A/N: Mes amis, please forgive the delay. I kind of stalled on this chapter, but I wasn't idle. I was writing bits and pieces of future chapters, so I hope I'm excused. I'm so excited about the next chapter – a lot of it is written already – and it really starts to heat up. ;) *wink, wink*
This chapter's short and a little uneventful, but hopefully, the next one will make up for it. Can I just say – I usually hate "songfic." I really do. It's rarely done well. But I'm trying create a certain mood here. I think most of these songs are on my playlist which can accessed from my profile. You can listen to all of the songs for free. It is awesome. Go forth and enjoy. Also please review. That would be awesome, too.
He's already awake when she finally rises around noon. He spent his morning transferring funds and reading the Wall Street Journal. Occasionally, he'd glance up at his laptop where Lisa's bed fills the screen: Lisa tossing and turning, Lisa kicking off the covers, waking up around nine to throw up and then crawling back into her bed to sleep some more.
When she finally rolls out of bed, she sits for a moment taking in the room around her, as if she's not sure how she got there. Finally, she stands and begins stripping off her clothes from the previous night as she heads to the bathroom.
Jackson quickly closes his laptop, almost spilling his mug of coffee in the attempt.
Half an hour later, she's out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around her torso and one twisted around her head like a turban. She picks out an outfit and gets dressed with quick, efficient movements, slipping her underwear on under her towel. He only gets a brief but tantalizing side glimpse of her breast before she turns her back to the camera and slips her bra on - a creamy peach and sea foam green lace number and very pretty - and buttons a pink ruffled blouse over it. Lisa carries her hairdryer into the bathroom and she's out of sight for about ten minutes before Jackson decides to get a head start on her.
He grabs his wallet and keys, tucks his fully charged laptop into its case, and heads downstairs. He knows it takes her at least a half hour to dry her hair and do her makeup. Hilton's at the front desk when he comes down the stairs.
"Hey there, Mr. Ryan. You goin' out for lunch?"
Jackson almost forgets to respond to his alias. "Uh, yeah, actually. Any recommendations?"
"Oh, sure. We got some fine dining for sure. You hankerin' for something in particular?"
Jackson shakes his head. "Not really."
"Uh, let's see, there's Chili Willie's if you're in the mood for pizza, Burger-Burger's got great po-boys. Darwell's is good, whatever you get. If you're looking for somethin' higher end, there's French Charley's. They got a nice little wine bar and some great fish dishes. Old Cuevas Bistro - they got this Oysters Achee that's to die for. And there's Jazzeppi's Ristorante – real upscale, steaks and whatnot. Great creole dishes."
"That all sounds good."
"Yeah, can't really go wrong when fillin' your face down here!" Hilton laughs. "I got a list I prepared here for guests. It's got the addresses, but if you need directions…"
"Actually I've got some errands to do first, so lunch will have to wait. I've got Google maps on my cell phone, so…"
Hilton laughs and shakes his head. "Those things are amazing. The whole world's at your fingertips."
Jackson smiles and folds of the salmon-pink colored paper that Hilton slid across the desk to him. "Pretty much. I'll call if I need help, though."
"All right, then. Take care."
Jackson waves goodbye and heads out the door. Truth be told, a big juicy medium rare steak sounds like heaven right now, but it's up to Lisa. He pops the lock on the Audi, starts the engine, and pulls out of the parking lot. He pulls into a parking space on the street and sets up the laptop on the front seat while he waits for her to emerge.
Twenty minutes later, she's jogging down the steps to her car. He follows her to the artsy-hipster downtown scene lined with boutiques, thrift stores, pawn shops, pizzerias, and pubs. She parks her car and dabs on a bit of lipstick in the rear view mirror. She throws her purse over her shoulder and gets out. She's wearing a cute pair of jeans with a printed tank and a tailored jacket over it. She's dressed a little trendier than usual, with her high-heeled boots and chunky jewelry. He's used to seeing her in ultra-feminine classics like skirts and cardigans and pearls. He likes the look on her, though. She looks more confident, self-assured.
He sits in the car and watches as she darts into one art boutique and then some trendy thrift shop. She's in there an hour and he starts to get bored playing online Sudoku. He takes a chance and follows her into the next shop, some independent music store peddling records and CDs. The store is stocked from floor to ceiling with merchandise. Industrial metal shelves line the long narrow brick walls, so he keeps out of sight easily enough. He watches Lisa wander downstairs to the basement where they keep the old vinyl records. He doesn't dare follow her down there, but he kinda wants to; maybe sneak up behind her, tap her on the shoulder and ask her if she prefers vinyl to digital and why.
It strikes him then, that he'll never have a normal conversation with her. At least never again, not without her being in a chemically altered state. He thinks back to that hour he spent with her in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, how easily she smiled at him and how easy he found it to smile back at her, how unconsciously he did it at first, no artifice necessary. He thinks back to that one Friday night at her neighborhood bar when it was packed with the after-work crowd and he heard her voice behind him, inquiring politely to the bartender if the Sea Breeze she'd been waiting fifteen minutes for was ready. He thinks about how the bartender shoved the glass into his hand and asked him to pass it to her. He thinks about how his lungs seemed to seize up as he desperately tried to school his expression into one of brisk disinterest, how he turned and tried to avoid eye contact with her as he passed her the drink. Their fingers had slid against each other just for a moment as she took the drink from his hand. Jackson had swung back around and ordered another shot to try to calm the pounding of his heart. He thinks that maybe he should have done something different then; that he should have smiled at her, should have spoken to her, should have picked someone else as the mark. Jackson adds another item to his long list of regrets.
At the top of the stairs he can see her below, thumbing through the plastic crates of used records. She goes from one to the next until she stops suddenly with a gasp. Mouth open in wonder, she pulls the record jacket free and inspects it. She slips the plate-sized black disc from its cover and examines first one side, then the other, in the light. Satisfied, she puts it back in the jacket and tucks it under her arm. She continues through the rest of the crate, apparently finding several LPs that strike her fancy. Jackson's curious about what exactly she's so excited about, but it's not like he can ask her, so he backs away from the head of the stairs and moves to the back of the store. Well, he might as well shop while he's here. There's a few CDs he's been looking for.
Within a quarter of an hour, he's found a couple albums: some Leonard Cohen to help mellow him out, a new copy of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks to replace the one he scratched. and a hard-to-find import of a Kings of Leon album he's been looking for. As he's heading to the cash register, at the last second he snags a copy of David Bowie's greatest hits - in deference to Lisa. He pays and heads back to his car. Twenty minutes later, Lisa emerges with a bag of records in one hand and a tan. heavy-looking plastic case in the other. He sits up and turns down the volume on Ground Control to Major Tom, watching as Lisa hefts the case into her trunk. He has no idea what that thing is that she's hauling around. He sighs and leans back, shaking his head. She slams down the trunk on the Camry and takes a moment to lean against her car. She pulls a folded up piece of paper from her pocket and examines it. It's salmon-colored and Jackson recognizes it as the same list of restaurants Hilton slipped him.
Finally they get to eat! Steak, he thinks, attempting to beam his thoughts into her brain. None of this leafy green bean sprout hummus healthy crap. Red meat. Make it so, Leese.
He follows her across the bay into Pass Christian, to a great hulking building on stilts. The building is painted pastel blue and its many windows overlook the harbor and the local yacht club. French Charley's, the cheerful sign welcomes diners. To Jackson's dismay, he realizes they've shown up during the afternoon lull: too late for lunch, too early for dinner. There's probably ten cars in the parking lot and half of them likely belong to the staff. There's no way he can slip in unnoticed. He bangs his fist on the steering wheel in frustration and curses.
Five minutes later, a waitress is seating Lisa at an outdoor table situated under a giant yellow umbrella. There's a young couple out there with her, also enjoying the sunshine and crisp salty breeze from the ocean. Jackson reaches into the glove compartment and pulls out the binoculars. He leans forward, slumping over the steering wheel, resting his arms. He watches her for about twenty minutes, taking in every passing emotion on her face as though he were sitting right across from her: the peaceful expression as she watches the boats come and go from the marina, the slight smile as she closes her eyes and breathes the sea-air in deeply, the slightly sad and wistful expression as she glances at the couple a few tables over who laugh and drink their wine, oblivious.
She's lonely. The thought occurs to him out of nowhere and he feels a zing of excitement mingled with a dull ache of sympathy in his own chest. How alike they are; how isolated, how alone. Jackson is that way by choice - or so he tells himself - but Lisa... Lisa's life was blown off course by a violent wind, and now she's stuck in these metaphorical doldrums: unable to go forward, unable to go backward.
The waitress delivers Lisa's lunch - some kind of shrimp quesadilla - and sets down a bottle of a very nice Italian Pinot Grigio, from the San Angelo winery. She pours Lisa a glass and retreats back into the restaurant. Lisa eats enthusiastically at her quesadilla and sips her wine. Jackson's stomach rumbles angrily and clenches, but he sticks it out a bit longer. Finished with her meal, Lisa pours herself another glass of wine and sneaks another glance at the couple as the man leans over and tenderly kisses the temple of the woman. Lisa looks away quickly, her cheeks flaring in embarrassment at witnessing the small, intimate moment. The couple gets up and leaves and Lisa is left alone on the deck.
She sits with her chin propped up on her hand, absentmindedly dipping her middle finger in her wineglass and running it around the edge. Jackson can't be sure, but he thinks that her eyes seem a bit red and watery. A second later, Lisa's brushing at her cheeks, confirming just how much the young couple affected her. She wipes a tear from her face and tosses back the rest of her glass of Pinot Grigio.
Jackson sighs. He can't watch any more, it's too depressing - plus, he's starving. He throws the binoculars into the passenger seat and pulls out of the parking lot, tires spinning in the gravel before finding traction and hightailing it out of there. He finds a nice little bistro on the way back to the bed and breakfast. He orders a black angus burger with aged cheddar, apple wood smoked bacon, and grilled red onion. On a lark, he orders sweet potato fries and is pleased to find that they're absolutely delicious.
Despite his late start, he beats her back to The Liberty. Jackson is reclining in bed, watching the History Channel when he hears her familiar step coming up the stairs. He hears Hilton's voice and Jackson reaches over on the bed next to him and opens the laptop. It takes a moment for the feed to load, but he's granted access to her room once again in time to see Hilton heft that heavy plastic case from Lisa's trunk onto the bed. Lisa offers him a tip, which he refuses, and instead gives her an affection squeeze on her arm. Lisa tries to smile, brave little soldier that she is, but Jackson can tell she's relieved to be alone again when Hilton shuts the door behind him.
Lisa must have purchased another bottle of wine from the restaurant because she pulls out an unopened bottle from her oversized purse. She places it on the table next to the bed while she pulls off her boots and removes her jewelry. She shucks the jacket and pulls off her jeans, much to Jackson's annoyance. She grabs the bottle opener from the drawer and pops the cork on the second bottle of Pinot. She takes a swig and places it back on the table.
Lisa folds her shapely bare legs up in front of her, sitting Indian-style on the bed. She pulls the plastic case toward her and pops the big metal buckle locks on it. The lid opens and Jackson snorts when he sees what it is.
Lisa has purchased one of those ancient portable record players from the sixties. It's an eccentric and impractical buy, but he has to give her props for being an audio purist. She grabs the plastic bag holding her purchases off the floor and turns the bag over, letting the records slip out onto the bed. She's got about ten or more there. She spreads them out with an almost child-like enthusiasm, surveying her purchases like a child sorts through their candy hoard after a night of Trick-or-Treating.
She selects an old Charles Aznavour LP, For Me…Formidable, places it on the turntable, and carefully lowers the needle onto the rotating vinyl. A jaunty, jazzy tune in the style of the early sixties blares from the speaker and Lisa grabs the bottle of wine from the bedside table and gulps about a quarter of it down, her toes wiggling and tapping to the music.
Cradling the Pinot Grigio between her breasts, she leans back against the headboard and sings along, stumbling a little over the French lyrics.
You are the one for me, for me, for me, formidable
You are my love, very, very, very veritable
Et je voudrais pouvoir un jour enfin te le dire
Te l' ecrire
Dans la langue de Shakespeare
My daisy, daisy, daisy desirable
Je suis malheureux
d' avoir si peu de mots
A t'offrir en cadeaux
love you, love you,
darling, I want you
Et puis c' est a peu pres tout
You are the one for me, for me, for me, formidable…
She gets tired of singing in French, or maybe she just wants something less upbeat, so she switches Charles Aznavour out for Etta James and Jackson smiles to himself. He loves Etta James. Aretha Franklin may be dubbed the Queen of Soul, but he prefers Miss Peaches any day.
Jackson mutes the TV and turns up the sound on his laptop so he can hear the song better. He decides to raid the minibar, though he's sure it'll cost a fortune. This kind of music calls for a drink: whiskey, single malt, neat - preferably a forty-year-old Highland Park. He has to make due with a mini-bottle of Wild Turkey, instead.
I've been loving you
To stop now
You were tired
And you want to be free
My love is growing stronger
As you become a habit to me
I've been loving you
Way too long
I don't wanna stop now
With you, my life
Has been so wonderful
I can't, I can't stop now
You were tired
and your love is growing cold
My love is growing stronger
As our affair, our affair grows old
I've been loving you
A little too long
I don't wanna stop now
Lisa polishes off the bottle in no time at all and then starts on the mini-bar. She switches from record to record – Nat King Cole, The Platters, Billie Holliday, Jo Stafford, The Righteous Brothers, and then, bizarrely enough, Madonna, The Cure, Cyndi Lauper, and Tears for Fears.
Welcome to your life.
There's no turning back.
Jackson should be enjoying Lisa's emotional meltdown. Clearly she's in crisis. Who runs away from home at twenty-seven?
She's running away from you, his conscience (or whatever passes for a conscience in him) taunts.
Well, she's not doing a very good job, now is she? Why isn't she safe at home with dear old dad and a couple of big, strong FBI agents to protect her? It's almost like she's giving an open invitation - to him, to anyone from the company who might want her dead. If that's the case, she's more screwed up than he thought. He should take some satisfaction in that, for surely he must have played no small part in her nervous breakdown, but he can't quite muster any enjoyment from her current situation.
Jackson takes a moment to consider this. No, Lisa Reisert doesn't give up. She's like phoenix. She takes her pain and suffering and uses it to fuel her righteous anger. Surely she doesn't have a death wish. He thinks back to their battle in her father's house. She was utterly ferocious, a lioness coming at him with teeth bared, claws extended and hair flying. She'd snarled and snapped at him, and even when he'd finally immobilized her, his hands crushing around the delicate bones of her wrists, had he gotten too close, he knows without a doubt she would have bitten him.
His Lisa's a fighter, a survivor. She's not suicidal or self-destructive. Or maybe… Let's look at this from a different angle. Say he does have a standing invitation. Perhaps that's been her intention all along, to draw him out, away from Miami, away from the people she loves. Maybe she's playing the martyr. Maybe she believes if they meet again in battle that she'll win – again. It occurs to him then that it's possible he's not flying under her radar like he thought he was. She didn't seem a bit surprised to see him when he showed up last night - of course, she was stoned out of her mind like a yippy at a Phish concert - but if she were playing the role of bait, he's certain he would notice any police or agency presence, no matter how discreet. He's been trained for that. He can spot a lawman like he's picking out his grandma in a lineup.
So this must be a scenario of Lisa's own devising. The thought that she could be expecting him, waiting for him… It's maddening. He stares hard at his door, seriously considering going over there, knocking on her door, and forcing his way inside; but then he looks back at the laptop screen. There she is, in all her glory: half-drunk and crying, cell phone in hand, agonizing over calling… who? Daddy? Whoever it is, she decides against it. She throws her cell phone on the floor, wipes her eyes and jumps off the bed to dance around her room half-dressed to some pop song by Cyndi Lauper.
Oh, yes. She's definitely plotting something. Jackson scoffs. He turns down the volume on his laptop – though he doesn't close it - and turns up the volume on his television to drown out her music. He calls downstairs to Hilton for a turkey sandwich – possibly the best turkey club he's ever eaten - then settles back into the pillows for some channel surfing.
He wakes up to the sound of water rushing through pipes. The forceful dull hiss inside the wall across the room makes him sit up in bed. He tries to sooth the crick in his neck by rolling his head on his shoulders and squeezing the back of his neck, but it only helps a little.
Lisa still has her music on. He can hear it coming through the wall, but can't make it out. He turns the volume up on his laptop and now the music's streaming into his room. Something from a classic American songbook: smooth piano, bittersweet and romantic.
Lisa's running a bath in the massive Jacuzzi tub. She's in the ivory silk robe she purchased on her shopping excursion in Destin and she's pouring a capful of the complementary high-end bubble bath the inn provides into the steaming water. As she leans over the tub, Jackson catches a tantalizing glimpse of her leg and upper thigh where the robe parts. He maneuvers the mouse so that the camera zooms in and refocuses. He moves up to her face and though she's stunning, there's an underlying current of sadness running through her. The way she holds her mouth, the set of her shoulders. He knows her tells so well. She probably doesn't even know she has them.
Lisa stands and begins tugging at the knot at her waist. The thin, slippery material glides off her shoulders and down her arms and pools on the floor at her feet. It leaves her completely bare. Granted, it's a view from behind, but Jackson's not complaining. She's heart-stoppingly beautiful: from the graceful line of her neck, down the curve of her spine, to her exquisite heart-shaped derriere. She lifts one delicately arched foot and tests the water temperature before stepping into the foamy, frothy confection of her bathwater and reclining against the back of the tub.
Lisa's eyes slip closed and she hums along to the tune.
No use leading with our chins
This is where our story ends
Never lovers, ever friends
Let our hearts call it a day
But before you walk away
I sincerely want to say...
Jackson moves into his own bathroom, lured there by her presence just on the other side of their adjoining wall. He stares hard at the shining tile, attempting to glare it into non-existence. He steps into the tub, his shoes leaving a small dirt smudge on the bottom of the nice, clean Jacuzzi. His fingertips reach out to touch the wall, hesitating only for a moment before resting his palm against the ceramic.
I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss, but more than this
I wish you love
He presses his ear to the wall, listening. For what, he doesn't know... but it's almost like putting his ear against a sea shell. He can hear the imaginary ocean, and with it, the ephemeral sound of her voice. Jackson crouches down in the tub, presses his forehead to the solid, cool material, his palms open and flat against the wall as if he can summon her to come through the wall to him, or as if he could push right through it to find her waiting for him on the other side.
And in July, a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health, but more than wealth
I wish you love
His hands run over the tiles placed along the length of the tub. His fingers dip into the grout grooves with a delicacy he didn't know he was capable of. He imagines the smoothness of her legs against his fingertips, slipping his hands into the water, the slickness of her skin anointed with the expensive spa oils. He imagines her hazel eyes gazing calmly back at him as she opens her legs in invitation. Jackson, she whispers. Jackson.
My breaking heart and I agree
That you and I could never be
So with my best, my very best
I set you free
I wish you shelter from the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall
I wish you love
He sinks down into the tub, stretching out his legs and leaning his head back. It's the closest, he knows, that he'll ever get to lying next to her. Jackson closes his eyes, listens to the muffled music coming through the wall. He thinks it means something that he can picture her face with such clarity: the perfect geometric arch of her eyebrows, the placement of her beauty marks - constellation-like on her skin, the exact shade of green in her irises.
He's fast asleep within a few minutes.