tagRomanceSnow and the River Ch. 02

Snow and the River Ch. 02

bydr_mabeuse©

"It looks the same," she said as she looked out the hotel window. "The same park, the same snow, the same time of day, even."

"The wrong date."

She turned back towards him where he sat naked in the disordered mess of the bed, the bed she'd just gotten out of. She wrapped her robe around herself more tightly and tied the sash. The scene outside made her cold, even though the room was warm and snug, the air perfumed by the flowers she'd brought back from her niece's wedding.

"You remember the date?" she asked.

"Of course I do. You don't?"

"November 30th," she said. "Twenty four years and two weeks ago."

"And when were you married?" He had the sheets and blanket pulled up to his waist, his foot poking out of the bottom. He didn't smoke out of respect for her, and he missed it.

"February eighteenth. We sent you an invitation."

He laughed. " I know. I think I still have it. As if I was going to go to your wedding, Peggy. And then when did the divorce come through?"

"Seven years ago. We were married seventeen years altogether. It's funny—it seems like so much longer since the divorce. But then, we hadn't been getting along for years. Separate bedrooms, separate vacations, the whole bit, so it was hardly like we were even married towards the end."

"But I was right, wasn't I? You remembered the day. Even the date."

She stared out at the dusk, the softly falling snow in the streetlights of the park. Despite herself, a smile crept across her face, a particular kind of smile she hadn't felt in the longest time.

"Of course I remember! You made me beat you off outside in a snowstorm. How could I ever forget that?"

He laughed with glee, remembering.

After all these years and he still had that laugh, tempered now to be sure and not as edgy, but still his. She smiled again, and again the feel of that smile on her face took her back twenty-four years. He was the only one who'd ever evoked that particular combination of happiness and naughtiness in her. Her son had come close when he'd still been a child, before they'd started having their disagreements and difficulties, but that had been years ago.

The thought of her children erased the smile from her face. They were grown now and sometimes didn't even feel like hers anymore, like strangers.

"I really did love him, you know," she said to her reflection in the window. "You always thought it was just about the money, but it was more than that."

He let the snow go on falling for a while, then said. "I know that. I always knew that, Peg. I just didn't want to deal with it. I didn't want to think about what that said about me."

She turned around and looked at him.

"You're dying for a cigarette, aren't you?"

He laughed. "I'll live. It's a no smoking room anyhow. No ashtrays."

"Since when do you care about ashtrays?"

He laughed again.

"And your kids?" he asked. "Tell me about them. Where are they now?"

She sighed. "Scott is in LA with his father. Well, they're not actually together. Michael's with his girlfriend out there and Scott's in school at UC Long Beach, or maybe he's off this semester, I'm not sure. He doesn't talk to me much. Last I heard he was trying to get his real estate license. He's very ambitious, very focused."

"And Talia?"

"Tonia," she corrected. "Antonia Michelle. She's doing a semester in Germany, in Munich. She's doing very well. We're close."

The word sounded like "closed" and that bothered her, so she asked, "And you've never had any kids? No little bastard Jacks running around?"

He smiled. "I had myself snipped twenty years ago. There are no little bastard Jacks."

She was surprised. "You didn't tell me before."

"You didn't ask. You said you were okay, so I didn't mention it."

The thought of his infertility pained her. She so clearly remembered that day, watching his semen spurt into the river and knowing very well what it was and what it represented. It seemed cruel now that he should be vasectomized and sterile. The world needed more little Jacks running about like demented elves and shaking people up. She felt sad for Tonia, who would never know the wonderful madness she herself had known with him.

"And you never married?"

"I never said that. I was married twice. For three weeks the first time, eight months the second. No—nine. Nine months."

She laughed. "You're serious?"

He nodded. "I tried to do the right thing. I really did. They wanted to get married, so I figured they knew what they were doing. Maybe they did, but I didn't. I just couldn't do marriage. You knew that. That's why you left."

She looked at him with new respect, surprised that he understood. This wasn't the old Jack, the one she'd known.

"You've changed," she said. "Not all of you, thank God, but some of you."

He smiled. It was a smile in which that wild mischief still lived, but subdued, toned down by a kind of shy sadness.

"We get deeper as we age, don't we? Everything slows down and gets deeper."

So he could acknowledge pain. She hadn't known if he ever could when they were younger, and now the realization that he did made her happy and sad at the same time.

She turned back to the window and looked out.

"Do you still tell stories?"

"Stories?"

She smiled. "That's what you used to call them. Remember you used to tell me about paintings and pictures, what they meant and what the artist was trying to do. Why they worked or why they didn't. You even used to critique wrapping paper. I used to love your stories."

He laughed. "Did I? I didn't know. What an insufferable son of a bitch I was, huh?"

"So you don't do that anymore?"

"I guess not. Who would I tell? You were the only one who would ever put up with me."

She stood up a little straighter. She saw herself smile in the dark window. "I used to love your stories. You taught me so much."

He started to say something then stopped. "It would have been better if I'd talked less and listened more."

"Can you tell me one now?" she asked. "I want to know why the snow's so beautiful. Why it breaks my heart. Do you know?"

He put his head back against the wall and looked at her to see if she were serious. "Yes. I know. Do you really want to hear?"

"Yes."

"Because it covers everything and makes it all go away. It's the world's way of hiding everything and making us pay attention to what's really important."

She said nothing, and he felt a moment of awkwardness, like he'd said too much.

"So where did you say you lived now?" he asked. "New York, right? The city?"

"Outside the city. About an hour and a half. It's a nice little town of overachieving exurbanites who have no time to enjoy it. Our street had a two-drink minimum. Most parts of town it's more."

He'd noticed her drinking at dinner. He'd noticed the bottle of scotch on the dresser too, and knew she'd been drinking before he'd arrived, but he hadn't said anything. He'd been nervous too, and she'd put up with far worse from him when they'd been together.

"You lived in a big house, didn't you? I remember that Christmas card you sent me. It looked like it was from a John Hughes film."

She laughed. "The Mansion of Emptiness. No, we sold the place during the divorce. Michael moved to California and what was I going to do with it? I live in a condo now. It's plenty for me, and it's pretty nice around there. There's woods and a river right near by."

"A river," he repeated. "Does it have a name?"

"No. It's not that kind of river. A creek, really."

"Does it snow?"

"Yes," she said. "It snows all the time."

She cast one last glance at the scene outside and saw two people strolling across the street, holding hands and headed for the park, and then she couldn't look anymore.

She turned and sat down in one of the chairs and was going to cross her legs, but didn't know how. If she pulled the robe aside, it would look like she was flirting. If she arranged the robe over her legs it would look like she was being modest. She gave up on crossing her legs and sat with her knees together.

He seemed to know exactly what was going on and he smiled in sympathy.

"And you?" she asked, to change the subject. "You're still in the same place?"

"Not quite. I took that storefront down the block, remember? The place where Posner used to have his used bookstore? I just told you about it at dinner. Studio in front, I live in the back."

"Oh, right, right. The bookstore."

He realized she hadn't heard a word he'd said at dinner. She'd picked at her food and had eyed the wine with such hunger that he'd insisted on buying another bottle, for which she'd been touchingly grateful. He'd let her have it and then covered the awkwardness by making a show of eating her meal as well as his own. It had made her smile. His hunger had always been a private joke between them.

"It's funny," he said. "When we were kids, I thought all I'd have to do was make a name for myself in the art world and that would be it. I'd be on easy street for life after that, with commissions and sales rolling in. It's hasn't been like that. It hasn't been like that at all."

"But you're doing all right?"

"I get by. But it's hustle here and hustle there."

"I saw that spread on you in Modern Art Quarterly."

"Yeah." He looked at her. "What did you think?"

"Of the article?"

He shook his head.

"The paintings? I thought they were magnificent, Jack—I've always thought your stuff was magnificent. But when did you start using all those grays? Everything was always black and white."

He watched her for a while, then said. "The park. From that day in the park."

Peggy dropped her eyes to her lap where she smoothed out her robe on her thighs as if the wrinkles suddenly bothered her. She tried to think of something else to say, but it was no good, and her memory of the day came flooding back to her—her misery when he'd left, her sudden emptiness and confusion. She tried to say something but her throat wouldn't work, and she felt the tears well up as she remembered him walking away from her.

He stood up and got out of bed and she was afraid he was going to comfort her, but mercifully he didn't. He would leave her free to feel what she needed to feel as he'd always done, whether due to his understanding or to his indifference she could never decide, but she was grateful that he never interfered. He would wait till she was ready.

He went naked to the dresser and poured them both some scotch in the plastic hotel cups, handed her a drink and then picked up his jacket and rummaged through the pockets until he found his cigarettes. He took one out and lit it, inhaled, and then blew out the smoke with an exaggerated sigh of satisfaction.

He picked up his glass. "To us, Peggy," he said.

It was only a toast, she told herself. It meant nothing. The messed bed where they'd made love looked at her accusingly, but then the sight of him standing there naked with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, his poor little cock all shrunken and silly, made her smile. He'd grown thicker with the years and heavier, but he was still so Jack.

He took another drag and then walked into the bathroom and she heard the butt hiss in the toilet.

"I drink too much," she said, as if that was the reason for her crying, as if she could fool him. "I worry about it."

He came in and sat on the edge of the bed near her but didn't say anything. Peggy passed her knuckles under her eyes, looking for tears. "I drink a bottle of wine a day, most days. It's the only way I can get to sleep. Do you have trouble sleeping, Jack?"

He sat with his arms on his knees, looking at her. He shrugged.

"No," she tried out a little laugh. "You never had trouble sleeping. I was always the one. I was the one who'd wake up in the middle of the night worrying about things."

He smiled. "You were a worrier," he said softly. "Still are, aren't you, precious?"

The sound of the word was too much for her. She turned her helpless eyes on him and no longer fought to keep things inside. She felt the tears, hot and clean on her lashes and she stood aside and let them come.

He would let her cry. Her emotions never frightened him, not like they'd frightened the other men in her life.

"Did you hate me, Jack? All these years and I thought you must hate me for what I did, for being so selfish and leaving you like that. So many times I wanted to call you and talk to you but I was always so afraid you hated me."

He gazed at her now and his eyes were soft. It was an expression she'd never seen on him before—one she'd longed to see but never had, but she saw it now: sadness, regret, understanding.

"No. I never hated you. And you weren't selfish, no more than I was. We both did what we had to do. I never hated you, Peggy. Not for an instant."

She wanted to say it then. She wanted to tell him how she felt about him, how she'd always felt about him, but it was if her jaws were wired shut and she just couldn't get her teeth apart. So he said it for her.

"I love you, Peggy. I always have, even while you were gone. When you love someone like that, even a break-up doesn't change things. I loved you that day on the bridge, and I loved you while you were gone. That part of me hasn't changed. The way I show it—I hope that has, but not the feeling."

That was not the Jack she knew. That was not the Jack she'd expected. The glass of whisky shook as he took it from her hand and lifted her up and out of her chair.

"Jack..."

"Shhh."

He put his arms around her and she melted against him. An instant—she would give him just an instant to hold her and make her remember his body, the feel of his embrace, but all she could think about were the snowflakes falling on the river, dissolving and losing themselves. She didn't want to come back to herself. He led her to the bed.

"Jack..."

"Come on. The woman I just made love to wasn't Peggy. She was someone from out of town here for her niece's wedding, looking up an old flame for a fuck for old times' sake. I want Peggy now, the real thing. I know she's in there somewhere."

He sat down on the bed and pulled her close so that she stood between his legs. He peeled her robe down off her shoulders and she blushed, frightened at what he would see, what he hadn't had time to look it the first time—her mother's body, the twenty-four years of use, the body Michael had rejected. She felt his gaze on her and she watched his face, his eyes as they remembered her and compared her to the woman who stood before him now.

He smiled. There was that same appreciation in his eyes that had always embarrassed her and given her such joy, and she sighed in relief as his hands traced over where his eyes had just been, sculpting her curves as if looking hadn't been enough, his hands needed to confirm it was her.

He pulled her down onto the bed and rolled her over onto her back, and when he kissed her, her own hunger caught her by surprise. She put her arm around his back and pulled him against her, kissing him fiercely, her other hand on his cheek as if to hold him there.

She'd never felt like this when she'd been younger, when sex and love had seemed so easy and effortless, but now something inside her needed him, needed something from his kiss, and her fingers trembled with desperate urgency as she touched him and opened her mouth to his tongue.

When he pulled his mouth away from hers she cried out at the loss.

His eyes glowed as he looked at her. "Yes," he whispered. "There you are. There's my Peggy."

She leaped into the kiss again, making no attempt to contain her passion. He understood her in bed. He'd always understood her then and he understood her now as he let her devour his mouth, kissing her back and licking her lips when he could. He lifted himself up and laid his weight on her, and she felt his cock pressing against her thigh.

"Where's the smile?" he asked, lifting his head. "You always used to smile when we fucked, did you know that?"

She was fighting for control and she didn't want to talk, she didn't want to reminisce. She needed him here and now, just as they were. "Did I? Did I really?"

He nodded solemnly. "You were always smiling. Don't you remember?"

She smiled now, then laughed. She filled her hands with his hair and pulled his mouth to hers again, and she told him who she was now and how she wanted him, how she'd missed him—Jack, her Jack. She kissed him and bit his lips and felt him smiling back at her.

He'd been right. Everything was deeper now, everything meant more than it had when they were young. There was excitement, but there was something heavier and more urgent too, something she hadn't felt when they'd just made love before.

She wanted him inside, but it was as if her body was unsure. A modesty had taken possession of her, and it wasn't until she felt his hand between her legs that she was able to open her thighs for him. His finger right there, curious, loving, the way he'd always touched her, like she was a piece of art. He raised himself up on his arms and she waited breathlessly for him, her legs spread, her hands trembling uncertainly against her breasts.

"So quick?" he asked. "Don't you want to see all my tricks? All the things I can do?"

"Oh Jack, don't tease!" she breathed harshly. "Don't tease me now."

His smile faded as he looked at her and their eyes met—his gray eyes, the color of the river. She saw into their depths and felt herself dissolve, felt a surge of melting excitement in her belly and between her legs like she'd never felt before. He raised his chest and she gripped his arms, opened her legs wider and felt him nudge against her delicate flesh, then glide effortlessly inside, making her cry out in sheer pleasure. Her hips automatically surged upwards, engulfing and possessing him

"Oh Christ, yes!" He whispered it against her neck as he sunk into her.

Peggy took him inside, into that space that was only his. It was if she'd walked around all these years with an emptiness strapped to her, an emptiness only he could fill, and now that he was there again the emptiness was gone and she felt full and wonderfully complete. She put one hand on the back of his neck and hid her face in his shoulder, not wanting to cry now, not when it was all so good.

But she couldn't help it, couldn't stop the tears that fell even as her mouth spread wide in a smile of fierce and triumphant joy—the way he needed her, the way he made her feel like there was nothing in the world for him but her, the terrible comfort of her body.

She remembered the boy, his insatiable hunger for everything. That hunger was still there, but now it was all for her. The force of his pleasure intoxicated her, made her bold and turned her into a whore for him.

"Hard, Jack! Hard!" she whispered as he began to fuck her. "Fuck me hard!"

It hadn't been like this when they'd been young., It hadn't meant anything then, not like it did now, and he fucked her with a fury that felt like love, a fury she needed to match her own, as if he could batter through all the time and all the distance and reach her pure heart again. He fucked her so hard the big hotel bed creaked and Peggy reached above her head and gripped the headboard to hold herself steady, exposing her entire body to him to do what he would. She felt herself dissolving, disappearing into the blazing force of his lust, and it felt glorious. He was freedom, he was completion, he was delicious oblivion.

When he reared up and grabbed her wrists she cried out in surprise but his savagery and selfishness only made her hotter. She looked up into his face and saw that he wasn't smiling anymore, that he was fierce and choking with need, and that did it for her—how he needed her, how he'd always needed her, and how she needed him. Jack lowered his head and growled, plowed into her hard, crushing his body against hers and she felt him jerk and spit as he held her down and gave her his shuddering, wracking release, sobbing and moaning into her neck.

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