The office moved downtown, to one of the five-story buildings that are as close to skyscrapers as Reedville is likely to get in the next hundred years. The sign on their 'penthouse' suite reads 'WVS Innovations' which explains why I had so much trouble finding the new address — Ame made partner while I was gone and they changed the company name. I'm not complaining 'cause I think the fact that she's a partner is cool. I grin at the sign for a minute before going in.
I greet the perky receptionist, ask for Amelia Wilson and admit that I do not have an appointment. She calls Ame and I watch her face as she announces me. Whatever Ame said must have caught little miss perky off her game because her eyes nearly pop out and she gives me the same smile you give when you find out that the murderer is standing next to you.
"I'm sorry Ms. Wilson is tied up at the moment. She's asked if you would make an appointment and come back on another day."
I lean on the desk and smile at the girl, "Tell Ms. Wilson if-n she don't get'er lil' round ass out here in five, Ima come back an' get it." She pales a bit. "Go on back an' tell 'er. I'll wait right here fo' ya." She gets up and briskly scoots into the back office. Three minutes later, she and a pissed off Ame enter the room.
Her hair is twisted into a bun on top of her head and held there with a chopstick. It exaggerates how slender her neck is. She is the picture of a conservative executive. She's already launching in on me about how dare I barge in to her place of business or some similar bullshit but I couldn't care less. I completely ignore her. I grab her arm, pull her up to me and kiss her. I pull her hair down letting the sticks fall where they may and let go of her arm in favor of holding her head. I have been waiting — dying — for this since I left her.
When she crushes my nuts, I let her go. She squeezes so hard and so unexpectedly I nearly blackout. She asks, "Are you listening yet?" a couple times before I can answer. "Good. You may go home. When I call you, if — if I stress — if I call you, it will be there. Do not come in to my office without permission again."
I watch her high heels exit the room and will myself to calm down. The pain was excruciating but I want to go, grab her and screw her on her desk. It's a couple minutes before I can pick myself up off the floor. The receptionist is stunned, terrified. I shake my head. Already I can feel transfer from pain to pleasure.
"Thank you." I manage to say to her — from out of reach of her desk, so that she's not worried that I'll attack her. "If Ms. Wilson asks, tell her that I'm staying with my Grandfather until I've made more permanent arrangements. I believe she has the number." I can't help groaning as I turn to the door.
"Umm, do you need some help? A doctor, maybe?" She seems torn between genuine concern and utter fear. I love southern girls.
"No, I'm fine." I give her a half smile, "Believe it or not, that went better than I expected."
"Oh, yeah. She threatened to cut 'em off. With a razor. I figured she wouldn't have one handy here, but you never know with that one. You take care now, here?" I take the elevator down because the stairs would be just a little more than I'm ready to face. I figure she won't call today. Maybe next week. If she really missed me, she'll call the day after tomorrow.
It's a month.
I come home from the dock. Granddad is on the porch chatting with one of the neighbors, which is a good thing because I was beginning to think he was becoming a hermit.
"Hey, Mr. Hodges. Hey, Granddad; you take yo' meds on time t'day?" Always have to ask him that.
"You aughta know." He sneers at Mr. Hodges, "Sent his little barracuda ova ta' check up on me."
"Sent who?" Usually, if I send anyone, it's Beth or Gracie since they're in the office and close by. I didn't send either today.
"That little witch you was seein' up north. The little oriental one. I don't know her name. Hell boy, need a god damned database t'keep up with all yor wimen."
I stare at him for a moment. Granddad's a bit off his game, but he's not senile. "She was here? You sure?"
His eyes narrow at me, "I look senile ta ya, boy? Woman was here, checked ma meds, watched me take 'em, said you kin call her, an' left. You'd think George'd raise the boy with some respect." He grumbled to Mr. Hodges.
"It not you, Granddad. I just didn't think she'd visit. I'm a bit surprised."
"Me too. Thought you'd rid yo'self uh that one." He shook his head, "Never liked her. Cruel. You know the type, Ed, you ain't never sure if-n the knife in her hand is for you o' the fish." They both laugh.
I clap him on the shoulder, "Yeah, she's kinda like that. You ok out here?"
"Yeah, boy, I'm fine. Junior may be ova fer a spell this evenin'."
"Ok. I'll be back in a minute. I, uh, need ta make a phone call." I drift inside.
She came by. She checked his meds. I take the steps two at a time.
When she picks up, all my smooth, planned greetings go flying out the window. It's actually a couple seconds before I can even say hi.
"Pick me up. We have dinner reservations and we're already running late." She hangs up before I can respond.
It's another minute before I realize that I need to get moving, shower, change and get to her place. I hope she hasn't moved otherwise I'm sunk. Granddad laughs at me as I run past him. I stop just before I start the car and get out again.
"Uh..." I hate leaving him alone all night.
"If-n you plannin' on doin' yo' business with that one, you'd best get a move on." He says chortling.
What can I say about Granddad? "You the best!" I call out and break a speed law or twelve getting' to Ame's. She hasn't moved. She doesn't speak but then she rarely speaks in the car. The reservations are at Nam Tran — the only Vietnamese restaurant in town. She's dressed to kill making me doubly glad to took the time to change clothes. After she places our drink orders, she looks at me and I find myself lost in those beautiful, hypnotic eyes.
"If you're going to moon, you can leave right now." Her tone is acidic and I snap to attention.
"Now. You're Grandfather looks well." She sips her wine. "Charming as ever."
"Yeah, he's holdin' up pretty well, all things considered."
"I trust your parents are doing well also?"
"Oh, yeah. Mom's retired but Dad's still at the Fishery. Actually, my cousin, Jean — you remember Jean an' Joan? — anyway, Jean's gone into Accounting too an' she's working with him now." I talk about the family for a few minutes until I realize that she isn't even vaguely interested. "Yeah. Ok. How's Amanda?"
"Well, I'm sure."
"Good. Good." I look at the menu. After she orders for us, we sit in silence until she's ready to tell me why we're there.
"I wanted to tell you first, how absolutely inappropriate your behavior in my office was. It was vulgar and rude and intolerable."
"Yes, Ma'am." I say softly, keeping my eyes on my plate. I love it when she berates me in public — it makes me all tingly.
"Secondly, you seem to have forgotten that you may not touch me without my express consent. I trust you were reminded of that?"
"Oh, yes Ma'am." The thought makes me twitch and I sip my wine to cover the grin that threatens to break out.
"Finally, you should know that I am seeing someone."
I nearly choke on the wine and barely avoid spewing all over the table. I get my napkin over my mouth in time and cough violently for almost a full minute. She waits patiently while I recover. When I find my voice again I only want to know one thing, "Who?"
"I cannot imagine why that should be any of your concern."
"I wanna know who."
"None of your concern. Lower your voice."
I take a deep breath and flex. I can already feel the tension creeping along my shoulder and around my neck. "Why?" I ask again in a quieter voice.
"When you announced this football thing, did I not tell you that if you chose football over me, I would consider our relationship at an end?"
"Ame," I gasp, frustrated to have this discussion again, "Do you know how many guys get a chance to play NFL ball? What was I supposed ta do — throw that away without trying? I didn't choose football over you; you could have come with me."
"Uproot my life to follow you around the country like a puppy with no purpose of my own?"
"It wouldn't have been like that." I say weakly. But I know, for her, it would have been exactly like that.
"Was I not clear?"
"You were clear." I can feel the tension in my jaw now. Most likely she can see it in my face by now.
"Are you then upset because you've spent the last twenty-four months thinking of no one but me?"
"As a matter uh damn fact, I have."
I look back at my plate. I though of her nightly. But not alone.
"I knew there was no earthly way you could be trusted out of my sight to be anything approaching faithful, so I didn't ask you to try. Why should I?"
I start to answer that but I catch myself before anything stupid comes out of my mouth.
"I thought I at least owed it to you to tell you in person." She pauses as the waiter serves our meal. "That's all. You may leave when you're ready. Tonight I will cover the check."
I wave the waiter back over and give him my credit card. "Please start an open tab for this bill. I may need to leave early and I don't want my friend to be imposed." He trots off and brings the card back a moment later.
"You didn't need to do that." She says.
"Yes, I did." I eat my meal. "How's the firm doing?"
"Well." We talk about her work until the tension in my jaw make it almost impossible for me to speak.
"Is it serious?" I cut over what she's saying.
She pauses mid-word. "They are all serious."
"Are you planning to get married?"
"What would that have to do with anything?"
She's silent for a while. "No." she finally answers. "Were any of yours 'serious'?"
"Did any of them last more than a night?"
For the first time ever, I am actually ashamed to answer that question. "No."
"Well. You must have had quite a time."
"It was just sex."
"Oh, surely you're not going to tell me there's a difference between having sex and making love. I thought you didn't believe in such a thing."
"I didn't." I take a deep breath; if this is hopeless, I might as well go with full disclosure. "I worked my way through all the cheerleaders, the groupies, the girlfriends, hell, a bunch of the wives. Fat chicks, skinny. One girl teaches yoga and we did it in a locker just ta prove it could be done. I tried a couple guys just for old times sake. I tried slow and soft. I tried rough. I..." I hesitate, "I tried a couple things I'm not sure I'll ever forget or forgive myself for. I went back to 'Alex' before you met me an' I was an evil little shit back then. But here's my point. No matter what I tried, I still couldn't find anything that felt as good as watching a movie on your couch."
"Not cute." I snap at her. I take a breath and calm myself. "Here's my problem: I love you." She lifts her eyebrows in mock surprise. "Don't give me that look." I snap again, "You know damn well how I feel. I love you, I'm in love with you. I can't figure out how I lasted ten minutes without you let alone ten months and I come back to get you — to sacrifice everything I am to you — an' you say you seeing someone else! Amelia, please, tell me you don't love him."
She shrugs. "I don't."
If I'd been standing, Ida fallen. "I ... you don't?"
"I thought you said it was serious."
"It is. But it's not emotional."
"Then you still love me?" my heart's pounding like I just ran a thousand yards.
"I never said I did."
I close my eyes and flex again. She being deliberately evasive. "Amelia, how do you feel about me?"
"Again, I can't imagine why that would matter."
"Because it does." I slam the table with my fist and the everything shakes. Several heads in the room look at us and I put my hand in my lap to avoid any further outbursts. "I need to know what you feel."
"And I don't see how that's relevant."
"You don't see how your feelings may be relevant to me?"
"I don't see how my feelings could be relevant in light of the fact that our relationship ended two years ago."
"Ame! Who fucking cares when it ended? I'm here now and I want you back. Do you want me on my knees?" I push the chair back and crawl beside her, "Here, humiliated in public for your amusement."
"Get up." She hisses, "People are staring." I sit back down in my chair. I want to pick her up and fuck her on the table but that likely would not help my case. "I don't feel anything, if you must know."
"You maybe denying it, you may be hiding it but you feel something. For me, about me, whatever. Don't tell me you don't. I love you, Amelia. An' I'm brave enough to admit it. You go on about strength, but without a few guts, there ain't much ta be strong about. So, I'm going home now. When you figure out how you feel, call me. I promise, I'll be waiting. I don't have any choice 'cause —" I have this weird welling up feeling, like something inside me's gonna burst. I swallow hard and push it back down. "You just call me when you know some thing."
I get up and find our waiter, sign the bill and leave.
At home Uncle Julius and Granddad are drinking bourbon and reminiscing about the 'old days'. Ordinarily, I would run screaming to my room. Tonight, I pour myself a glass and sit down. They stop talking for a minute.
"Finally got you with that knife uh hers, eh?" Granddad says softly.
"She just wanted to tell me that she's seeing someone else."
They both wince.
"Ain't no woman the only woman." Uncle Julius says after a while, "They's always another one out there, somewhere."
"I'll tell Aunt Rachael you said that." I muse, refilling my drink. I gesture with the bottle and both of them hold up their glasses. I pause for just a second before filling Granddad's — some of his meds should not be taken with alcohol. Then I pour. If bourbon kills him, he's not plannin' on living much longer any how. "Bitch." It slips out and I spend the next ten minutes calling her every name I can think of. They let me go on.
"Yeah, that's about what I said when I found out 'bout Ms. Rachael an' Wilton." Granddad states.
"Wilton?" I stare at him, then at Uncle Julius "Uncle Wilton? Yo' freakin' son, Wilton?"
Uncle Julius knocks back the rest of his drink like it was water and Granddad shrugs. "Sorry, Junior."
"No need." Julius refills his glass, "It was uh long time ago, now. I'm ova it." He's over it and I'm over Ame. Right. "Just 'bout had heart failure at the time. But you learn ta move on eventually."
"You uh lie." Granddad says. "He ain't never got ova it, he just too in love with Ms Rachael ta stay away. She coulda slep' wit' four-five men, he'd'uh taken her back if-n she was on fire."
Uncle Julius purses his lips but doesn't say anything for a moment. Then he looks at me, "Marcus wants to act like he ain't just the same but you name me one thing yo' grandmomma coulda done that'uh had him packin'."
I think for a minute. I can only think of one thing. "I donno. Shot him. Had an abortion." Granddad's pretty far right on the topic.
Uncle Julius get an odd kinda grin — like I said just what he was looking for — and looks at Granddad, "Yeah, Marcus. Think you could forgive her that?"
Granddad looks away for a moment. "My Candice was a saint. Ain't nothing she coulda done woulda torn me from her side."
"Amen." I say.
Uncle Julius pats his shoulder, "She's uh good woman, Marcus. We all miss her."
We go through another round of drinks, each of us getting that much more depressed.
"She won't even tell me who." I lament aloud.
"Whatcha need ta know that for, boy?" Julius asks.
"So I can beat the living shit outta him."
"Might be why she ain't tell you." Marcus observes.
"Yeah." He has a point. "Shit."
We have another round before Aunt Rachael comes over to collect Julius. We're pretty trashed and she's pretty mad. I do manage to get to my room on my own but I wake on the floor when my alarm goes off.
I make it to the dock house by 4:30am and I'm not hung-over.
I'm still too drunk to be hung-over.
Aunt Rachael arrives while I'm trying to figure out how to make coffee.
"Give me that." She takes the filters and coffee away from me and makes a pot. "Now, before I send you home, I had the two of them nicely trained. Two drinks, then JD comes home. So what happened last night?"
"Ame dumped me." She coos and hugs me. "I'm cool. Ain't no woman the only woman, right?"
"JD and Marcus told you that?" she chuckles "The two who's vows were 'until death do us part and then some'?"
I think about what I remember of last night's conversation. "Actually they made a pretty good case for forgivin' her and takin' her back. Which isn't actually an option."
She frowns, "So what did they tell you, exactly?"
"I lot uh stuff I ain't wanna know, for starters." She looks a bit pensive, "Nothin' I would hold against you or Grandma, that's for sure. 'Sides, you an' I already know way too much 'bout each others personal lives."
"I guess that true." She doesn't look at all reassured.
"Hell, if-n I had the chance, I'd do Wilton, too." She looks stricken. "Aunt Rae, I'm sorry. It's a joke." Mostly. I jump up to try an console her — or something — except I'm still not quite steady so I overbalance and knock us both to the floor. She laughs, which is a good thing.
Aunt Rachael's a hot little freak even if she is pushin' forty. Being tangled on the floor with her is way more temptation than I need. I push away from her as gently as I can.
"Yeah, so, anyway. Ame an' me had this stupid fight about me bein' in love with her an' her not givin' a damn about me — which is stupid anyway since she's already seeing someone else, so what the fuck. But I came home an' they was drinkin' an' I told them an' it kinda went from there."
She sighs heavily, "That would explain it." She catches my confused look, "JD was pretty upset by the time we got home and we exchanged a few words."
"Oh. Oh man." My buzz is beginning to fade and with the clearer head is coming a horrible headache. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean ta start an argument. Marcus brought it up and Julius said it was ok."
"You boys did get chummy, didn't you? 'Marcus' and 'Julius' now?"
I kinda blush. My family's always been very formal about those kind of things. "We got pretty trashed."
"I saw. Well, don't worry about us. He'll get over it. I just wondered what brought it up."
"I'm really sorry."
"Alex, it's ok, relax." She ruffles my hair — like she used to when I was a kid, "You look wrecked. Skip the coffee." She gives me her keys, "Go to the house, get some sleep. Come back when you can stand up straight for more than three minutes at a time." I start to protest but she stops me. "Quit arguing. The crew will start arriving any minute. Shoo."
"Aunt Rachael, you rock." I kiss her cheek, take the keys and walk to her house.
I take a handful of aspirin and crash in the living room. I wake several hours later to the smell of bacon. It takes me more than a minute to figure out where I am and why. I wander into the kitchen feeling better than I did at the dock house. Uncle Julius is making breakfast for Willow and Caesar. I give him a hand. He doesn't mention last night so neither do I.
As we all sit down, I get an odd thought, "Hey, how come she ain't 'Julia'?"
Uncle Julius is perplexed by that one, "Come again?"
"Julia, Caesar." I say pointing at the kids.
He thinks for a minute, "Now that woulda been right clever."
It sparks a big long discussion about all the names in our family and lasts even as Uncle Julius is ushering them out to the car and off to school. I clean the kitchen for him and head back to the dock house. I send Aunt Rachael back home and take over the desk. Not that there's much to do at this hour — the boats are out and aside from a bit of filing and the phone, not much happens til they come back. Unless the weather changes.
Then it's a whole different day. I wait until the last boat docks and every crewman signed out for the day, signs back in. Grandma told me that back in the 50's and 60's — when she first started working for the fishery — there were too many days that her last task of the day was to call someone's family. We still have a trunk for doin' a burial at sea — without a body. I confess, every time a boat is late, my eyes glance at that trunk. I've had a couple late nights on the dock, but I haven't had to end any of them with a phone call. I pray I never will.
The next couple weeks are pretty much more of the same except Granddad an' I start arguing about everything. The two of us pretty much argue with everyone. Finally, Peter meets me at the dock house as I'm leaving one day.
"Can I give you a lift?" he asks.
"Nah. Kinda in the mood to walk."
He pauses, "Let me rephrase that. Alex. Get in."
I look at him. He hasn't use that command form since he married with Gwen. "This for my benefit or yours?" I ask him.
He doesn't answer. He grabs my shirt and pulls me to the passenger door. I could make it a bigger fight for him but — I gotta admit — he still pushes all the right buttons for me. Of all places, he drives to the river.
"What's the rule?" He asks as we get out of the car.
"No running, no jumping, no swimming." I answer grinning. I had forgotten what a genuinely beautiful spot this was. How much we shared up here. "How'd we find this place anyhow?"
"Made a wrong turn heading home one night." He's looking at a tree where we carved our initials. I sit on the hood of the car like I used to and look at the water and the sky. And think of Ame.
I should have brought her out here when I had the chance. She hasn't called, she hasn't come by, she hasn't sent a damned e-mail. I miss her so much, it hurts.
Peter sits next to me. "So. What's up?"
I shrug, "Nada. Same old, same old."
"Wanna try that again?"
"What?" If he wants to fuck, fine, but I'm not in the mood for twenty questions.
"You an' Uncle Marcus fighin' — what a shock. You an' me? Again, no surprise. But Alex, you been fightin' everybody. You yelled at yo' Mom..."
" ... Granddad was bein' uh prick an' she wouldn't fuckin' leave."
" ... at the crew? Crews?" he emphasizes the 's'.
Ok, so what did Willow do?"
I don't remember yelling at Willow. You have to a complete dick ta yell at Willow. She's that kinda kid. "I don't know! What the fuck?"
He hits me in the head, "Language." He snaps.
I stand up, "Fuck off."
He grabs me by the hair and twists my head back. "Is that the problem? Are you just so sexually frustrated that you can't act civil anymore?"
"No." I gasp. But really, I can feel the warm rush as the pain sweeps through me. Peter won't hurt me — not the way Ame would — but his touch, the strength, the familiarity, makes me burn.
"No, Sir." I can't help it; it's programmed response.
"So if I made you blow me, you wouldn't feel better?" I swallow hard. I can't breath. "You don't want me ta bend you ova this car and fuck you hard?"
"OK!" I burst, "Yes! Shit, fuck me." Instead, he lets my hair go. I collapse at his feet. "I am so fucked up." I mutter.
"So just call her." He sits on the ground next to me and strokes my hair.
"It's not me this time. I told her how I feel. She's seeing someone else. She couldn't give flyin' fuck if I'm pissed about it."
"I'm sorry, Alex, I really am." He pulls my head to his shoulder and I do something I rarely if ever do. I cry. In Peter's arms, the only place other than my mother's where it's 'safe' to do so.
He waits til it's out of my system and I try and push away from him. "Fag." He teases with a light kiss.
"Takes one ta know one, pussy." I answer back.
"Now here's the plan." He's still holding me tightly, "I'm gonna let you go an' you gonna find a branch I can beat your ass with. Then, you an' I gonna go to dinner so you can tell me what the hell's up with Uncle Marcus."
I find a stick that's heavy and twisted and he beats me til I cum. It doesn't take long. It's been so long since I've been truly hurt, I don't think he gets to twenty before I am moaning and twitching. I blow all over the fall leaves, panting and growling. "Oh fuck!" I moan, "Oh god I needed that." He gives me a few minutes to recover then, we head into town. My ass stings pleasantly all through the car ride and dinner.
"So, what's with Uncle Marcus? They change his meds?"
"Nah. Livin' with me likely getting' under his skin."
"It ain't just you. He's been in the office twice this month, poking around and actin' like he own the place. Uncle George didn't mention it?"
"Ima skip pointin' out that he still do own the place." Peter rolls his eyes. "And no, Dad, hasn't mentioned it. He, uh, he an' Jean both kinda pissed at me."
He nods. "Yeah. That's goin' around I hear."
"Alright! I'll make some apologies. An' Granddad's most likely just bored. I'll take him fishing this weekend. See if-n I can get Dad ta go with us."