tagRomanceWalking into Fire Ch. 02

Walking into Fire Ch. 02

byknitedreams©

On the seventh night of Danny's week with Jessie, he found himself between a rock and a hard place when it came to his lover. He wanted to marry her, but couldn't broach the topic until the next day. Furthermore, he had no idea what would happen after their week together. He wondered if she would still talk to him and give him a chance to at least bring up a provisional boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Danny needed to talk to someone who could help him sort things out.

Tessa had dropped Duncan off at the firehouse for the night shift, and Danny intercepted her before she left to ask her to go somewhere they could talk. His favorite bar seemed like the ideal location; there was little chance that Jessie would walk in, because she disliked the place.

The bar was quiet and mostly empty. Perfect for a friendly chat. He moodily contemplated the amber depths of the beer he was cradling between his hands. Tessa sat beside him, patiently waiting for him to say or do something.

At last he broke his brooding silence. "Seven days are up tonight. I know she cares for me, at least, but won't budge on commitment."

She sipped delicately at her virgin strawberry daiquiri, knowing that he was talking about Jessie. He was in a bad state of affairs: a lovesick man chasing after a commitment-phobic woman. Granted, he was the reason that the woman had a strong bias against getting hitched, but it was still tough to witness.

Her mind momentarily drifted to her own relationship. Was it healthy to still be boyfriend and girlfriend after three years and still live apart? Was moving in together the next step they should take, or should Duncan have proposed to her a while ago? Should she be the one to propose? Tessa mentally shrugged. It didn't really matter as long as they were comfortable. All that loss of freedom would have felt too constricting to them. Although she was satisfied with that logic, a seed of doubt still nagged at her.

Danny interrupted her reverie. "I want to fulfill her every sexual fantasy for the rest of her life," he complained, "and she only wants me for seven days. What's a guy supposed to do?"

He chugged what was left of his beer and slammed down the empty glass. The bartender, a buff man with thick arms and an unamused look on his face grunted his displeasure. "Another one?"

Danny glared at the man. "Of course another one. Keep them coming, I'm drowning my sorrows here!"

Tessa gave the bartender an apologetic smile and shrugged helplessly, making a mental note to give the man a really good tip. She turned to Danny, who was glowering at his new beer. "You say you love her and you're frustrated that she won't budge on the commitment. I think you're being ridiculous and impatient."

He turned his wrath-filled eyes on her. "I thought you were my friend. Aren't you supposed to help me -- a little insider information and all that? You've known her forever."

She snorted into her daiquiri. "I did say I would help, but I didn't say that I would spell it out for you. A man who truly loves someone would know every detail about that person and remember most of everything she ever gave you or said to you. It seems you have no clue what's on her mind or how she thinks. You could probably give me intimate physical details about her that I would never want to know."

A flash of lust filled his deep brown eyes as he recalled every intimacy he'd shared with Jessie the last six nights. "Right down to the mole that's wedged..."

"I said I didn't want to know!" she interrupted with a disgusted shout that broke up more than a few conversations around them. In a quieter tone she continued, "Do you remember anything that's not physical?"

His confused expression made her sigh in irritation. If they couldn't see it with their eyes, men were oblivious to it. She came to terms with the fact that she was going to have to spell out certain things to help him in his quest to capture her friend in the ultimate commitment.

"What is her personality like? What things does she like?"

Danny thought for a while, taking a distracted swig of his beer. "She's definitely acting differently than she did back in high school."

Tessa nodded slowly and gestured encouragingly for him to continue. Instead, he smiled at her as if he had just won the Nobel Prize in female psychology. The man was either buzzed and his brain numb or he actually thought that his short sentence was an insightful observation for an infatuated gentleman.

"Different in what way?" she asked.

His brow wrinkled as a thought occurred to him. "She never used to be so...so man-crazy. She was pretty hostile to every guy that showed an interest in her. After we met, the only guy she let near her was me, because she knew I didn't view her as a challenge. I always thought it was because that jerk who called me a monster in eighth grade also hurt her with that 'my daddy said women have to do what men say' crap."

She patted his back, letting him know that he was doing well. "Progress, my good man. Now lets analyze and explore."

"You mean I'm not done?" His incredulous tone spoke of his disbelief that women could be so complex.

"No, you're not done. You were on the right track, but your last sentence was off. You have to understand the root of the problem before you can tackle anything."

An idea came to her. "I thought there was to be no talk of commitment, no persuasion towards that direction during the seven days. Isn't that what you agreed to?"

Danny sighed and downed half his drink. "Yep. That's what I agreed to."

"You broke the 'no talking about commitment' deal and she didn't throw you out? Every lover that's talked about, hinted to, or even flat out asked about commitment she's immediately thrown out. The 'C' word and any word related to it seem to make her ill." Tessa tried to reason it out in her head. Maybe anything commitment related coming from Danny was the only thing to cure Jessie's commitment-phobia?

"I haven't said a word about the big 'C.' It's just been sex." He paused and sighed again. "Let me rephrase...sex on her part, lovemaking on mine."

"What the hell are we doing here? Why the hell are you moaning over your beer about if you haven't even tried to talk to her about forgiving you and giving you another chance at a relationship yet?" She was obviously at a loss as to why Danny was lamenting now instead of the next day when his sexual week with Jessie would be up and she would inevitably refuse his relationship request.

"I've been pouring my heart out every time I make love to her. You know, communication using my body," he said, brushing aside her incredulous questioning.

That statement was too reminiscent of the first thing Jessie told her about men during Tessa's own seduction of Duncan: Men aren't big on words; they're big on actions. "I think your body lingo goes over her head," she said. "When a woman's in the middle of having sex, she isn't going to know that a certain way you squeeze her boob means you love her and want to marry her. If she's thinking while you're sexing her up, you're doing something wrong. Am I right?"

Danny looked at her mutely.

Tessa tried again. "If you're thinking of something other than the feeling of her wrapped around you, that's a bad thing. Right?"

He grudgingly nodded agreement. It might not be true for all men, but it was certainly true for him.

"Trust me, women aren't all that different from men in some aspects. If you love her and you want to marry her, you have to tell her in plain words." Tessa took a sip of her daiquiri, satisfied that she had proved at least one point.

Danny finished off his beer. "Alright, I'll tell her."

"No."

Confused, he looked at her. "No?"

College should teach this stuff. "She's still going to refuse you. You have to get the upper hand. When you eventually tell her, and she refuses you, you'll be ready to combat the reason behind her refusal."

"It sounds like I'm going into battle, not proposing marriage." He signaled the bartender for another beer.

"If you're not ready to fight for the one you love, then you don't really love her...or something like that. Lets go back to finding her reason for refusing you and then map out your game plan." Tessa signaled the bartender for her own refill and they got to work.

--~~--

Jessie walked into the firehouse more than a little irritated. Danny hadn't shown up at her house at the agreed time. It was already seven, and she was very horny and impatient to use his body. At least, that's what she told herself; she was actually desperate to be in his arms, to pretend he still treasured her, was still in love with her.

Duncan was in the firehouse kitchen, his tall frame taking up every available space the small kitchen had to offer. He was humming an upbeat tune as he made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He was preoccupied, though, and didn't hear Jessie come in.

"Where is he?!" Her question was like a gunshot echoing off the walls.

Duncan gave a start and barely caught the butter knife as it tried to escape to the floor. He looked guilty at being caught in a vulnerable position, his cheeks beginning to flush.

"Jessie, what brings you here?"

"Danny hasn't shown up at my house and he's not answering his cell phone," she snapped. She put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot in agitation.

"I haven't seen him since he ran out of here after his shift. He was acting a little strange."

Duncan resumed making his sandwich as Jessie plopped down on one of the chairs near the open kitchen door, out of Duncan's direct sight. She put her head in her hands. "This is our last night together," she said. "Is he tired of me already?"

Duncan's head peeked around the door. "You're starting to sound a little 'attached' there. You sure he's just another one of your one-week flings?"

"I can care for my flings if I want to. It's not like we're going to break off all communication when it's done with," she said. At least she didn't think they would stop talking to each other, but once the words were out of her mouth, doubt started to creep in.

They had never talked about anything that would happen after the week was over. She knew he wanted something more when they started, but she didn't trust him after the way he had torn out her heart ten years earlier. There was no denying that she still wanted him, though; the chemistry between them was still at least as strong as it was in high school.

She regretted going against her better judgment in proposing their fling. She knew that her old feelings would be rekindled and she would have a hard time letting go of him -- the only man she ever loved and the only man who still had power over her. It was a good thing he didn't know that, she thought to herself.

After ten years, she knew well how to hide her feelings, although she had shed a few tears for Danny in front of Tessa once, before Tessa's horrible accident that left her with a permanent limp. She still thought that the injury was purely her responsibility. If Tessa hadn't been so worried about her, she wouldn't have slid badly into home plate.

At the hospital waiting room that day, Jessie had decided to keep her feelings to herself from then on so that no one else would get hurt because of her. She knew it was an irrational thought, but she didn't want to take any chances with Tessa. Her friend was all she had left in the world.

Jessie's parents had died in a plane crash when she was young. Her grandparents gladly took her in and cared for her until their untimely deaths. A year after graduating high school, her grandfather died of a heart attack and, shortly after, her grandmother died of a broken heart.

In a way, Jessie lived her life through Tessa. Tessa embodied the way her life should have been: blissfully happy with the man she loved. That was the reason Jessie was so adamant that Tessa and Duncan get together. She knew Duncan was a good guy, right for her friend and wouldn't mistreat her in any way. Being a connoisseur of men had its advantages, especially in reading the personalities of the opposite sex.

Jessie could spend her life watching Tessa be happily in love and be content with her personal situation. That was the plan, until recently when Danny walked back into her life. Now she was doubting her happiness. Would she be content to watch her friend eventually get married, possibly have kids, and have the happily-ever-after ending Jessie had wanted for herself so long ago? The answer was a definite and resounding "no."

Unfortunately, she would have to live with the path she had laid out for herself. There was no way she would risk her heart again. She would have to settle for the week of blissful satiation and belonging she felt with Danny and the fleeting ghosts of those same feelings with other men after Danny was long gone.

Her cell phone rang, intruding into her thoughts. She answered absentmindedly, her mind unable to let go of the fact that Danny would be gone after that night.

"Where are you?" The irritated voice gritted out. It was Tessa, Jessie knew, but the ruckus in the background was confusing.

"I'm at the firehouse looking for Danny. Duncan's with me."

"Danny's with me, and we're at your house. I'll trade you one drunken sexual fantasy for my stable, sober boyfriend." There was a mighty grunt on the other end and a groan of pain. "It's your own fault! You're heavy and this is not easy one-handed!"


"What?" Jessie knew that Tessa had not been talking to her and wanted to know what was going on.

"He hit his head on the arm of your couch -- the wooden part. Come home and take care of your drunken slobbering mess." The click on the other end was definite. Tessa was obviously not in the mood to be disobeyed.

Jessie's head slightly turned towards Duncan, taking in the sly smile and amusement in his eyes. "Was that my wayward girlfriend?"

"Yes. Apparently she had to be the designated driver for my very drunken lover." She got up from the chair and made her way out of the firehouse.

Duncan's chuckle and final comment, "Life is never boring in this place," trailed behind her.

--~~--

A crash reverberated from the other side of the door. Jessie's hand was suspended above the doorknob as unintelligible yelling and more crashing sounds ensued. This was surreal, she thought. Her past lovers had never gotten drunk during their week with her. That usually happened after the week was over, and their binge drinking would end with a badly sung love song on her front lawn accompanied by uncontrollable crying. The police might even have a cell set aside especially for her ex-lovers to sleep off their drunken stupors.

She wasn't sure that she should go in, but it was too late. The curtain behind her living room window was jerked aside, and a very haggard and pissed-off Tessa spotted her. The door was jerked open, a hand shot out to snatch her elbow, and Jessie was dragged into her own house faster than a speeding bullet.

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to drag a two-hundred-plus-pound prick from the bar to your house, let alone keeping him from driving to the firehouse to look for you?" Tessa demanded. Her hair was in wild disarray and her right cheek showing the beginnings of a fine bruise. Jessie was impressed that Tessa had been able to keep the prick in check in the half hour it had taken to drive from the station to her house.

She didn't have a clue about what to say to her longtime friend. "I owe you one," she offered tentatively, to see if it would calm her raging comrade.

Tessa jabbed a finger to within centimeters of her nose, a half-crazed look and a twitch flirting about her unnaturally bright blue eyes. "You owe me money -- his bar tab to be exact! I'll collect after this whole mess is over. I'm retreating while I'm still in one piece. The last thing I need is my leg amputated because you two can't sort things out by yourselves." Shoving Jessie aside, she yanked open the door and stormed out as best as her badly throbbing knee would let her.

Jessie stared dumfounded at the destruction in her living room. Hastily, she closed the door. The neighbors didn't need painstakingly detailed information on what it looked like after the commotion. The incident might make the gossip section in the town's morning newspaper. It had happened before.

A low, drown-out groan came from behind her abused couch, which was in a sorry state, askew and with cushions thrown haphazardly in all corners of the room. The hand of what appeared to be a drowning man clutched at the top of the couch and hoisted its attached body up from the depths of the hardwood floor.

As Danny's features came into view, Jessie saw that he was clutching the back of his head with his other hand.

"I have a bump on my head...I think," he groaned as he poked at it and winced as pain shot through his skull. "Definitely a bump." He looked over at Jessie, as if she had been there throughout his ordeal. "Who clonked me?" he demanded

She sighed at the sight of him, a simple sigh of resignation. Exactly what she was resigned to, she hadn't a clue. Moving away from the front door, she went over to help Danny up.

"I expect Tessa thought it necessary to use drastic measures to keep you from leaving," she said, helping him navigate through the mess to the recliner. He plopped down in it like a rag doll, wiggled a bit to get comfortable and closed his eyes.

"Why would I leave?" He mumbled indignantly, clueless as to why Tessa would come up with such a silly notion.

Jessie leaned down and shook his shoulder. He jerked awake, surprised eyes swiveling around the room to rest on her face. She leaned met him eye for eye, hers squinting in suspicion. "Why are you drunk?"

Danny fell back as if wanting to go back to sleep, but he stayed awake, just barely.

"Jess," he said, "I'm an idiot."

"I..." She was about to say that all men were, but he broke in.

"You made me forget, don't you see? I was normal with you, it all went to my head." Danny was getting distraught; his words were slightly slurred, but clear enough. His eyes darted from side to side, searching his brain for the right words to convey his thoughts. Jessie squatted down, placing a gentle hand on his.

"I was so stupid! I couldn't see what I had until it was too late. Barb used my inexperience against me. She said that it wasn't healthy to stick with one girlfriend. Men needed to play the field," he said. "She hinted that I would lose all the friends that I had gained –- I'd never had so many before –- because they would think that I was hiding scared behind you." He wasn't in the present; he was firmly entrenched in the past. The words poured out of him as if he were a sinner confessing his deepest, darkest secrets.

"Never forgotten." He mumbled. "I've never forgotten your face when I broke it off with you. I never paid attention, I didn't know how deep your feelings ran." Danny snorted at what he realized was his own understatement. "Hurting you was the last thing I wanted to do. The minute the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. It felt wrong breaking things off with you...like cutting off an arm. I wanted to take the words back, but couldn't. I've never forgotten the look on your face. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's always haunted me."

He looked directly into her eyes. "Nothing happened with Barb. Her kisses were horrible -- they were wrong. I walked away from her because I couldn't stand her touching me. I had planned on trying to make amends with you. There was no way you were going to take me back, but I needed some connection with you. My mother received her orders from the Air Force before I could do anything."

The more the memories poured out of him, the more sober he became. The truth wouldn't stop flowing from him and he wasn't sure that he wanted to stop it. Tears were streaming down Jessie's face unchecked. The last six days he had doubted that she felt anything other than lust for him, but her tears gave him hope. Maybe she would forgive him. She might give him a second chance, a tentative relationship at first, but once proven that he could be trusted, it might just turn into a strong partnership. Love for him might find it's way into her heart someday.

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