Don't Ever Give Up Ch. 05bySpotInTheSand©
Note: Special thanks go out to my two regular editors, LilTexasSexFiend and AnInsatiableReader, for making this infinitely better than it was when I first wrote it. As always, let me know what you think, through voting, comments or private feedback. All three works too! ;-) As I said, this story will go up with one chapter posting daily until it's all uploaded, so don't get too mad about the cliffhangers. Enjoy!
Ever since J.T. had moved in there two years ago, Tim had thought of the three-story luxury townhouse overlooking Duke University in Durham as J.T.'s place, but it really wasn't. The house and those around it were actually owned by Sheila's father, the pharmaceutical executive. Some of the company's younger, married executives used the houses until they could build or purchase larger houses of their own somewhere else. The company also used them as short-term hotels for visiting executives. Tim didn't know the full story, but sometime before Sheila met J.T., she had had a falling out with her mother and left home. Her father was concerned, though, so he convinced her to move into one of the townhouses so she wouldn't split and leave town altogether.
For his part, J.T. lived with his parents until he was 29, and then he had moved in with Sheila a few months before they got engaged. It wasn't like he mooched off his parents or anything - the first four years after high school were spent at Saint Louis University in Missouri, earning an aviation sciences degree, and the next four were spent flying jets in the Marines. That's when Tim and J.T. met, and after becoming friends, each was stoked to find out they were from the same area. After J.T. returned home, his parents offered to let him stay in an empty floor of their mansion outside Raleigh - between flying and MBA work at Duke he was hardly ever going to be home anyway, so he accepted.
Like Tim, J.T. had always dreamed of building his own house. He had had many conversations with Sheila over the past three years about what her dream house would look like, and unbeknownst to her, he'd hired a builder and signed off on the project. The house would be finished just a few weeks after their June wedding, which would come a month after Sheila finished her Bachelor's degree at Duke. He figured he would tell her about it as a graduation present, so if there was anything she didn't like or wanted done differently, the construction crew would have about six weeks to make the changes before they moved in after their honeymoon.
For now, that meant staying in this townhouse. As Tim parked his car in their three-car garage, he figured there were worse ways to kill a couple years. It was pretty typical as far as townhouses went - most of the important stuff on the ground floor, a couple of bedrooms upstairs. This one had an extra floor, which J.T. and Sheila had more or less converted into their party floor. That was where the deck was, which provided one of the most breathtaking views of a city Tim had ever seen while still on the ground.
Tim headed up there now, knowing that was most likely where J.T. was hanging out. When he made it up there, J.T. and Sheila were sitting side-by-side in a couple of lay-out deck chairs J.T. had stolen from around his parents' pool. Her head was on his shoulder as they both stared out at the Raleigh-Durham nighttime skyline. Tim simply stood there for a minute in the stairway, watching them. Not for the first time, he silently envied them.
J.T. was truly happy with Sheila, and Tim could think of no one who deserved it more. For all his money, knowledge, job experience and self-confidence, relationships had really been the one place J.T. was never very good. He'd gotten married his sophomore year at SLU, long before Tim ever met him. The girl was the only one in his program who could even hold a candle to him where schoolwork was concerned, and they had so many other things in common that J.T. figured it just had to be right. Of course, to hear him tell it now, she'd slept with about half of the aviation sciences program - male and female - and was working her way through the other half before he found out about it. His father had threatened to cut him off if he didn't force the girl to sign a pre-nuptial agreement before he married her, so at least J.T. had lost nothing but his pride in the divorce.
After that, though, his friend had had more one-night stands than a Cancun resort at Spring Break. He was just coming out of that phase in the Marines, but he still had a hard time committing to a woman. Most of his actual girlfriends dumped him because of that, and the only one he'd really had long-term feelings about, a fellow officer stuck in Kabul with Tim and J.T., didn't really have any use for marriage or any kind of long-term commitment.
He'd dated around some when they'd come back home, but he made no secret of the fact that he was extremely jealous of what Tim had with Leira. Toward the end, J.T. had stopped dating altogether, instead choosing to live vicariously through Tim's relationship. Of course, nobody took what happened harder than Tim, but J.T. finished an awfully close second. Sure, they were best friends, but more than that, it was almost like she'd betrayed J.T., too. He'd tried to explain it one night at a bar, when neither Tim nor J.T. was fit to drive or even walk, but he'd given up after about a minute, convincing himself he'd never be able to explain it in a way that Tim would understand.
Standing there watching J.T. and his soon-to-be wife sitting together under the stars, Tim thought he understood it perfectly. Tim had his own life and his own relationship - well, maybe - but he knew he would still take it very hard if things ever went south between J.T. and Sheila.
"You planning on standing there forever, or you gonna come out here?" J.T. called out, not having turned around once.
"Yeah, I'm coming, man," Tim said, and headed for the deck. It was a little cooler outside, but really, it was a pretty warm night for late October in North Carolina. Of course, there was a blanket of humidity over the entire area that never went away, and that added another five or six degrees to the temperature.
"Hey, Tim," Sheila said, offering him a warm, genuine smile - no simple task considering her best friend had just called her, most likely in tears, and told her what he'd done. A slight breeze fluttered across the deck, whipping a couple loose strands of Sheila's curly red hair all over her face.
"Hey, Sheila," he answered back. "How pissed is she?"
"I've only seen her this way a few times," she replied. "I don't think she's really, truly angry, though. She's very hurt. She didn't know what else to do, so she got really mad at you. Now she's driving around the city aimlessly."
Tim simply nodded. "I figured. That's why I came over here instead of heading to her place." He thrust his hands in his pockets and stared out at the city, not sure what to say or do next.
"Can you give us a little while, Sheila?" J.T. asked. She nodded and pulled herself out of the chair.
"I'll be back up in a bit with drinks," she said as she walked back through the open glass door into the main room.
"What took you so long, man?" J.T. asked.
"Dude, if there had been any cops out, I'd be in jail right now," Tim replied.
"Not what I mean," J.T. answered. "I heard you climbing the stairs, but you stood there for at least three minutes before I said anything."
"Ah," Tim replied, taking Sheila's seat next to J.T. "I was just looking at you two. Wondering what might have been."
"You mean, where would I be if Sheila hadn't decided to go with her parents to the Bahamas that fall?" Tim just nodded. "I think about that all the time, bro. I come up with different outcomes each time, and they all suck."
Tim chuckled. "She's certainly turned your life around."
"I would say you have no idea," J.T. started, "but really, you do. You know all about that."
More nodding. Tim wished he had a beer. Not because he particularly liked the taste of beer, or because he wanted to get drunk, or even because he was thirsty. This just seemed like a lull in the conversation that required sipping on a beer.
"Have you ever thought about that in your life?" J.T. asked.
"What my life would be like without Sheila?" Tim replied, knowing that wasn't what his friend meant. "Well... you'd probably hump my leg a lot." Even at a time like this, he couldn't resist nailing the easy zinger. J.T. slugged him in the left arm.
"What your life would be like now if you were still with Leira," J.T. responded.
"I can't go down that road, man," Tim replied.
"You don't think about her at all?"
"I didn't say that," Tim answered. "Of course I still think about her. I mean, not every day, but every now and then something happens that just jogs my memory. Like in March, I flew the Bobcats up to Toronto, and the flight plan took us over the Adirondacks. I started thinking about the week we spent up there in that cabin. Or this summer, when you and I went down to Myrtle Beach to play golf with your dad, we drove right past the hotel where she and I stayed the last time we went down there. Just the other night, when Julia was sitting on the floor in front of me... it just brings back memories. I'd get rid of them if I could, but it's no use. Sometimes, they creep in. But anytime my mind starts wandering toward what might've been, I stop myself. Can't go there."
"You're still not over her, are you?" J.T. asked.
"Over her? Sure I am," Tim replied. "I don't miss her. I don't want her back. I wouldn't even think of giving it another try if she suddenly reappeared."
"Then what?" J.T. asked. "Every time you try to move on, something about her snags you. If you say you're over her, then what is it?"
"I am over her," Tim said. "I'm not over what she did to me. I might never be."
J.T. nodded. A few seconds passed, and Tim heard footsteps on the staircase. A few moments later, Sheila emerged on the deck with drinks - a Miller Lite for J.T., and just water for Tim. Tim thanked her as she walked away. J.T. waited until he heard the footsteps on the stairs before he continued.
"Here's what I don't get, man," J.T. said. "You're one of the most resilient people I know. It's been three years since that happened."
"How do you know if I'm resilient?" Tim shot back. "Resiliency means being knocked down and getting back up. When have I ever been knocked down, J.T.? I had the typical American childhood - loving parents, lots of good friends, never worried about money or where the next meal was coming from. Sure, there were tough times in the Marines, but everybody went through those; it was just par for the course. I've never had money troubles, I've never had legal troubles, and I've never had family troubles. Before three years ago, I'd never had woman troubles, either. So, again, how do you know?"
J.T. had nothing, so he said nothing. He just sipped his beer.
"That's why it's taken so long, man," Tim continued. "I'm many things - one of them is naïve. I've always been a very trusting person. You heard country songs all the time growing up, the 'somebody did somebody wrong' type of song, and I always looked at that the way a monk looks at AIDS - that would suck, but it will never happen to me. I never once saw that happen to anyone, and it certainly didn't happen to me. I've always been a good guy. I've treated people with respect, I've always genuinely cared about others more than myself. That was just the way I was raised. I figured there was no way karma would let me get screwed over this way."
J.T. said nothing. He knew it was his turn to shut up and listen. Regardless of his propensity for being extremely talkative, he did know when to keep quiet.
"I know I'm not the first person that ever happened to, J.T. But most people I've met - you included - have a natural distrust for people. They aren't all assholes like you, necessarily, but they have a natural skepticism about others that serves as kind of a cushion. If someone screws them over? Oh well, they kind of expected it. But you knew me long before this ever happened. I was never cynical, I was never jaded or paranoid. So when she did what she did, I never saw it coming, and it hurt that much more."
J.T. just nodded.
"I mean, we both jumped out of way more than our fair share of planes in the Marines, right?" Tim asked, and waited for J.T. to nod. "You jump out with a parachute on your back, and the landing is gonna be a lot smoother than if you don't have a 'chute. Most people, they get shoved out of the airplane, they already have the 'chute strapped on. Me? I was never planning on getting off the plane."
"I know, man," J.T. said. "I told you about what happened to me in St. Louis, bro. You skate through life without a care in the world, convinced you're living the right way and life is loving you for it, and then everything comes apart."
"Yeah," Tim agreed. "But things worked out well for you in the end."
"They certainly have," J.T. said. "I suppose this is where a corny line like, 'You have to go through the rain to get to the rainbow,' would fit."
Tim nodded. "For a long time after we broke up, I wondered why. Why she did it to me, but also, I wondered why life would let something like this happen to me."
"And?" J.T. asked. "You come up with anything?"
Tim nodded. "It had to happen, or I never would have found Julia."
Out of nowhere, he heard it - that tiny little half-gasp, half-moan. The one that sounded like someone had just seen something they never expected.
The same one he'd heard a little less than an hour ago.
Tim and J.T. exchanged glances - J.T. had heard it, too. Neither of them turned to look, even though both of them knew she was there. For his part, Tim knew there were things he needed to say, things he had to vocalize now, or he'd never get them out. He also knew there was no way he could say them to Julia. She'd look into his eyes, give him one of those soul-stealing gazes, and he'd melt inside.
And then, he would run.
Almost as if in tune with his thoughts, J.T. placed a hand on Tim's wrist. He simply nodded.
"So, I'm guessing that's a good thing?" J.T. said, encouraging Tim to continue as he pulled his arm back.
"You were around me all the time back then," Tim said, choosing not to directly answer the question. "I remember I used the word 'perfect' a lot. She had the perfect body, the perfect personality, the perfect everything."
"I remember, too," J.T. said. "The rest of us knew there were imperfections, man. You just wouldn't hear it."
Again, Tim chose to ignore what his friend had said. He needed to get to the point before he drove himself crazy.
"And even after everything that happened, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I wasn't in love back then. I know I was. Everything I thought I knew about her, before she dumped me, was great. But as perfect as I thought she was... Julia is so much better."
He hoped she was smiling. After everything he'd put her through, please let her at least be smiling now, Tim thought.
"You always said there wasn't a more perfect female body on the face of the earth than Leira's," J.T. reminded him. Tim could tell he was playing along, asking questions that would allow Tim to give the right answers.
"Yeah, well, I was wrong," Tim replied. "You should have seen Carlos the other night, man, when we had to go bail out Pat Kersee. He saw Julia walking up to the car, and I swear he went right into insta-drool mode."
"And with the female company Carlos generally keeps, that's saying something," J.T. replied.
"It is," Tim agreed. "She's just... so real, man. These girls running around with their store-bought boobs, surgically enhanced noses, botox all over the place... it bugs the hell out of me. Those are bodies by the Nip/Tuck doctors. Julia's body is the one she was born with, for better or for worse, and believe me - it's definitely better. You know I'm not much of a God guy, man, but every time I see Julia Waters naked, I can't help but appreciate the man's craftsmanship."
"Stop it," J.T. said. "You're turning me on."
"Shut the fuck up," Tim replied, slugging J.T. in the arm. There was no fire behind it, but it still probably hurt a little.
"So, you dig her body," J.T. said.
"I do, but... man, it's just way more than that. Leira was a nice person, but she always had this air of being better than other people. She was never a bitch about it, but I could always tell she sort of looked down her nose at people who didn't have as much money as we did. Julia, she's never been rich, so she's never had that feeling of entitlement. But at the same time, she doesn't feel inferior to people just because they have more than she does. She knows she has a ways to go to get where she wants to be, but she's able to be proud of where she is without being ashamed of where she's been. That kind of confidence... sexy doesn't even do it justice. And she's so driven and ambitious - an MBA at age 25 - yet she can relax enough to lay out on a boat in the sun all day."
J.T.'s grin couldn't have gotten any larger.
"I don't have to explain my near-lunacy when I'm watching football on TV, because she goes just as nuts. The woman has a life-size cutout of Steve Smith on her bedroom wall, for crying out loud. Honestly, if I didn't know Steve personally, it'd be a little intimidating to try to have sex in that room with him staring at me."
J.T. laughed a little bit louder than he would have normally. Tim figured it was to cover up an unexpected chuckle from their audience. It was all he could do not to look back into the house, but he wasn't finished.
"Who the fuck have I been fooling, J.T.?" Tim asked after a few moments of silence. "I know you were never fooled. All this time, I've been saying that we're just friends, and that we're free to date whoever we want. It was bullshit, the whole time."
"Have you dated anyone else since you met Julia?" J.T. asked.
"Fuck no, man," Tim replied. "For the first two or three months, I barely even saw Julia. Maybe once or twice a week."
"And after that?" J.T. asked, again setting Tim up for the perfect response.
"After that, I didn't want to see anybody else."
Tim started to wonder if he'd just imagined the noise he'd heard earlier, because there was no sharp intake of breath after his last statement.
"What about her?" J.T. asked.
"Hell if I know," Tim replied. "I know she has male friends that she talks to. Unless they're all blind, I'm sure they hit on her. I'd guess she's been out a time or two. I don't really know. What I do know, man, is that we see each other almost every day. If she's seeing someone else, she's got a future in the circus as a juggler, because I have no idea about it. Not that I'd have a right to complain if she was."
Again, silence. Tim thought he could hear someone breathing behind him, but then, he was really, really trying to hear something - anything.
"She's been so patient with me, throughout all this," Tim continued. "She's been so willing to wait for me to work through this, and I've never even been nice enough to tell her what this is. She gives me the space I need, but she stays around enough to let me know she's not going anywhere. Except now, man... I might have fucked up just a bit too much."
Tim thought she might reveal herself right then, if she was even there, but no one said anything. Tim polished off the rest of his ice water, and then kept going.
"I don't really let myself think about it too often, but when I do... we just fit, man. I thought I knew what perfect was before, but I had no fucking idea. I know Julia has imperfections, but I think they just make her even more perfect for me."