"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I want you to understand how it was for me. Taking off was the hardest decision I ever made. I'm still not sure why I did it. I was terrified. You were so wild...I thought I could never hold your interest. Maybe I was trying to save myself hurt for when you wanted to leave me."
"Leave you? Ellie, I couldn't leave you alone for a day! I tried. I knew getting mixed up with a good girl like you wasn't a great idea, but I did it anyway. I was so in love with you, it hurt. I thought I was going to die the day you left. Leave you? Do you remember what it was like between us? I wouldn't have left you in a million years." Cole leaned back in his chair, dumbfounded by what she'd said.
Ellie lifted her eyes from his jaw, and met his gaze.
"Do you, Ellie? Do you remember what it was like between us?" Cole leaned forward and stared holes into her soul. Need clawed his belly, and a love, twenty times stronger than five years ago climbed its way through his heart.
Ellie blinked, slowly, like a cat waking from a nap. Her eyes dropped to his lips.
Cole felt like someone had hit him with a right hook. His eyes widened, and he watched her chest rise and fall as her breathing quickened. Ellie's face held invitation, and Cole wanted nothing more to take her up on the offer. But it was too soon, wasn't it? She just got back into town... Her gray eyes held promise, and Cole had to look away from the honesty.
"Ellie, I don't know if this is going to be the smartest thing...I think we should wait for a while before we go starting any fires." Cole looked at her, blue eyes blazing.
Ellie couldn't figure out how such ice blue eyes could burn so hot... Before her hormones got too far ahead of her, she looked away.
"You're right. We should wait. Get to know each other again. We're different people now." Ellie finally paid attention to her plate.
Silence fell, but they took turns watching each other. Cole was pretty sure he would either die or go back on his decision the minute she picked up her corn. Ellie had painstaking buttered the cob, then picked it up by either end and crunched her teeth into it. She closed her eyes for a moment- Cole would admit, it was fantastic corn- but she looked like she was in love with it.
As her arms came down, butter coated her lips and a fleck of corn stuck to the corner of her mouth. Cole figured he would grab her napkin, but her tongue flickered out and he had to look away. Ellie glanced up and watched him shift in his chair. She couldn't resist.
"Are you sure you want to wait?" She widened her eyes innocently.
Her answer was a growl.
A month later, they had settled into a rhythm and it was actually a comfortable routine. Ellie found herself thinking that a relationship between them could work. The only thing missing at this point was the sex.
And she thought about it plenty. Her memories of them together clashed with fantasies about him now, and so for the majority of the time, she ran around in a half aroused state. Ellie was beginning to think she was a teenage boy. Cole seemed mostly unaffected but at random times she would catch him watching her.
Ellie kept to her word and cooked and cleaned. On this particular Sunday morning, Ellie had gotten into a fight with the coffee filter. As she went to throw it away, the damp filter ripped and grounds went flying.
She scooped up as much as she could, then grabbed the sponge and hit her knees, wiping the cupboard off. The pile of grounds on the floor was more of a challenge, then she realized it had managed to get on the baseboard a foot away.
"What the hell?" Ellie had to laugh. Supporting herself with one hand, she reached for the mess.
Cole came down the stairs, getting ready to head to the garage to hunt for some paperwork he couldn't find. As he rounded the corner, a wonderful sight met his eyes.
Ellie was on her hands and knees, cleaning something. Her ass was up in the air and her jeans were perfectly molded to her curves. She was clueless to his arrival, so with a smirk, he announced himself.
"Lord have mercy, baby's got her blue jeans on. She can't help it if she's made that way..."
"Cole!" Ellie jerked up, and coffee grounds flew off her hand.
"She ain't really trying to cause a scene, it just comes naturally...no the girl can't help it."
Ellie's face turned bright red, and she stood up quickly. She started to stutter something out, but Cole brushed past her, dropping a kiss to her temple. Then he was gone.
Ellie had found a job working in a call center. It was just shy of telemarketing, which she didn't like, but it was a job. After the first month, she didn't know how much longer she could take it. People were generally rude and nasty, and no one seemed to realize she was just doing her job.
After a particularly long day, she stopped and got a pizza for dinner, and got home after Cole for a change. She had been thinking about bringing up the subject of them, their living arrangement, and what to do now that she had a job. She was more than willing to start paying him rent, if he wanted. She had already started buying the groceries, but she didn't feel like she was contributing enough.
"Hey." Ellie sat the pizza on the counter and headed for her bedroom to change.
"That wasn't very enthusiastic. You okay?"
She was already mostly out of earshot, so she kept walking. Cole followed her.
"I asked if you were okay." He propped his shoulder in the doorframe.
"Yeah. Just a rough day. I'm tired." Ellie stepped into the closet to change her shirt. "Do you want me to start paying you rent?"
Cole scowled. "No."
"But I'm working, and I'm caught up, so I just-"
"I said no. You cook and clean for your room and board, remember?"
"Well, yes, but that could just be normal contribution. I can pay you too."
"I don't want you to."
Ellie emerged from the closet in a pair of black cotton shorts and a sky blue tank top. Cole's eyes immediately dropped to her breasts, noting that she was braless. She usually was, but the lighter colored shirt was proving to be interesting. He belated realized she was talking.
"...doesn't that make sense to you?"
"Cole, you aren't listening to me." Ellie breezed through the room, leaving a trail of attitude behind her.
What was with her today? Summer was baking the town, and the air conditioner was working overtime. Maybe she was cranky because she was hot. Cole followed her out of the bedroom, watching her thigh muscles as she walked. His eyes drifted up to her ass, appreciating the swell of her cheeks, then up to her where her waist dipped into her hourglass figure.
"I want to stop feeling useless and helpless, all right? Starting with Matthew, then with my parents, and I don't want to be a burden to you. I'm going to give you two hundred bucks out of each of my checks. That seems fair to me." Ellie turned to him, slice of pizza in hand.
"I don't need your money, but if it makes you feel better, that's fine. Have you talked to your parents recently? You haven't said."
"Nope. And I don't plan on it anytime soon, either." She took another bite, and Cole watched her lips as she chewed.
He reached to the box and grabbed himself a slice. Matching her bite for bite, they stood in the cool kitchen and watched each other eat.
"Do you want to stay here?"
"Well, I don't really have the money to rent someplace yet. Maybe in a few more months."
"That wasn't the question." Cole tossed the crust in the box.
"What was the question then?" Ellie wrinkled her brow.
"Do you want to stay with me?"
The last bite of pizza lodged in her throat. Grabbing a can of pop to stall, she took a drink and asked, "Do you want me to?"
"I asked you first."
"What, are we in second grade?"
Cole advanced on her, and in a few steps Ellie was backed up against the sink.
"I like having you here, Ellie. I want you to stay. But I want you to stay because you want to, not because it's a convenient arrangement."
"What are you saying?"
"I want you to stay with me because I love you, and you love me back. I want you to stay here because we got married and you're my wife and this is your home. Do you understand? That's why I don't want your money."
Cole pushed off the counter and headed out the door. Ellie was in shock. He loved her? Did that mean he loved her? Is that what he just said? The summer sun was sinking, and Ellie followed outside a few minutes later. Cole was sitting on a lawn chair under the shade tree.
"I love you." Ellie stopped in front of him.
"I love you too. Will you stay with me?"
"Of course I will. Will you take me for a ride on your Harley?"
It had been a joke between them...she had always wanted a ride; he felt it was too dangerous for her.
"I still don't think it's safe."
"You'd be driving me. I couldn't be safer."
"Honey, there are plenty of other things I'd rather you ride."
Ellie smirked. "Remember when you asked me if I remembered what it was like between us?"
"Come inside and remind me." Ellie spun on her heel and slipped through the sliding glass door.
Cole sat frozen. She loved him, she was staying, and she just invited him to bed. And at this point, they had waited long enough, gotten to know each other plenty. Cole practically jumped up from the chair and entered the house. Her shorts were on the floor in the kitchen. Down the hallway, his boots clomped on the hardwood floor. He kicked her shirt aside. It didn't escape his notice that there weren't any panties lying around...
He felt himself harden at the implications. He pushed the door to her bedroom open, but she was nowhere to be found. He spun on his heel and went to his room, using the toe of his boot to push the door in.
Ellie was draped across his bed, completely naked.
Ellie sat up, surprised. "Come on what?"
"This wasn't how it was at all. Let's go." Cole disappeared through the doorway, and a few seconds later her clothes hit her in a crumpled ball.
"Let me get this straight. I'm laying here naked, in a very inviting manner, and you're making me put my clothes back on." Ellie slid her shorts on slowly.
"Yep. Hurry up."
"You said remind you. So, that's what I'm doing." Cole smiled and exited the bedroom.
Ellie stood and slipped on her shirt as she took off after him. The sun was setting, lending a purple-peach haze to the sky. She took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the twilight, then hurried along, trying to figure out where Cole went.
The growl of his Camaro sounded from the garage, and Ellie had to laugh. She stopped for a moment to slip on a pair of flip flops, then ran out the door and hopped in the passenger seat.
"I can't believe you still have this thing."
"What? This baby is in mint condition. I love this car."
Ellie remembered when he bought it; it was pretty much a piece of crap. The '69 had seen better days. But with a lot of time and elbow grease, Cole got it running again. Apparently, in the past years he had put a lot of work and money into making 'her' a show car. Ellie inhaled the old leathery smell as was transported back to a simpler time. She was almost able to make believe the years hadn't passed, and that they were heading out to go parking.
Cole draped his wrist over the steering wheel as they drove down the open road. In town, activity was starting to wind down. The curfew siren went off at nine, and they kept driving. They weren't kids anymore. Ellie smiled as the wind sailed through her hair, knowing it was creating a tangled mess. She didn't care. The heat of the day had worn off for the most part, leaving a sticky summer night behind.
Ellie had to laugh when Cole turned into an old farmers' access road. This was the first spot they'd parked at; and the last place they'd had sex.
"Look familiar?" Cole flipped the key and the ensuing silence was almost as loud as the engine had been.
"Yes." Ellie grabbed the handle and climbed out of the car.
Cole followed, grabbing the blanket he'd brought from the backseat. He fluffed it out, laying it on the grass beside the car. Ellie lay down and Cole joined her, taking her into his arms. They stared up at the sky. Stars were out already, but the horizon still glowed with the last wisps of day.
"Did you ever think this would be us?" Ellie's breath touched his neck.
"I didn't think, but I'd hoped."
Ellie moved so that she was on her elbow, looking down at Cole's face. She brushed a wayward lock of hair from his forehead, then trailed her fingers along his jaw.
"I'd hoped too. I'm very glad you've forgiven me." She smiled and leaned down, her lips barely whispering over his.
Cole relaxed under her ministrations, feeling no rush for anything. He had her for forever now. As much pain as had been in the past, he was tired of thinking about it. She was here now, and she was his. Nothing was going to change that. Looking into her gray eyes that were telling him how much she loved him, he knew he was going to look forward to the future.
Ellie's eyes came open slowly, and she blinked in confusion. She was in Cole's bedroom, but he was nowhere to be found. A glance at the clock said she'd slept way too late. Then a voice from the door surprised her.
"I played hooky today."
"I can't believe we didn't have sex last night." Ellie's lips plumped into a pout.
"I'm wooing you. Get ready. We're going to have some fun today."
"Are you allowed to take a day off? What about your work ethic?"
"Carl understands. And today didn't have much lined up anyway. It's a Wednesday. Cars don't have trouble on Wednesdays."
Cole left the room then hollered back, "Put on your suit. We're leaving in ten!"
"Suit. Like, bathing suit?" Ellie received no reply.
"Maybe it's the feeling or maybe it's the freedom, maybe it's that shady spot where we park the truck when things get hot...And it makes me wanna take a back road, makes me wanna take the long way home. Put a little gravel in my travel, unwind, unravel all night long...and it makes me wanna grab my honey, tear down some two-lane country who knows... Get lost and get right with my soul...makes me wanna take a back road."
Ellie adjusted the halter strap of her turquoise bathing suit and slipped her sunglasses onto her nose. A smile quirked her lips as Cole sang along with the radio. She never would have pegged him for a country guy. Apparently that had changed as well. She glanced over and watched his face as he drove. Completely at ease, she noted he had a pretty nice voice.
Cole glanced over and caught her staring, and he reached one arm out and rested it against the back of her seat. His fingers brushed her hair from her neck, and he found the sweet, sensitive spot just below her ear. He caressed her neck gently, his fingers moving over her ear on occasion. Ellie shivered. Her neck was her favorite spot. He obviously remembered. The fact that he remembered had her shivering too.
They swung through a drive thru and as Ellie sipped her caramel iced coffee, she reflected on life. It had been pretty rotten, but thanks to Cole she had turned it around. Staring out the windshield at the open road ahead of them, she knew she was home at last.
Cole's cell phone started ringing in the console and he glanced down.
"Who is it?"
"My mother." He made no move to answer it.
"Do you think it's important?"
"No. I think she caught me playing hooky. I'll call her back tonight."
A half hour later, Cole steered the car into the parking lot of a public 'beach'. The sand was more the texture of kitty litter, and the water was more green than tropical blue. But it was wet, and they had the whole day to spend together.
Cole lugged the cooler and the chairs, and Ellie grabbed the beach bag and umbrella.
"You thought of everything, didn't you?"
"Yes, darlin'. This ain't my first rodeo." He bumped the back of her leg with the cooler.
They walked down what seemed like three hundred stairs and picked a spot pretty close to the water. The sun was up, and it was well on its way to hot and miserable. Cole set up the chairs and shoved the umbrella into the ground. Ellie stripped off her black sarong and tossed it by the picnic basket, then dug into the beach bag.
Towels, a brush, a bottle of conditioner, tanning oil and sunscreen. Ellie looked up, surprised that he had remembered. He must have read her face, and his face actually turned a bit red.
"You remembered that I put conditioner in my hair when I'm done swimming."
"I'm going to be honest- there's nothing I don't remember from our time together. So don't look so shocked." Cole stripped his tee-shirt off and stretched out on one of the lawn chairs.
Ellie eyed his physique as he moved, noting the fluid way his muscles flexed beneath his skin. He was wearing black swimming trunks, and she had to laugh at his sock tan line.
"Your paste-y white feet. Maybe you need to go barefoot more often."
Cole shot her a glance. "Have you seen your legs? I need my sunglasses."
"Whatever!" Ellie laughed and knew he was right.
She applied tanning oil to her legs, and sunscreen to the rest of her. By the time she was finished, she was hot. Letting it all soak in for a few minutes, she announced she was heading into the water.
There were several groups of people already, but Ellie figured it would pick up later in the afternoon. She was glad they got there early, and got a good spot. After a moment, her feet hit water and she shivered. It was coooold. Goosebumps rose on her skin, and she crossed her arms over her chest, knowing her nipples would be plainly visible through her suit.
Once she was in to her waist, she dove in. Coming up to the surface with a shriek, her teeth almost chattered. But it was wonderful. Ellie pushed out further, to the point where she had to stand on her tip-toes to keep her face above water. She doggy paddled in a circle, turning to face the land. Cole wasn't in his chair.
Ellie's eyebrows scrunched together. Where did he go? Did he decide to get in too? Scanning the water, there were only a few people, and he wasn't one of them. Suddenly, hands gripped her thighs, and she let out a yelp. Cole surfaced in front of her, water spraying off his hair as he tossed it back from his forehead.
"Chilly, isn't it?" Cole's hands slipped up along her waist, settling on her ribcage.
"Chilly doesn't quite cover it. Are my lips blue?"
"Maybe a little." He leaned in, brushing his mouth across hers.
"Cole, there are people." Ellie glanced around nervously.
"So?" He pulled her closer, his hands moving up to cup her breasts.
Her nipples were already hard from the water, but at his touch, they hardened to the edge of pain. Ellie looked up, her eyes locking with his. He moved closer, and hiked her legs up to wrap around his waist. Cole moved them a little farther out, making sure they were completely covered by the water.
"Hmm, comes in pretty handy, this water not being crisp and clear." Ellie arched an eyebrow at him.
"That it does."
Ellie mostly floated against him, and he released her chest, one hand sliding down her back to cup her ass, the other moved to the front. She gasped as his fingers slipped under her bathing suit bottom. Cole moved with purpose and the knowledge of the past as he gently massaged the sensitive nub, causing her fingers to tighten on his shoulders.
She tried to keep her face placid, not wanting to alert any other swimmers of the illicit activities going on just a few yards away. But when Cole slipped a finger inside her, she let out a whimper. Ellie laid her head on his shoulder, then began biting and kissing the curve of his neck.