Between the Bars Pt. 04bycarsonshepherd©
"I'll do the dishes, you go write."
I clutched the edge of the table and pretended to swoon. "I've been waiting my whole life to hear those words."
Daniel rolled his eyes and snickered, but in a way, it was true. I pretty much gave up on the relationship thing when Neil moved out. Before that, really. Before he ever moved in. Obviously, there was no man out there who could deal with my need for space and time to myself. They claimed they could. Maybe in the beginning, they even tried; but the accusations always came around like the same song on repeat. "You're self absorbed, you don't care about my needs, you spend more time in front of that computer than you do with me."
Neil used to get so angry with me because I'd spend evenings in my office, where he was not allowed, with the door closed instead of going to clubs with him. "Why do you even want me here?" he asked and in the end, the answer was, I didn't. Maybe Daniel really did understand. Maybe he was the one man who could accept me the way I am but it didn't matter, did it? These few days of constant togetherness pushed us into an accelerated mode and things were moving so much faster than they normally would in the outside world. We'd never relate the same way when it was over, even if we did see each other again, and I doubted we would. It would never work, our lives were too different, we were too different.
But the fact that he'd noticed my distraction while we were eating, the way I flipped through my notebook and stared off into space, and knew I had to write made me feel a spark of hope that there might be someone out there for me after all.
Still, I hesitated. "But what are you going to do?" I asked uncertainly. I'd been made to feel like a shit so many times for wanting to write instead of "spending quality time" with someone that the guilt still lingered.
"Oh, don't worry about me, I can always find something to do." He was already pouring hot water from the pot on the stove into the sink for dishwater and he turned his head and gave me that smile that made my heart skip. Shit, I cringed inwardly. "I'll probably read for awhile. I saw some copies of your books in the bookcase and having time to just sit and read is rare for me. Now would you go?"
Just another second of hesitation because I couldn't quite believe he meant it, but he gave me an expectant look so I grabbed the notebook off the table. God, it had been a long time since I wrote anything longhand, but I used to do it for hours and hours upstairs at my desk, the view from the window nothing but acres of fields, swirling wheat or bright green corn, changing with the seasons. So cold up here, but that was nothing new. I grinned as I dragged the kerosene heater upstairs and set it next to my desk. Grandpa would never let me have it in here because of the risk of fire but now that I could have as much heat as I wanted, I'd long ago decided I was never going to be cold again.
Wrapping a blanket around my feet, I sank down into my old desk chair. At first, I wrote facing the door because I kept glancing up every ten minutes expecting Daniel to come through the door with some excuse to interrupt me, like a cup of tea. That's what Neil used to do and I tried to be nice about it, but it always got on my nerves. If I wanted tea, I would've come downstairs to get it.
After awhile, when Daniel never made the trip upstairs, I relaxed and forgot about it. The next time I looked up with any real awareness of my surroundings the wintry late afternoon light was fading outside. The snowy fields spread in every direction, turning shades of gray and blue; the wind rattled my windowpane and I grinned as I stuffed an old sock along the base of the window to keep out the persistent draft. This old house never changed.
Downstairs, Daniel was curled up on the couch with a quilt and a book in his lap, the oil lamp casting light on the page from behind his shoulder. He smiled when I flopped down next to him and stretched.
"What time is it?"
"Getting close to five." He flipped the book upside down on the coffee table to hold his place. It was one of my earlier works, Dark Beauty. I grimaced.
"That's not a very good one."
"I'm enjoying it." Daniel lifted the edge quilt and I slid under it next to him, snuggling down into the warmth, letting my head fall on his shoulder. He smelled fucking delicious. "Get a lot of work done?" he asked, wrapping his arm around me.
"Hmmm? Oh.... yeah, I guess so." I closed my eyes halfway. I wasn't sleepy, exactly, just still half in my fantasy world, and totally relaxed and content with his warmth surrounding me. As the fireplace crackled and popped, I watched the blue flame lick at the logs through my heavy eyelids. Daniel's thigh pressed against mine under the quilt and I put my hand on it so I could feel the muscle under the smooth, worn denim.
"Whatcha writing about? A strong-minded heroine who bucks social convention and follows her heart?" he grinned.
I laughed. He'd picked up the theme to most of my books quickly.
"No, not this time."
"Well, what is it then? I'm interested."
"Oh... It's stupid really." I blushed and talked too fast, the way I did when I got embarrassed. I hated talking about my work while it was still in the drafting phase, when the idea was so ephemeral that any criticism or negativity could kill it. "Earth has finally used up nearly all its natural resources and so the scientific community sends small groups of researchers into space to explore unknown planets and do experiments and surveys, to see if they can be mined for sources of energy."
"A sci-fi story," Daniel said, smiling with satisfaction. I blushed deeper and nodded.
"Yeah. I mean, it'll never sell or anything, I'm just writing it for fun. I'll probably never finish it."
"Who cares? Tell me more, it sounds interesting."
"Okay." I took a deep breath and plowed on. "So one particular group of scientists are headed to the planet KRS12. There's a malfunction with their craft and it crashes on the planet, and everyone dies except a small boy. He's rescued by the native race on this planet and a family takes him in and raises him as one of their own. He remembers his first name is Duncan but he grows up not knowing anything of who he is, or his parents, or his own race."
"And what is the native race like? Is the planet like Earth?"
"Uh, kind of. The natives call the planet Osari. The basic makeup is like Earth, the atmosphere and all, so the Osarians are very similar to humans." Up until now, I had no idea what the planet was called. It was coming to me in flashes while I talked, like a movie in my head. "But they're different you see, because they've adapted completely to life on their planet, and Osari is mostly covered in water. What land there is, is marshy or rocky."
Daniel smiled, watching the genesis of my inspiration play on my face. I couldn't stop grinning because it was all so vivid and I was exhilarated by the clarity in my mind's eye. This didn't happen very often but when it did, it was very exciting. "And because they're surrounded by water...?"
"They've evolved with gills. They're amphibious." I looked at him and laughed with sheer amazement. "Just how the fuck do you know exactly the right question to ask anyway?"
"I dunno, it just seems obvious," he shrugged.
He pulled his legs up and crossed them underneath him on the couch cushion, leaning forward so the quilt fell off his shoulders. The firelight was an amber glow over his face and while I gazed at him in fascination, a wave of warmth and delight washed over me, so intense and joyous it almost scared me. I caught my breath and for a moment I was literally speechless as our eyes kept meeting, irresistibly drawn together, and I watched the corners of his eyes crinkle into those little laugh lines, and the play of his smile across his kissable lips. They parted and the tip of his pink tongue peeked out to wet them and I knew he could feel my hand trembling slightly on his thigh. I didn't know whether I was happy or totally horrified at these feelings I thought were gone forever.
Shit. Why now? Why him? Why always someone I can't have?
"So," he finally said softly. The resonance was there and I knew that he was deliberately interrupting it, deflecting it. I got the feeling this was just as scary for him as it was for me; we were both fighting it and both slowly losing. "Tell me more about Duncan. How does he fit in with the Osarians, when he can't breathe underwater?"
I pulled my hand off his leg and crossed my arms. Self-preservation, this. We could fuck, but nothing more. "Well, he knows he's different and the other boys torment him. They hold him underwater until he almost drowns and things like that. But his adoptive family has a son, Kai, and they're raised like brothers and they're best friends. Kai will never let anything happen to Duncan. He always seems to appear just in time whenever Duncan's in trouble. It's when they're almost grown that the mining ships from Earth appear." I leaned back against the couch again and shrugged. "That's all I've got so far."
"It's a very good start," Daniel nodded.
"Don't expect a share of the royalties," I joked. "Now, what about that rum and Coke? Did you put the Coke out on the porch to keep it cold?"
"Yeah... that's a good system," he said as he pushed the quilt off and went through the kitchen doorway. I stayed where I was staring at the fire, pulling the quilt up to my neck.
"It's handy on holidays. We put a lot of food out there to stay cold." I laughed at a memory. "One year, Gran had all the pies on the floor out there, and someone left the door open and the dog got in. He ate the middle out of all the pies before we caught him. It was so funny. My poor grandma, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
"Oh no, what did you do?" he called.
"Just cut around the dog-eaten part and ate them anyway." I laughed. City folks would've thrown the pies away and ran to the grocery store to buy more.
A cool glass of rum and Coke slid into my hand and Daniel perched on the coffee table with his drink. I could tell he was getting restless from sitting around the house all day. He wasn't used to being trapped indoors, and even before the ice storm he'd been sitting in a car for a couple of days. The inactivity was starting to bother him.
"So Ry, what about your parents? You never talk about them. I'm guessing this is your dad's family here, since you have their last name?"
"No, my mom's. My parents never got married. That's her and me in that picture." I pointed at a framed picture on the wall of my mom, very young, holding me as a small boy under a tree bright with golden autumn leaves. Her long strawberry hair blew across her face and she was laughing, while I stared into the camera with big serious eyes. Even at that age, I took life very seriously.
"You look like her," he decided after looking at the picture for a minute. The whole wall was covered with pictures and portraits of the whole family, including me. Ugh. I looked so dorky with my red hair and braces. "If you don't mind me asking, how did she die?"
"She's not dead either," I said with a grin. "My whole family is disappointingly alive and well. She just decided I was too much responsibility and I've lived here with my grandparents since I was about eight years old. Right now she lives on some Indian reservation out in Ronan, Montana with some guy I've never met." I shrugged.
"And your dad?"
"Joe Cochran. I don't know him all that well. He used to come around about every summer and take me to Chicago for a week, took me to the museums and theaters and libraries, I guess so I wouldn't be totally uncivilized living out in the cultural desert of Illinois. When I was at Northwestern, he was living in Chicago at the time and I'd see him once a month or so. Right now, he lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and restores old houses. I haven't talked to him in awhile. He's an all right guy, I guess."
"Well, he has an all right son." Daniel smiled at me over his shoulder and I made my heart not do that skipping thing. Oh, damn. "My dad was there, but he wasn't around. At least not much. He was one of those cops who can't do anything but live the job. My mom tried, but she was always locked in the bedroom with a headache. She has some kind of chronic migraine syndrome."
"So you were all by yourself," I said softly.
He paced up and down the room, looking at the pictures on the wall with his arms crossed restlessly over his chest. "No, never. I had to take care of my little sisters. They're twins, five years younger. I barely remember a time when I wasn't changing their diapers, feeding them and helping them with their homework. I fixed more school lunches than my mother did, I'm sure."
"That's a lot of responsibility for a kid." It fit him though, his strength and his independence and his fierce dedication, his need to save the world. But I couldn't help but wonder who was going to save him, what it would take to mend what was broken inside him, that he would never show to anyone.
"Yeah, I guess it is, but I managed." He sat back down on the edge of the coffee table and gulped his drink. "I wasn't like you. I had girlfriends and everything, no boys. I didn't really know why it never seemed right with any of those poor girls. I thought I was going to marry one of them when I got out of the Army."
"So you didn't know?" I asked curiously. I just couldn't reconcile doubt and uncertainty with Daniel, but I knew it was a fact, a condition of being what we are. We all have to travel a road, he'd found his somehow as we all did, gone through the same hell and come out on the other side. My heart just forced me to go through it at a much younger age than he did. "I just can't imagine not even suspecting."
"I knew. I just wouldn't let myself think about it. I thought it would go away if I just ignored it and never acted on it. If I went into the Army and did everything I was supposed to and married a nice girl and had kids, I could just be normal. You know, normal and miserable." He shrugged irritably. "And my dad would've thrown me out if he ever suspected. So, I joined the Army right after high school and got the fuck out of there as fast as I could."
I sat up, close to his knees, and just watched him, just listened. He'd never talked about himself like this before, and he might never again.
"The American public has no idea what really went on over there in the desert." He stopped, and I sat and waited but I didn't ask. I'd known enough Viet Nam vets - friends of my mother's, broken, wandering in and out of my life - to know not to ask. He'd never talk about it. I had a strong urge to wrap my arms around him and hold him but I seriously doubted he'd let me, so I stayed where I was, just waiting for him to talk when he got ready to. When he did, he started at a totally different point, skipping over that part.
"I had a lot of sex while I was in the Army, and when I got out and came back to Tallahassee. It was a thrill and I got addicted to adrenaline over in the Gulf. I became a vice cop just like my old man and I was just like him, married to the job, only with no wife and kids to neglect. Chase bad guys all day and fuck all night and the hell with the danger in either one."
"What finally stopped you?" I asked softly, because it seemed empty and sad as hell to me. Something had changed him, something had anchored him and I was starting to see that the anchor was gone and beneath his world-saving exterior, he was lost.
"Dear old Dad got gunned down by a dealer. He should've been retired by then, but he just couldn't let go. They were about to pension him off and then he got himself killed instead."
There was the unresolved pain of losing a father he could never get close to, but that wasn't it. What else? I said in my mind, but I didn't ask, and Daniel didn't tell me. He tipped back his drink and finished it off, and then stood up and asked me what I wanted for dinner.
"You're going to cook?" This amused me for some reason, possibly having to do with the very strong, un-iced rum and Diet Coke I'd just polished off.
"Hey, I've been known to cook." He gave me a playful shove, knocking me over sideways on the couch. "We have ham and cheese and eggs. I can make omelets."
"On a woodstove? Fix me another drink while you're in there, why don't you. And this time, put some ice in it."
"We don't have any fucking ice." He dropped down over me and unerringly found my ticklish spot under my arms. I screamed and doubled over, clutching my ribs as I tried to roll away under his relentless tickling.
"If you open the front door, you can just chip some off the porch rail, genius." I kicked at him, laughing hysterically. "Oh god, Daniel, stop... please stop." Thud. I hit the floor, curled into a ball and lay still, clutching my ribs. He stopped short, looking down at me in concern.
"Happy now? I'm going to get you for that," I promised.
"Mmm, I can't wait for my punishment." He pulled me up and I growled, because I couldn't stay mad when he purred into my ear in that sexy voice, pressing his body against mine. His hand ran over my back and rubbed the spot where I fell, making my cock twitch. "I'll make you feel all better."
"Okay. But I want dinner first. And don't burn my toast."
"Ha! Double letter score on the W plus a double word score, that's thirty points," Daniel gloated. "Read it and weep, PhD. boy."
I didn't take the time to mention my lack of a diploma. "You can't use that word, that's not a word."
"The hell it isn't. Since when is Welsh not a word?" he protested. The rum made it hard to spell so he was excited to have a decent word at last, after staring at the tiles blankly for several turns only to end up with words like "and."
"It's a word, but it's proper and you can't use proper words in Scrabble. It's not legal."
"The rules say no slang and no proper words, and that includes names of countries. 'Welsh' is an adjective but it still counts as proper. I'll find it for you." I dove for the rulebook and started looking it up but he grabbed the paper away from me and held it out of my reach, smirking while I grabbed for it over his shoulders. We were on the floor in front of the fireplace with the Scrabble board between us and my knee hit the board and made the tiles jump and slide into chaos. "Dammit, Daniel, the game."
"Screw the game. That's a bullshit rule if I've ever heard one."
"Only because you were losing," I grinned.
I found myself straddling his lap; the rulebook tossed aside, as he pulled me forward and wrapped his arms around my back, grinning wickedly up into my eyes. A slow burn started in my cock and it hardened against him.
"Besides, I don't follow the rules. I make the rules." His hands slipped under the hem of my shirt and skimmed my lower back. His face was shadowed by the fire behind him and I swallowed as I stared down at his eyes and the way they crinkled at the corners when he smiled like that. Through his jeans, I felt his dick nudge me and my knees weakened while my heart began to thump.
"A law unto yourself, that must be a cop thing."
Always a sarcastic remark when I felt at a loss to say something, or when I was tempted to say something important or, heaven forbid, tender and emotional. My other lovers hated that about me but the look in Daniel's eyes told me he had my number, that he wasn't fooled. His fingers drew light circles over my back up to my shoulder blades and I broke out into a sudden sweat, squirming so that my cotton shirt brushed against my sensitive nipples.