tagRomanceThe Perfect Pieces Ch. 11

The Perfect Pieces Ch. 11


Author's note: Chapter 11 of 13. Thank you Tim413413 for selfless editing.

The Perfect Pieces - Chapter 11

The smell of coffee woke me from my uncomfortable slumber. Amber was in the kitchen, once again in my robe. She smiled when she saw me sit up. "Lizzy is still asleep," she whispered and pointed to the porch door. I stood, stretched some couch kinks out of my muscles and followed her and the coffee to the porch. She handed me a cup when I sat down.

"Good morning," Amber said when she caught my eyes. Deja vu. She had recreated our previous mornings down to the robe.

"Good morning," I returned as I sipped from my cup. I was engaging my defenses. They were weak. I kept thinking she was naked under the robe. Visions of laughing in the shower were running through my mind. It would be easier if she was pointing a gun at me. At least I would know where I stood.

"I never lied when I said I liked it out here," Amber pointed out. Her voice was even, as if it was natural to point out the truth from the lies. My mouth almost jumped ahead of my brain. I forced it to not spill out the lies she had told me. We both knew what they were. It was a pretty morning and I had a pretty girl in a robe serving me coffee. I would just stick to the present.

"It is nice," my mouth surrendered. I took another sip to reward it for its cooperation. We spent a moment soaking in nature.

"The river looks lower," Amber observed.

"It always drops in the summer," I said, "the fall rains will fill it up again." The talk never strayed past the observable. Comfort hadn't returned to us. It was my fault for not letting it back in. We enjoyed the coffee. We enjoyed nature. We tolerated each other.

"Mom!" The hysterical scream came from Lizzy, inside the house. I moved quicker than Amber, dropping my coffee and sprinting through the door. Lizzy, in tears, was shaking in front of the couch. I looked quickly for a threat and saw none. She dove into me, wrapping her arms around my waist, burying her head into my stomach.

"What's wrong?" I asked too loudly.

"I thought...you... left me," Lizzy stuttered through her tears. My muscles relaxed and Amber kneeled down next me. I let out the breath I was holding. I tried to push back the memory of burning children.

"We were just on the porch," Amber smiled, caressing the back of Lizzy's head. Lizzy moved from me to Amber and lodged herself in her mother's arms. I sat on the couch, trying to force my heart to slow down. She had woken in a strange house. No one was dying. I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. Too much adrenaline first thing in the morning. I opened my eyes to see both girls staring at me.

"I'm sorry I scared you," Lizzy said. Her fear was replaced by worry. I couldn't help it, I laughed. I guess it was the right thing to do. Amber and Lizzy started laughing. Amber tickled Lizzy to make her laugh harder. All terror forgotten, we moved on to breakfast. Cereal, as I promised.

It was strange. When I was alone with Amber, there was an awkwardness that prevailed. When Lizzy was present, it was forgotten and ease replaced it. Lizzy was a buffer that forced us, me in particular, to shove aside our misgivings and live in the now. My choices of cereal were adequate, but not top-list. We all went through our favorites. Mine, Raisin Bran, was on the table. It obviously didn't have a high enough sugar content for Lizzy. She leaned toward Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch and Amber liked Cinnamon Chex. We gathered votes on other brands and finally decided we would need to go shopping in town. Amber was smiling during the whole conversation. I think she liked the domesticity of it all. I watched her eyes travel between Lizzy and me, watching how we reacted to each other. I was more confused than ever. Amber was a million people rolled into one.

Lizzy, on the other hand, was easy to define. She never camouflaged her desires. She made them quite clear and explained them in detail. I knew more about her in less than one day than I knew of her mother. I didn't even know Amber's favorite color.

We spent the morning on the bee. I found a pair of safety glasses for Lizzy. I had to use a rubber band to get them to stay on her head. She looked like a bug herself. We went through a lot of scrap glass teaching her how to cut. She was determined to cut out the pieces herself even if it was frustrating to learn. I remained surprisingly patient. Her determination excited me. Once we got past the part of her trying to use the cutter like a pencil, she got the hang of it. Her favorite part was breaking the glass. She was way too young and I spent most of time making sure my fingers were at risk instead of hers. It took the better part of the morning to cut out the pieces.

"Why don't I take you ladies out for lunch?" I said, "we can hit the grocery store and stock up on things like Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch." I had an ulterior motive. We needed to pick up some lead-free solder. There was no way I was going to have Lizzy working with lead at her age. The soldering iron would be set higher, but possible burns are better than brain damage.

"I'm hungry," Lizzy said. I could tell she liked the idea of the grocery store as well. She looked up at her mom. Amber had been standing back, allowing me to help Lizzy. Her smile never left her as she watched us work. She liked that I was bonding with Lizzy. I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, but Lizzy liked working with glass. The thought of not helping her never entered my mind.

"Lunch would be wonderful, Mark," Amber agreed. Her eyes even smiled at me. I wished I knew if she was acting or not. I wanted to trust the smile. I started toward the door and Lizzy ran up next to me and grabbed my hand.

"Do I glue the pieces together next?" Lizzy asked as she settled in to my pace.

"In a way," I replied. I had trouble not being enthused by her enthusiasm, "you have to grind the pieces smooth first. Then you melt metal and use that like glue."

"Oh," Lizzy said as her mind tried to envisioned it. "I'm going to need help the first time." She said as if I was planning to leave it to her. I smiled and squeezed her hand. She was as bad as her mother, though I was sure she wasn't acting. I glanced back at Amber who was wiping at her eyes. She straightened quickly when she saw me. I pretended not to notice as I led them back to the house.

"Tracy, this is Amber and Lizzy." I introduced the two to my favorite glass proprietor. Lizzy's eyes went wide at all the stuff in the store. "Lizzy needs some lead-free solder."

"What are you making?" Tracy asked Lizzy, like a kindergarten teacher. Lizzy seemed drawn to the voice.

"A bee," Lizzy responded, "I have to grind it next." Tracy's face lit up which forced a big smile from Lizzy.

"My, my you do know what you're doing," Tracy complimented.

"Mark is helping me," Lizzy said, pointing at me.

"Well then, you have an excellent teacher," Tracy returned, "come on, you can pick out the solder." Lizzy, with no trepidation, left us to follow Tracy. I would have figured a woman as large as Tracy would have been frightening to a child. Obviously, Tracy had experience with kids.

"Thank you," Amber whispered when the two were out of earshot. I turned and was surprised by a kiss on my cheek. If it would have been on my lips I would have pushed her off. I wasn't ready to resume that type of contact. Amber knew that. I wish I knew if she was acting.

"For what?" I asked, trying to suppress the smile the kiss caused.

"For Lizzy," Amber replied, "for not ignoring her." She paused a moment, "For liking her." It was such a strange statement. What was not to like? Lizzy was honest and really liked glass. She was a bit gabby, but never repeated herself so it wasn't boring.

"She's wonderful, why wouldn't I like her?" I asked. What followed caught me by surprise. I didn't push her off. I should have, but her lips were so wonderfully soft. Exactly how I remembered them, before I knew the lies. The sneak attack was completely unfair and I had no defense. I surrendered without a word. She pulled back with dreams in her eyes. I've seen glass like that, perfect pieces that required no cutting. I was trusting the lies.

"That's how I remember you," Amber said and then moved down one of the aisles to follow after Lizzy. I watched her walk away, my heart cracking through its hardened shell. I couldn't help thinking I was being used again. I couldn't help thinking I liked it.

Lizzy ran out with a spool of solder and a set of small gloves. "Tracy gave me gloves," Lizzy announced. They were extra small, heat-resistant gloves. Tracy was worried about the soldering iron. I should have thought of it myself. I knew better than to try to pay for the gift. It would have insulted Tracy.

"I told you this is the best glass store in the world," I said, smiling at Tracy. I could pad the bill though. "I think there are other patterns you might like," I added, pointing Lizzy at the racks of magazines and patterns. Lizzy ran. Amber followed, her damn smile slaughtering what was left of my common sense.

"You have a budding artist on your hands," Tracy said.

"She seems to enjoy it." I nodded.

"You seem to enjoy her mother," Tracy whispered. She broke right through the shop keeper, patron protocol and spoke like a friend. I supposed she was. I hadn't realized it before. I liked Tracy. Lying didn't seem right.

"Yes," I said. I looked at Amber helping Lizzy go through the patterns, feeding off her excitement. "as much as I fight it, I do."

"She's very lucky," Tracy commented. She turned and walked away before I could respond. I wasn't anyone's luck. I wasn't even a good consolation prize. Tracy had no idea what she was saying. I smiled to myself. Only a friend would look past my failings. Frank, Gabby and Tracy. I guess I could add Lizzy to the list as well. Somehow, I had doubled the number of my friends in a couple of weeks. I wasn't sure where to place Amber. Friend, foe, it was so confusing. Lover, yes I would put her there. That kiss was definitely lover-like. It might have been an Oscar-worthy performance, but it felt...trustworthy.

"Mark?" Amber called. She was almost laughing at me. I realized it was not the first time she called my name. "Lizzy wants you to help her pick one of these." Amber held up three different suncatcher patterns. A simple bird, a funky fish and Mickey Mouse. I pulled my head from my thoughts.

"Well, we must keep Mickey," I said, stroking my chin like the thinking man, "heck, I can't decide. Let's get them all." Lizzy looked pleading at her mother.

"Are you sure?" Amber asked with humor in her voice.

"Yes," I announced, "and we must find glass for Mickey. I don't think I have a good black for him." Lizzy looked like it was Christmas. Her smile was as wonderful as her mother's. I was completely outnumbered.

Lizzy insisted on carrying the glass to the car. It was well wrapped, but I fought the fear of it hitting the pavement the whole way. Lizzy put it in the car without incident, and Amber gave me a private laugh. She had seen the fear in my eyes. It had amused her. I have to admit, I liked her amused. Even if it was at my expense.

Lunch was way too comfortable. Lizzy spent most of the meal trying to coax a better description of soldering from me. Amber leaned into me more than she should, and less than I desired. My hand found hers under that table and I knew I had fully given up the battle. We all shared a slice of apple pie to end the meal.

I had never filled a full grocery cart in my life. Of course, I had never had a child come with me. Somehow, Lizzy's desires overshadowed what little common sense I had left. If Amber wasn't reining her in, we would have filled two carts. I wasn't sure about the frozen pizza rolls. They looked more like cardboard than food. Lizzy insisted they were delicious.

We loaded up our booty and headed back to the house. Amber's magic touch ran out and we had to turn off the radio. We talked about what was on Nickelodeon. A station I barely knew existed. It seemed to have kid comedies that Lizzy knew every nuance about. I was enjoying asking in-depth questions about characters I couldn't care less about. Her detailed explanations of their relationship was well beyond her years. I thought I was teasing with each question. She would just go into a deeper explanation. I came away impressed and also thought she spent way too much time in front of the TV.

Amber put Lizzy in the tub as I began to unpack the groceries. I laughed to myself at all the crap we bought. It was actually kind of fun to pick things out by the colorful pictures instead of relying on past experience or healthiness. I pulled out a box I didn't remember putting into the cart. Ultra thin condoms. They supposedly felt more natural and increased male pleasure. A shiver ran down my spine when I felt a hand caress the back of my neck.

"No matter what happens, I still love you," Amber whispered in my ear. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say that would quell the desire that awoke in me. I loved a woman I couldn't trust. It was wonderfully horrible. I turned into her and let her eyes suck me in. I was lost in her web and no longer desired to break away. Her lips were so wonderful, her tongue so much fun. The giggles she emitted where music to my ears. She pushed me lovingly away.

"Let's get Lizzy to bed," she said, her smile promising everything, "then we'll see if two can fit on the couch."

Dinner took way too long. Lizzy was way too awake. Amber mercilessly teased me when Lizzy's eyes were turned. Finally, I settled myself down and knew that Amber would be there even if Lizzy stayed up half the night. I decided on a little revenge. I pulled out a deck of cards and taught Lizzy crazy eights. I loved the surprise on Amber's face when I kept Lizzy up a little longer. Lizzy, of course, thought it wonderful.

It was past eleven when Lizzy finally fell asleep. While Amber was getting her tucked in, I pushed the coffee table away from the couch and spread a quilt on the rug. I added a few more pillows, sheets and a blanket - it looked like a passable bed. The couch was way too cramped. I turned off the lights except a small one in the kitchen.

"I thought you were going to keep her up all night," Amber joked as she came around the couch in a t-shirt and I hoped, nothing else. She smiled when she saw the makeshift bed. "That looks comfy."

"Best I can do on short notice," I said as I pulled back the blanket to welcome her in. She shimmied in beside me, making sure her legs found mine. She laughed when a tremor ran up my spine as her thigh caressed mine. How I missed that laugh.

"Do you love me again?" Amber whispered. Now I laughed.

"I never stopped," I replied, "even when you made it difficult." The humor left her face. Confusion replaced it and I found it concerning. I ran my fingers along her cheek, pushing her hair behind her ear. "Love was never the problem," I restated. She kissed me. Love was not a problem at all.

Sex with a little girl sleeping in the next room is a challenge. There was a whole bunch of 'shushing' and muffled laughter. Luckily, we didn't need to worry about a squeaky bed. I forgot about the deceit and fully enjoyed being with Amber. It was so wonderful to be between her legs again, her desire feeding my own. And that laughter. We weren't just having sex, we were sharing fun. I decided it was worth all the lies. I knew I was an idiot and decided to live with my stupidity.

The next two days were a slice of heaven. The bee ended up a little lopsided, the shapes not quite lining up. Lizzy thought it was perfect so I squinted my eyes and agreed. We hung it in the kitchen window next to her purple flower. She was hooked and wanted to start on a fish pattern immediately. I had visions of every window in the house covered in suncatchers. It wasn't an unpleasant thought.

We went for walks, the three of us. Lizzy liked the woods after growing up in the desert. She had a few issues with the bugs, but got over that pretty quickly. Her favorite part was walking along the river, poking into the water with a stick. Once in awhile she would scare a frog whose leaping enthralled her.

Amber continued to enthrall me. We were back to how we began. If you removed the rest of the world and our pasts, we were perfect for each other. I grounded her and she made me fly. Somewhere in the middle, a wonderful union emerged. I cherished it.

My phone vibrated one afternoon, while we were having a picnic on the river. I looked at the caller ID. It was Frank. "It's the Wilkersons," I lied as I stood up, "I hope nothing happened to the window." I walked off, Amber unaware of my deceit.

The call was confusing. I had suspected Amber hadn't given me the whole truth, but these lies were completely unexpected. I could almost understand her previous dishonesty. This I didn't understand at all. I walked for a moment after the call had ended. Frank held the opinion that Amber was insane. I wasn't sure if it was far from the truth. I placed another call, one I did not want to make. I had to do it.

I returned to lunch as if nothing had happened. A confrontation in front of Lizzy would have made things worse. I watched Lizzy throwing little pieces of her sandwich into the river. There was a school of small fish fighting for the scraps. She had wormed her way into my care and now I worried about her. I loved her insane mother and, in turn, had begun to love her as well. She was bright, happy and loved glass. What more can anyone ask of a child? I wondered if Amber lied to her as well. They seemed to be comfortable with each other. Lizzy trusted her mother freely with no visible reservations. I wondered if she was somehow shielded from the lies.

"Mark?" Amber called. It wasn't the first time. I shook off my thoughts and smiled.

"Sorry, I was thinking."

"Dreaming more like," Amber said, handing me the other half of my sandwich. She followed it with a quick kiss that I trusted. She loved me. I knew that much. "At least eat some of it, honey," Amber called to Lizzy. Lizzy took another bite and then began feeding the fish again. I liked it here, right now. I didn't want it to end.

"I love you," I said out loud. Lizzy froze, smiling at me and her mother. Amber saw something in my eyes and knew my words had deeper meaning. There was no humor in the kiss, just love. I could feel her trepidation as our lips joined. I said too much.

"Honey, can you move back for the water a little?" Amber asked. Lizzy scooted a foot away from the end of the dock. "Mark and I are going to take a little walk. We will be right back."

"Okay," Lizzy said and tossed more of her sandwich to the fish. The fish, bluegill I thought, were becoming active now. They would actually break out of the water to get to the pieces. Lizzy certainly found it entertaining.

Amber took my hand and we walked slowly away from the dock. Out of earshot. A tear ran down her cheek as we walked. She knew the call wasn't from the Wilkersons.

"Do you want me to leave?" Amber asked me. She was looking at the trees, her eyes not wanting to find mine. I half knew why she did what she did. The rest must be her insanity. I stopped walking and pulled her to me.

"Why did you tell me Pablo was dead?" I asked. My tone was hopefully loving. I watched her eyes fill.

"You need to save me," Amber cried, "it's what you do." I pulled her into my arms and held her as she sobbed. I must admit, I liked the idea of saving her. She had that right. It just wasn't necessary. I must be bad at this loving thing if she thought saving her was a requirement. "You would have never let me back...after what I did."

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