Ewing 1 and some of our other properties. How does that sound?"
"Sounds great!" John Ross quickly replied.
As Sue Ellen watched their exchange, she was grateful to simply be an observer. She truly loved the idea of taking a trip with both J.R. and John Ross. They had rarely traveled together outside Dallas because J.R. had never made the time. But now he was, she was thrilled their son would start having moments like this with them both, as a family.
"Now, how about going upstairs and getting cleaned up for dinner?" She said to John Ross as she reached over to run her hand over his hair and cup his chin. "We'll talk about all of this some more as we eat."
"Your mamma's right," J.R. added. "'Cause goin' out to that well will be just one of the many things we're gonna be doin' together. Startin' tonight with dinner."
John Ross didn't take time to reply as he raced up the stairs to his room to do as his parents asked. And Sue Ellen left J.R.'s side to briefly walk after him, looking up the stairs even after John Ross was out of sight.
"I can't believe the difference in him, J.R." she thoughtfully remarked, her expression filled with relief. "He's so happy again … so full of life."
"I know just how he feels," he agreed as he walked up behind her to reassuringly place his hands on her shoulders. "He's been needin' us just as much as I've been needin' you and him. Makes me damn glad that tornado finally pushed us all back together and made us a family again."
Sue Ellen took a moment to consider what J.R. said then slowly turned back to him. After looking up at him for a moment, she walked forward, passing him by as she returned to the painting of Jock leaning against the boxes and bent down to look at it more closely.
The mighty Ewing patriarch. A man she had both so strongly feared and adored. There was such strength and character in his face and the artist had captured it perfectly. Her memories flashed back to how devastated J.R. had been when Miss Ellie had taken the painting down when Clayton moved in at Southfork. And even though J.R. had proudly hung the painting both in the lobby at Ewing Oil then in his office, she knew it had never really found a proper home. It belonged back with family. It belonged with the Ewings.
"How about if we hang your daddy's portrait in here for now," she said, motioning to the living room as she straightened up and turned back at J.R. "Where we can all enjoy it until you're more settled?"
Her offer had a huge impact on J.R. It acknowledged her understanding of what the portrait meant to him. Plus it was another sign that she was settling into a more permanent state of mind about not only their relationship but of them being a family again.
"Thank you, Sue Ellen," he genuinely said, a hint of uncharacteristic emotion creeping through. "I'd like that … a lot."
"And maybe since your car is here," she continued, a hint of playfulness returning to her voice, "we could have the rest of your clothes sent out from Southfork."
J.R. once again stopped to look at her, this time in amazement. She was the one woman he knew so well yet she could still surprise the hell of him.
"Well, thanks for takin' pity on me, what with me bein' homeless and all," he replied with a grin.
"You … homeless," Sue Ellen replied with a soft laugh at the thought of one of richest men in Dallas being homeless. "We can't have that. Besides, at the moment there is nowhere else I want you to be. " Then her eyes seductively darkened. "But just remember … I still plan on making you earn it."
"Do you now?" J.R. challenged as he slowly approached her. "Good thing I already have a couple of suitcases full of my clothes out in the trunk of my car."
"Oh … you …!"
But she didn't finish as he pulled her in for a kiss before they both started to laugh at the way their constant game of one-upmanship had become so fun. Further proof to J.R. that Sue Ellen was the only person he shared that kind of closeness with, the only person he wanted to share it with.
"Since you're obviously driving again," she remarked as she pulled back just far enough to look up at him, "I take it your doctor's appointment went well today."
"It sure did," he replied with a nod. "The doc said I'm doing good … nearly back to my old self again."
The expression he used sent a cold wave of dread running through Sue Ellen, making her stomach clench. It was a verbalization of the fear that had been nagging at her for weeks. J.R. Ewing … back to his old self … back to everything she had learned to hate about him.
"Oh god, I hope not," she whispered as a tide of emotion welled up in both her voice and eyes.
J.R. instantly regretted what he said. For such an innocent saying, he understood how it had hit her with such a twisted meaning. Despite how far they had come and as close as they were now, he knew he still had a long way to go in winning her back.
"I'm sorry, darlin' … that was a poor choice of words," he tried to explain, gently reaching out to tip her chin up so she would look up at him again. "But you gotta know I ain't ever goin' back to the way I was 'cause I ain't ever givin' you up again. Or John Ross. Nothin' means more to me than the two of you now. I swear that on my daddy's grave."
Sue Ellen finally did look at him once more, then at the bare skin just above his eye that had until recently been covered with a white bandage. Now all that was left was a red scar. Such a vivid reminder of what the tornado had done to him, what they had been through together. The mark of where in a moment, everything had changed. He had changed.
Like she'd done the night out in front of Southfork she slid her hands up around his neck and beckoned him down until she could place a gentle, lingering kiss against the scar. In return, she felt his hands come up to cradle her face, his long fingers running along her jaw to smoothly angle her head back just enough to let him return the kiss on her lips.
It was a kiss meant to help ease her fear, reassuring yet intense enough to melt her with its sincerity. And Sue Ellen felt tears welling up in her eyes at how sweet it felt to be kissed like that by J.R. She had expected one of his hard, demanding kisses that would pull her into submission. But this kiss was yet another example of the new gentleness he had allowed himself to show her since the tornado, making her feel things about him again she thought dead and gone and new things she never wanted to let go.
Once again, J.R. Ewing was becoming the answer to every question her jumbled heart and mind came up with. Forcing her to admit what she had been both anticipating and dreading, despite how hard she fought against it, and just as unexpectedly as the tornado and all that had happened because of it. She broke the kiss and pulled back just enough to look up at him. When he lifted his head and his gaze caught hers, it happened.
"I love you," she breathlessly said.
The three words she had feared would be so hard to say had come out so easily, making her instantly both relieved and ecstatic it was done. Maybe it was because this time, she had said it to him without expectations, using it simply as a genuine expression of how she was truly feeling about him. About them. And that made all the difference in a way she could have never anticipated.
For J.R., hearing her suddenly say the words was the confirmation he had been craving. He had known she still loved him from the moment she came back to his bed that first night after her date with Lockwood. He had felt it every time they had been together since. She wasn't the type of woman to respond in bed like she had if she didn't care about him. But actually hearing her say those words now was the signal their reconciliation was finally official. It had really happened. He had won her back despite the odds against him.
Seeing J.R. speechless was rare and seeing him in such a state now was especially surprising. It wasn't the reaction Sue Ellen had expected. Her brows knitted together with concern as she closely studied him.
"J.R.?" She hesitantly said.
He responded with a slow, smoldering grin as he gathered her into his arms, pulling her into a fiercely possessive hug that was meant to convey all he was feeling. And she in return held on to him as if she wanted the same from him. So much like that day at the edge of the storm cellar.
"I wanna grow old with you," he whispered against her smooth, dark hair. Then he smiled again and corrected himself. "Well … older."
Sue Ellen softly laughed then pulled back to look at him once more. "I want that, too. I always have. You'll never know how much."
"Sue Ellen, I don't think I would've ever gotten here … to this point of knowin' how to really love somebody if you hadn't stuck with me," he sighed as rested his forehead against hers in the comforting way that had become so familiar to him as he recovered from the tornado. "You showed me how … year after year … each time we came back together … each time better than the last. And it feels like I've finally got it right this time, darlin'."
"Yes, you do," she replied in agreement, moved by his uncharacteristic attempt to explain his feelings.
She reached up to angle his had back to where she could kiss him again but just before their lips met she quickly disengaged and pulled back as the telling shuffle of John Ross's footsteps sounded out on the stairs, signaling he was coming down to rejoin them. J.R. softly cursed under his breath at her withdrawal even as he smiled, attempting to good-humoredly push off the momentary frustration of not getting what he wanted.
"Family life … remember?" Sue Ellen softly said, also smiling as she acknowledged his restraint.
"Family life," J.R. echoed then winked at her. "There's still nothin' I want more … even if it means waitin' on you to finish that kiss."
"Then come on," she replied as she reached down to take his hand. "Let's go have dinner with our son. We can finish that kiss later."
"I'll be holdin' you to that."
As they started to move towards the dinning room, J.R. shifted to wrap his arm around Sue Ellen's back, pulling her close as he rested his hand on her shoulder. And she reached up to place her hand over his, intertwining their fingers.
"I sure do like us bein' a family again," J.R. contentedly said when they met John Ross at the bottom of the stairs.
"Me too, Dad," John Ross gladly agreed and cautiously looked over at his mother.
Sue Ellen nodded and smiled at him. "Me, too."