When I awoke the next morning – blessedly without a hangover – I texted Stuart to tell him I'd meet him wherever he was planning to go but he replied adamantly that he'd be at my place at one. I didn't like that (not that I told him so). I had a strict rule: no guys at my house. By guys I mean nobody I'm dating so that if anything happens I know that my home is a safe place. Stuart knowing where I lived without me even telling him set off a bump in the back of my mind that told me to be careful.
A knock on the door downstairs brought me out of my brooding and a once-over in the mirror told me that I looked acceptable: hair down, chequered shirt, jeans…you get the picture. Stuart was in similar attire but I forced myself to really…look at him. His hair was tied back, a sandy blonde colour and possibly in need of a wash. He was tall (6'3" maybe) and leaning heavily towards being too thin with handsome features overall; his murky green eyes and months' worth of stubble weren't to my taste though. I gave myself brownie points for not cringing away when his unshaven face scratched my cheek as he kissed it.
"How did you know my address?" I asked as I locked the door and followed him to his car.
"I know lots of things." he replied with a wink as we got in.
The Avengers: Assemble at the Fiesta Twin Theatre was our choice – I'd seen it with Tuck and FDR but had no qualms about watching it again! – and everything was fine until about half way through. He clumsily executed the clichéd yawn-and-stretch to put his arm around the back of my seat. I let this slide. When it curled around my shoulder, I took a deep breath and bared it – this was my fault and Karma was nothing if not fair. As we left he took my hand in his too-warm, clammy one but luckily the couple in front of us stopped abruptly so I dodged the other way and slipped my hands into my pockets. My reasons for not wanting any more contact with Stuart were mockingly coming back to me: awkward silence, general creepiness…
"Wanna grab a coffee?" he questioned when we were back in his car – it could have used a wash and clean out but maybe I was being overly critical.
"Actually I have a lot of stuff I need to get done, sorry. Could you maybe drop me back at my place?" My answer seemed to irritate him somewhat but he made no verbal complaints as we drove away in silence.
I ignored my phone when it vibrated to tell me I had a text and ten minutes later Stuart was switching off the engine and turning in my direction, obviously waiting for me to say something.
"Look Stuart, I had a nice time and all but I domtfin-" I started but my words were smothered by his lips.
They felt foreign against my own, like cool slugs trying to merge with my face. He was moving his head in small circles in front of mine creating a bizarre sensation as he forced his hand into my hair. Utterly perplexed, it was quite a few un-enjoyable moments before I could bring my hands up to shove him away.
"Don't!" I burst out before I thought it through. "I was trying to say that I don't think this will work: I didn't the first time we went out but I thought I'd give you the benefit of the doubt. You just proved why I was wrong! God, just leave me alone, please."
As I strode towards my front door I heard a car door slam and footsteps following me. Reaching for my phone, I didn't have time to do anything before a strong hand grabbed my upper arm and dragged me to face its owner.
"You played me!" Stuart accused. Anger and mortification had morphed his usually-hansom face into something quite grotesque; it reminded me of a hairy gargoyle.
"I-I didn't I-" Trying to defend myself vocally wasn't working because I was so damned confused by his personality change so I did the only other thing a girl can do: I introduced my knee to his crotch.
He produced a satisfying cough/groan/splutter sound that I had no time to revel in because I had noticed a fundamental flaw in my plan: he still had a hold of my arm. As I struggled to release his grip he gathered his senses. One look at his face as he straightened up told me what was going to happen next; his right fist, complete with some sort of fraternity ring, slammed into my face just below my eye. The impact caused tears to cloud my vision and the pain registered somewhere but he had let go of me so I managed to avert a fall and propel myself towards the house, unlocking my phone and attempting to call FDR all the while. When I realised that my door was still locked and nowhere near as easy to unlock as my phone I focused hit hitting 'call' and turned to face my attacker with my back to the door and my phone to my ear. This made Stuart pause.
"Hey FDR, you busy at the moment?" I forced a normal tone when my brother answered; Stuart began backing off.
"Em…no not just now, why? What's up?" he asked distractedly. "Jessie?" I hadn't answered as I'd been watching Stuart drive away.
Letting out a breath I said "Nothing, I'd just heard about this whole Lauren thing and wanted to chew you out about it. It can wait though, I gotta go." I hung up and quickly locked myself inside my house.
Three shots of Jäger later I ventured close enough to a mirror to inspect the damage. A rough circle had been cut lightly into my cheekbone only a couple of centimetres from my left eye and I could see through my foundation that a bruise was beginning to appear. My goal until it left: avoid Tuck and FDR. My goal for the moment: ice.
Avoiding FDR proved an easy task (I think he was rather focused on this Lauren chick) but Tuck was more of a challenge: the text in the car had been from him, asking what I'd meant. I'd childishly not answered and spent Sunday lazing about and planning excuses for my face and avoiding the cause of it. I came up with this:
"My eye? Oh god I feel like suck a klutz! I tripped over my shoes that I'd left in the hall and caught my eye on the door handle. Seriously! I was so mortified but laughing at myself at the same time. I'm such a spaz, really!"
I had the week off from Mission hospital so a proper excuse could wait until I felt more creative because the tripping explanation was paper-thin at best. I was, however, working at the CIA on Tuesday and those guys knew a punch when they saw one. I decided on my way there that morning to just tell them the truth; my bruise was changing from blue to brown so it was impossible to conceal anyway.
"Who did that?" my supervisor, Gemma, asked the minute I emerged from the changing room. She looked impeccable as usual: her dark skin and hair (which was perfectly done) contrasting with her white coat and her ever-present smile enough to make most men weak at the knees.
"A guy I work with at Mission." I grumbled.
"And you got Tuck and FDR to kick his ass, right?" she said in astonishment – my association with them was common knowledge around there.
"Get us to kick whose arse?" I heard before I could answer.
"Thanks!" I whispered darkly to my friend as I turned to face another.
He had some dried blood on the left side of his face but seemed more concerned about scanning mine so I looked pointedly down and to the left, indicating the bruise. He closed the gap between us to get a better look.
"What happened?" Tuck asked quietly as his fingers ghosted over my cheekbone.
I shrugged him off and took a step back if only to have space to think and breathe: two things it seemed I couldn't do when he was that close.
"It's a long story that ended with him leaving." I said coolly.
"I've got time." he argued.
"Yeah, for Lauren. But whatever, I don't: I'm working." I snapped and turned to leave.
When he caught my upper arm I flinched and inhaled even though his grip was soft; he released me immediately but I turned to face him. He pointed to his injury though his worry for me was very clearly showing. I rolled my eyes and nodded towards a curtained-off room, heading to the filing cabinet to get his records.
"What is it this time?" I asked when I returned.
"A bump on the head and my shoulder isn't right."
"You did this yesterday!" I accused. "Why are you only being looked at now?"
"I had recon' work to do." he defended but when I raised my eyebrows and he added guiltily "at Lauren's."
"You bugged your girlfriend's house?" I said incredulously, forgetting that he was a patient at the moment.
"What's wrong with being British?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Nothing," I said caught off-guard. "But I went to two boarding schools and a university in Scotland so I can't judge. Why?"
"True." he said absently. "Just something Lauren said. Anyway, what happened?" he repeated and I knew what he was asking. I didn't think I'd like Lauren when I met her.
Helping him take off his shirt, I began to explain my situation but avoided telling him exactly who Stuart was. I slipped my right arm out of my white coat at one point to show him the bruise there and he remained patiently quiet during my monologue.
"Why did you even agree to a second date?" he asked when I finished, his frustration was just beneath the surface of his words.
Luckily I had my back to him at that point so he didn't see me cringe – I had really been hoping that he wouldn't ask that question. I stopped writing and said quietly "You lied to me."
"When?" he said, matching my volume.
Lacking the willpower to turn around, I continued with my back to him.
"You didn't have any paperwork; you took Lauren to the carnival."
"Don't!" I interrupted. "Don't lie to me again or make crappy excuses! We promised we wouldn't lie to each other! Nine years on and I haven't once lied to you."
"I didn't mean to Jess." he said calmly.
I let out a strangely choked laugh and, while shaking my head, bit my lip. "You'll heal fine if you rest." I told him and walked out.
Tuck called after me but the main doors were thrown open and an agent with her left arm all but hanging off was supported in, saving me from him. I resolved that when things with Lauren had played out I'd talk it out with him, not before.
I'd avoided Tuck and FDR's attempts to contact me for a couple of days. When I'd been at work on Wednesday, Gemma – who was dating Boyles, a guy on "Team Tuck" – told me the latest gossip about some paintball fiasco involving Tuck and that FDR had adopted a dog (he wasn't exactly an animal person). I listened as little as possible. They had made that bloody agreement and it was lying in ruins! On Friday I'd been called into Mission hospital for a few hours and as I was about to leave something uncommon happened: my phone rang.
"Hello?" I asked, my phone trapped between my shoulder and my ear as I noised around in my purse.
"Hey Jessie." the young voice answered which made me immediately devote all my attention to the phone.
"Joe, what's wrong?" He never called me during the day and his voice was too controlled.
"I was wondering if…. If you're not busy then…. Could you…"
"Joey what is it?" I asked gently.
"Dad forgot me." he mumbled. "I'm at school; he was supposed to pick me up and if I called mom then she'd be mad at him so I figured if I called you then she wouldn't need to know." he explained.
"I'll be there in fifteen Joe, don't worry." I pacified.
"Thank you." he said quietly before hanging up.
I was out of there and driving in less than a minute; seething and mad at Tuck. I was calm by the time I pulled up at the school. It took me a few minutes to find the seven-year-old a hope had been sparked that maybe his dad had remembered. Alas, I found him dejectedly sitting on the steps – the only kid still there and a teacher hovering near the door behind him. It was heart-breaking.
"Hey Joe, whaddaya know?" I called gently.
He looked up rapidly and a grin transformed his face though disappointment still lurked around his eyes. "Hey Jane, how's the game?" he answered as he dashed to meet me.
Heading back to my car after a hug, we exchanged tales of how we had been since we last came across each other. All the way to my house he kept up a constant chatter about school, home, Karate etc. and began to lose the sadness that had been clinging to him. When his homework had been done, dinner had been eaten and I had left several messages on both Tuck and FDR's phones, we settled down to watch AI: Artificial Intelligence. Joe fell asleep half an hour before the end (which was a good thing because I always cry at it!) so when everything was shut off I gently shook him awake.
"Bed time." I whispered as he groggily blinked at me.
I guided him to the stairs and sat him down. "I just need to close the doors." I explained.
When you walked into my house there were doors immediately to your left and right leading to the living room and kitchen/dining room respectively. About a meter from the kitchen door the staircase began which narrowed the hall leading to the ground floor toilet and the utility room. Upstairs the first door on your right was my bedroom and the bathroom took up the top right corner of the floor with a study next to it and the spare room to the left.
Once all the doors were closed I returned to Joe who was looking slightly more alert and asked "Why d'you do that? Uncle Frank does it too."
"Close the doors?" He nodded. "When we were kids we both lived with Nana even though I went to school in Scotland. I was six, he was ten and there was a fire there. Lots of precious things got destroyed but Nana had closed the door to the dining room where all the family pictures were and they survived almost perfectly. It was a habit everyone got into after that." I explained as we went upstairs.
He nodded and mulled it over while I helped him into the PJ's he'd brought – apparently he didn't have any at Tuck's that fit him anymore – and settled him into my spare bedroom.
"Are you too old for a kiss goodnight?" I asked.
He smiled sleepily at me and shook his head so I kissed his cheek as he snuggled under the covers, already drifting off.
I readied myself for bed as I tried Tuck again and, again, got his voicemail.
"You bastard!" I whispered-yelled. "Your son was miserable when I picked him up from school today because you forgot him! It's Friday you utter moron! You told me how excited you were to have Joe for the weekend then went and bloody forgot him because you are too busy competing with FDR over this Lauren! You promised me that you wouldn't let it affect Joe! And he didn't even want to call his mum because he knew she would be pissed at you!" I ranted. "I swear to God that if you don't call me back the second you hear this I won't ever speak to you again. How could you do this to Joe you-" A small beep told me that I'd run out of time.
With a huff I slammed the device onto my bedside table and turned out the light. Making sure my phone was loud I closed my eyes and calmed myself down, eventually finding sleep after planning all the things I was going to yell at a certain moron.
I awoke in the pitch black coughing. My eyes quickly caught a hazy orange glow creeping in through the gap below the door. Memories consumed me but one thought fought through them: get to Joe!
Dun, dun, dun! Let me know how this was? Good? Bad? Too short? Too long? How's my characterisation? Is there anything you want to happen, see more of?
Much love and thanks,