Duplicity Ch. 10bypartial2passion©
Hey guys- So sorry for the long wait. In this chapter we go back to the present time. Yay! Chapter 11 should be coming up in the queue right after this one, so be on the watch for it. After the heaviness of chapter 9, aaand maybe even a couple of drinks, I needed this chapter to be lighter. (Shh don't tell anyone but I might've been sipping on what Sean has in that trusty flask of his. Lol hahaha) I hope you approve. As always let me know your thoughts. Oh and thank you to gildedbutterflies for editing this time around. Thanks for the support guys, I really appreciate it.
Layla's eyes widened as she heard the sound that haunted her thoughts. She hadn't heard from that deep voice for a couple days now.
Her breath and pulse quickened. Where did he come from? She was starting to wonder if he was a figment of her imagination. She hated the fact that even though she tried to mentally rid herself of him; her body quickly reminded her that it wasn't that easy. She took a sip of her hot earl grey tea before answering.
"Nope. How did you know I was here?"
She'd snuck up on the roof when the tossing and turning in her bed became too much. It was barely 4am and was still dark out. The stars brightly lit the dark sky. It made the intimidating deep sea waters glimmer as if controlling some hidden fury. The twinkling lights from the sleeping homes ran up and down the mountainside. It was as if someone threw a large batch of diamonds all over the island.
Strolling to the rooftop on a whim, she convinced herself there was no way she'd run into anyone at that hour. Going there wasn't even a conscious thought. It was as if her body was tugged there by the tender memories the place held. When she got there and caught sight of the view; she was mesmerized and suddenly very lucid. She just couldn't tear herself away.
Merle covered her with a soft blanket as if she'd just requested it from him. How did he know she had been shivering with cold? Thanks to the thin black tank top and small white shorts she was wearing.
He shrugged. "I always know where you are."
That caught Layla by surprise. He sure hadn't been acting like it.
"That's.... creepy." She let out a nervous chuckle. A tiny smile threatened to spill from her lips as her eyes caught his. She might not want to admit it but his words caused a flutter of giddiness inside of her.
"But thanks, I was getting really chilly."
Merle ignored her comment and sat in a nearby lawn chair. He nervously rubbed his hands together. He tried to keep his distance from her. Really tried. But fuck, he was only human. There was only so much he could handle.
The nightmares were bad tonight and made him wake up in a cold sweat. There were vivid images of the farm again. He could almost feel the crawling drops of dried blood on his skin. There were flashes of bodies, Khatira's high pitched scream, evil clown faces that mocked him, wielded swords... laughed at him.
Quickly he got up in the middle of the night, shuffled to the edge of his room and sat with his legs folded under him. Sitting very still, he did his breathing exercises and tried meditating the way he'd learned in Bali.
But that shit only worked to a certain degree.
He was used to battling his demons by now... but sometimes he didn't win.
No matter how badly he wanted to.
And then he thought of Layla. Just the thought of her slowed his breathing and anchored him to his center. There was something about being with her that calmed him from the inside out. She was like his personal sedative...
He wondered if she was awake at that time, so he set out to find her. He was sick of fighting it. Whatever came their way, he'd protect her.
Since the whole family was set to arrive today, he had to keep the Merle charade up until everything was revealed. Selfishly he needed her now more than ever so he just couldn't tell her his true identity now.
Fuck bad timing and fuck the world.
He was going to be with Layla. He felt sorry for anyone who got in his way. He didn't know how or when but it would happen. How the hell was he going to tell her truth?
"So is this going to be a thing for us... rooftops?" Layla asked interrupting his thoughts.
"If you want it to be."
"I can't figure you out Merle."
"Are you trying to?"
Layla shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe."
"What can I do to help your puzzle?"
"I'm not so sure if you're willing to."
Merle's face remained neutral but his pained eyes revealed how true her words were.
He held back.
She gave him the perfect opening and he held back on telling her the truth.
He couldn't. Even if he told her his real identity; he couldn't tell her about what happened to him. Because if she knew only a little bit of the shit that goes through his head, she'd run for the hills. Even though he really should be helping her run for the hills... he couldn't bring himself to let her go.
"There are some things I just can't talk about Layla, at least not right now. I'm not sure if ever..."
Layla slowly nodded her head in understanding. She pursed her lips and bit the inside of her cheeks. That comment stung. She didn't know why it stung; she hadn't known him that long. But it felt like she did. She took another drink of her now lukewarm tea as her throat had suddenly gone dry.
Even though she'd already guessed it, Layla finally came to the realization that Merle was dealing with some heavy shit. Things she didn't understand. Intuition and coming from a military family helped her come to that conclusion. And until he was ready to talk about it, or got some outside help, it would be useless to try to pry it out of him. She wasn't sure if she had the patience for that... and yet here she was.
Closing her eyes she inhaled deeply.
There was a soft whiff of him that mixed in with the morning air. That had to be one her favorite smells in the world. If she could just bottle it up to use sparingly when she had a bad day, she would.
She smiled to herself. She loved it up there. It was so peaceful and quiet. The soft crashing waves lulled her lingering worries away.
With Merle, she would take what she could get... he was worth it.
"So are you excited about the rest of the family and friends arriving today?" Trying to keep the conversation light.
"Sure." Merle sighed. To be honest, that was part of the reason he couldn't quite sleep. He was about to see his mother for the first time in years. He was on edge about the whole thing. He could never quite lie to her face. She would always catch him on his bullshit. Part of him was excited to finally see everyone, the other part of him was terrified. Would they recognize him? It wasn't safe.
"I've been talking to Rafaele... Sienna and Jason's friend. He's planning the bachelorette party tonight. Are you going?"
Merle let out a laugh and he felt himself relax. Layla stopped talking and her mouth was still slightly open. What the hell was wrong with her? Did she really just ask him if he was going to the bachelorette party?
Layla shyly chuckled and pointed to herself, "Blame that on the lack of sleep. I meant to ask if you we're going to the bachelor party."
"Right... of course that's what you meant. You want me to strip, don't you? Those ladies can't handle all of this." He said teasingly as he rubbed his large belly.
"Oh shut up." She laughed and threw a small throw pillow at him. "You think I'm going to let you give away my goods like that?"
Layla's eyes widened. Did she really just say that? In her past relationships, she had never been one to be possessive. She always played the role of the cool, detached strong woman. But it was too late to take it back now. She looked him straight in the eyes to let him know she was serious.
The corner of his lips twitched into a smile as he took in her words. She was so fucking sexy right now. His smoldering eyes caressed hers and it looked like he was a second away from pouncing on her.
"Oh shit... so it's like that?" Merle asked with a raised eyebrow. He licked his lips.
Layla pursed her lips in a grin and slowly nodded her head.
"I don't know." He sighed. "I'm not convinced. You're going to have to show me." He turned in his chair and opened his legs slightly.
"Show you what?"
"How you handle your goods."
Layla's soft laughter tinkled and she shook her head flirtatiously.
"You're sexy as fuck, you know that?"
"So you've said." She gave him a shy smile.
It wasn't a question or a request. It was a statement, an order. Typical Merle.
"You come here." She stated stubbornly even though she secretly liked it. She inwardly smiled.
"Alright." He said lightly, got up and walked over to her. That was a surprise. She thought he would have insisted she go to him. She yelped when he lifted her from the chair, held her to his chest and carried her like a baby.
Merle shrugged. "I wasn't going to argue with you... I'll just do it myself."
Well damn. Did he always just take whatever he wanted?
The truth was that he reached his breaking point. His hands itched to touch those long soft legs.
"You're a mess." Layla rolled her eyes at him although she enjoyed being in his arms. He carried her like she barely weighed anything.
He rubbed his nose behind her ear and planted a soft kiss there. She shivered slightly and felt him nod his head.
"Unless I'm with you," he whispered.
He pulled back to look at her. His eyes probed hers, communicating how true his words were.
Layla stared at him while her legs dangled from his arms. She was so far up from the ground. She was dizzy in desire for him. He didn't seem in a rush to go anywhere as if this was the most natural pose in the world.
She wrapped her arms around him and firmly pressed her lips to his. They both groaned from the contact. It had been too long. She tasted so sweet. Their tongues danced and he angled his face for more access. Frantically they gripped each other as if they couldn't get enough. He managed to stumble back and sit on a chair and firmly planted her on his lap. He broke the kiss and they breathed heavily as they caught their breath.
"What are you doing to me?" She said breathlessly.
"Me? What are you doing to me? Wearing shit like this..." He tugged at the thin straps of her tank top. "Are you trying to kill me?"
Layla chuckled and shook her head. "What good would you be to me dead?"
At that he let out a grunt but held her close to his chest. He grabbed the blanket and covered her with it. She was such a distraction. He felt his resolve slip when he saw her shivering in those tiny clothes.
He had to control himself. He didn't want to start something they couldn't finish.
After thinking about it, he didn't want to be intimate with her again until she knew who he really was. And in truth, he just wanted to be with her. He needed to be with her. What was it about her that made him feel like everything was going to be okay? His fucked up past seemed small in her presence. It was as if with just one touch she had the power to erase... everything.
He sat down and settled her across his lap and she quietly snuggled into his chest.
"You know when I was kid, my uncle, who was really an old family friend; used to take me out to the batting cages. I must have been like 10 years old. He used to play pro ball and I thought he was a god. I wanted to be just like him. On like Saturday nights, we'd sneak out when everyone was asleep... like we were on a secret mission or some shit like that." He laughed at the memory.
"There's this little place up in Jersey that's open 24/7. So we'd go and bat for a couple hours and just talk about guy stuff..." Merle said thoughtfully.
"I thought my mom didn't know anything. And I felt like this big fucking shit, sneaking behind my mom's back. But one day we're about to go to bed and she tells me to get my bat out of her car because she was going to bed. I tried to play it off like I didn't need it. But she winked at me and smiled and told me to get it out of her car anyway. I told my uncle about it and he just laughed and said, moms knew everything because they had a chip in their brain connected to their children... so she'd always know when I was lying."
Layla chuckled and Merle joined her in a laugh. "And I believed him! This motherfucker stayed lying to me and I ate that shit up..."
Layla felt his body tense, but she let him continue at his own pace while softly rubbing his chest in encouragement.
After a long stretch of silence, he exhaled a long breath he seemed to be holding in.
"But some days I'd give anything to go back and be that confused naive little boy."
Unconsciously Layla stopped stroking his chest and looked up at him expectantly. Merle met her gaze and gave her a soft kiss on her plump lips.
"I've been lost for a long time Layla. War... it changes people. I was lost and angry for a long time. But I always knew I must have survived that fucking nightmare, for a reason. I've been to hell and back and I knew it had to be... for something. I didn't really know why, until I met you... You've given me something I thought I'd never feel again. So no matter what happens to me or to us, I want thank you for that. I... I care for you."
Layla didn't know what he meant by that. What could ever happen to him? To them? She felt a little confused by his words but was so happy about him opening up about his feelings that she kept those questions to herself.
"I care about you too."
He kissed her slowly and softly as if Father Time would make an exception and stop... just for them.
She moaned into him and felt herself get lightheaded. They broke the kiss and were breathing heavily. Damn she tasted so good. But no. He needed to get himself under control. So after a minute of thinking about fucking baseball stats, he was good.
When that got out of the way, they talked for hours. They talked and laughed and teased each other as if they were old time friends. Surprisingly Merle was the one who kept the conversation going. Usually the quiet reserved one, he probably talked more than Layla had ever heard. He opened up about his travels. The places he's been in the last 5 years. He told her funny stories about some of the local customs he'd seen. For a moment Merle forgot all about his haunting past. She made him forget.
Layla talked about her flower shop idea and of course Merle encouraged her to go for it. She beamed as she talked about the flower distributors she'd been in contact with and the arrangements she would make and how she would market her business. She sounded like a little kid ready to go on a field trip.
There was a moment of silence when the sun finally came up. At that moment nothing needed to be said. They unconsciously held onto each other a little tighter, barely breathing at the sight of it. The oranges, reds and yellows washed over them gifting them with a new day. It was almost liberating.
After a while, Layla yawned and snuggled deeper into his chest. And she softly slowed her words. Finally while still holding her tight he closed his eyes as well.
And just like that, they fell into a deep peaceful slumber wrapped into each other.
It's funny how small you can feel in a room full of someone else's family and friends. There's this intangible bond that a new person isn't quite authorized to access yet.
Layla was an assertive outgoing person; she wasn't shy or afraid to speak her mind. She'd always been that way. She had an ability to command a room... a necessary skill for a wedding planner.
But in that moment, in the room full of Sienna and Jason's family and friends; she suddenly felt small and timid. Layla didn't know why the hell she felt that way. Maybe she wanted them to actually like her.
Layla sighed. She wished Henry were there to dish with. He had a way of making her laugh as he gossiped about people and what they were wearing. He had to run an errand and wanted to give the incoming guests space so he'd left early in the morning and wouldn't return until the following day. It was nice having him around; he was actually very helpful to her. Everything wedding related was pretty much done. All the guests had their assigned rooms and were settled in.
Thank God they got everything ready in time.
Last night Jason had to fly out unexpectedly to Germany but would return this evening. At being left alone she thought Sienna would be freaking out but she wasn't.
Sienna proved to be the consummate host, making sure everyone was comfortable and settled in. She made sure everyone ate and was having a good time. Layla just served as backup for her.
Layla was surprised at herself because she wasn't anxious or going crazy because of the chaos as she normally would be. She was calm and relaxed and even... happy. She was sure Merle had something to do with her mood.
And so having nothing to do but feel awkward and shy in a living room full of family, Layla quietly sipped her wine in the far corner taking it all in. Her eyes darted back and forth as she tried to capture as much action as possible. She suppressed a smile as she drank but her eyes couldn't help but laugh.
How could such a small amount of people make so much noise? She was sure they could be heard in the whole neighborhood. The music was blaring in the background but the voices were even louder. They didn't seem to mind talking over each other either. Some would laugh while others would argue and others were somewhere in between.
Layla was fascinated by the sounds. It was a steady hum of love and excitement that filled the air. It was 5 days before the wedding and everyone was getting acquainted. They had met over 2 hours ago and they still talked non-stop until now.
By far, Sharon and Gigi, Sienna and Nicole's mothers were the loudest of the bunch. Well, it was really Gigi. She had this husky, lively voice and laughed easily. Her loud chuckle was contagious and when she really got into it, her laugh turned into a sort of wheeze as she doubled over and hugged her stomach. She really did produce a lot of sound for such a petite woman.
Sharon on the other hand was sweet and also very funny. While Gigi's comments were often of the over 21 variety, Sharon was a bit more discrete. Sharon and Gigi played off each other as if they were twins. You could tell they were best friends, just like their daughters. They surrounded Sienna asking every possible detail from the wedding to how she was feeling in her condition. They were already planning on making her some nasty sounding home remedy concoction for "the baby".
Nicole's father Jose sat nearby the women. He was an interesting character. He was a quiet, stern looking man. He was the tallest of the men at around 6'5". He was built like an ox but had the gait of a free roaming tiger. Although he was older, he was still a very strong man. His tanned arms were thickly roped with muscles but he carried himself as if he were light as a feather. Layla heard in passing that he once had been a professional baseball player. Layla was sure that in his day he made more than one woman swoon.
Layla hadn't heard him say more than two words. It was probably because Gigi spoke more than enough for all of them. Although his face was stoic and calm, every so often the corner of his lips would quirk a smile. It was obvious he enjoyed the women's non-stop excited chatter.
From across the room Layla spotted Celeste, Nicole's great-grandmother, touching every item around the room that she could. It was as if she were counting all the furniture... almost hopping from object to object.
It was amazing she'd even made the trip. She was 92 years old and threw a fit when someone suggested she might need to stay because of her age. Over her dead body, she said in a surprisingly lucid, clear voice. There was no way in hell she would miss this wedding.