Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chapter 49: Some Things You Can't Hide From

In what is apparently classic fashion for me, I left.

To hell with work, with Greyson, and with Liam, and with memories. To hell with love and lust and romance. I'm going to become that single lady on the street who lives with twelve cats and no men. Female cats, thank you!

Don't ask me why Liam ended up lumped in there, but Greyson's parting shot made it impossible to leave him out. Why isn't he fighting for you, Merrie? Why is he so accepting about everything? My God, he found a strange man in your house and didn't do a thing about it! What's going on in that head of yours that you have to get mixed up with someone like that? Why can't you pick someone who can handle you, who will let you be yourself? You're too alive to squander yourself on a man so far away and still so married.

Even then I managed to refrain from dumping anything on him beyond a killing scowl. Don't ask me why. I should have emptied my coffee mug on his head, then followed it with the Pepsi on his desk. Run all over him? All over Liam? Ha!

My supervisor accepted my excuse of a headache, said I looked rather pale, and that she hoped I'd feel better tomorrow.

Liam didn't have to question Greyson's presence, I told myself. Why would he have to question anything? He trusts me!

That's right, run away again, I told myself. Just like you ran from Reed, from Liam. This is different, though. I'm trying to get my life together. The last thing I need is some two-bit journalist... ! Who in the hell does he think he is? What right did he have to dig that deeply into my life?

And why did this article never materialize? If it had, Reed never would have... then again, those first few weeks after the accident were still a little hazy. Admittedly, I took full advantage of the pain pills they'd given me for my broken leg. It made dealing with everything easier. Reed had been the one to handle everything. He'd decided what to keep and what to sell, what to store and what to display. So little of me was kept and kept out, per Reed's direction, that when I moved out a few months ago it wasn't that difficult. Most of my life was still boxed when I told Reed that I was leaving. Even my brother had commented on it when we moved me out. What's with this, sis? It's not like you to leave everything packed up. It looks like you figured you weren't staying that long. Am I right?

No, Stephen, that's not true. I thought this would be permanent. It's just, well, Reed decided otherwise.

Ah, com'on, kiddo. This is your brother you're talking to. You grew up with Dakota. Mincing words and telling lies ain't your style. Though God only knows why you're letting something as silly as a cyber-fling drive you out of this life. What are you thinking anyway?

Just finish loading the truck, will you? I know what I'm doing. I'm not our mother, and I won't put up with being that man's occasional amusement.

It's not like he's having an affair. He's still sleeping with you. Not her.

I forced myself to stop thinking. Perhaps, in hindsight, I hadn't unpacked because I knew something was wrong. Liam once suggested that Reed was threatened by my strength and thus had to try to run my life, which I scoffed at. It wasn't like Reed was some abusive, controlling man. Weak and insecure and  jerk, yes. He was also incredibly passive. Trying to control me and my life would have taken too much effort on his part. No matter what I didn't know about life, I did know what he wasn't.

I pulled into my driveway, turned off the car, and retreated into my house, to my kitchen for something -- anything -- to chew on while I mulled over the man (men?) in my life.

One of these days I need to go shopping. In moods like this, I need something crunchy... and the only thing I had was a box of croutons. At least I had my supply of Pepsi.

So what happened to the article? No one ever mentioned it to me, showed it to me. Not even Aunt Geenie, who would have delighted in tormenting me with it. She would've sent the magazine to me immediately -- along with a note about how much I was living up to the McKenize name. She would've sent something to Stephen, too. Come to think of it, Stephen's miserable wife would've made it a point to share it with me as well. So what happened to the article?

Time to do with I've always avoided, I guess. A moment later, I had my laptop up and running and was googling London's name. Nothing -- most of the hits dealt with the city. Jamie + Addams + Meredith + Hagan. I'd try both of our names.

Bingo. Hidden in the on-line archives of American Faces magazine.

...Jamie Addams, Lafayette County's rising son, was killed... in his car was co-worker Meredith Hagan... the single-car accident on River Run Road shattered her right leg...

I skimmed it quickly, but found nothing whatsoever about my life. Hell, aside from the mention of my being in the car and my broken leg, there was nothing of note. Even if someone I knew had seen it, it wouldn't have been worth mentioning.

So what was he doing researching my life?

Dammit. I was going to have to talk to him again, wasn't I?

My head was absolutely pounding. I didn't want to talk to him again. I didn't want to talk to someone who had a way of making me question everything I thought I was so sure of.

I picked up the phone. "It's me. We need to talk."

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Chapter 48: Friday Morning Recap

"You had me fooled, Mer."

She rolled her eyes. Bad enough Liam was gone again. Bad enough Beth thought her a slut.  Now Greyson was going to insist on talking to her about the weekend. "My private life is private, remember?"

He ignored her tone and went on as if she hadn't snapped at but invited instead.

"You're better than that, you know. Why are you wasting your time with a guy who leaves you alone on holidays?"
"Drop it," she said, her teeth clenched.
"You spent Thanksgiving with me, don't forget. You cried on my shoulders, not his. I held you, he didn't."
"Don't!" She wanted to cover her ears like a little girl might. If she didn't hear him, she wouldn't have to think about what he was saying.
"Don't? Don't what? Tell you the truth?"
She slammed her pen down. "Truth? You think I don't know the truth?" It took all her control not to scream at him, though she wished she could! How good it would feel! She hadn't screamed, hadn't let much emotion out at all in fact, since she'd left Reed.
"Oh, no," he said softly. "You know it, Merrie dear, you just choose to ignore it." If he'd snapped back, if he'd yelled, if he'd called her names, she could have handled herself. She could have fought back, lied if she had to. But this, this low drawl that hit her square... she turned in her chair, faced her back to him, and stared at the wall.
"Leave me alone. You don't know a fraction of the story. You have no right, Greyson." Somehow she didn't let her voice crack.
"I know that your old co-worker blew into town at six in the morning and came straight to your house."
"You're assuming too much."
"He had his own key. Who wouldn't assume? By the way, did he tell you what he did when he found me on your couch, Mer? No? Nothing.  He did nothing except tell me that I could leave."
"You're exaggerating," she said to the wall.
"I'll tell you something, I grew up fighting just like you. I don't let anyone lay a hand on me without my laying one back and winning." When he saw her shoulders fall, he faltered for a moment. What was he doing? What did he hope to win here, anyway? But something made him keep going. "He never did a thing, Mer. He questioned me. If that had been me, the last thing I'd be doing is asking questions. He'd have been a foot off the ground and against the wall before anything else."
"I would think," she choked, making him again wonder at why he was doing this to her. "I would think that you'd be grateful that he didn't attack first."
In Greyson's eyes, Liam tossing him out on his ass it would have been acceptable. Expected. Hell, even admirable. When it came to a woman, Greyson believed that once he had laid claim to her, she was -- despite its medieval implication -- his and his alone. Any man who dared come too close was the enemy.
He wasn't a fool though; despite Liam's calm facade, Greyson sensed that the man could do him harm. Meredith was right about that, though to tell her would cause him to tip his hand too far.
It was why Liam hadn't even attempted to stake his claim on her that bothered Greyson.  He just assumed that he would be next.  He wasn't there because he loved her.  He was there because he didn't.

"I know about him."
Meredith didn't turn around. She didn't move.

"I know about the car accident. Two years ago this past week, I believe."

If she moved, Meredith knew, she'd start screaming. Her fingers dug into the arms of her chair, and Greyson watched her knuckles whiten.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Chapter 47: Good Girls Only

"If you aren't careful, Meredith, people are going to call you a slut."  Leave it to Beth to put such a positive spin on things.  All I did was tell her about Thanksgiving.  It was Saturday evening, she and I were enjoying dinner at the local dive, and catching up on everything that had happened since I left Martinson.  However, once she learned about Liam, all bets were off.

"How does sex make me a slut?"

"It's not the sex.  It's the fact that you're having it with different men."

"Actually, just one.  Friday morning.  On the kitchen table."

She just sighed.  "I don't want the details, Meredith.  The point is that people are going to judge you for being so easy."

"Define easy. Why is the woman a slut if she so much as dates multiple men?"

Beth thought for a few minutes, chewing on her pizza and taking her time before she answered.  "Because she lets them use her," she said at last.  "Because she doesn't respect herself enough to see just one man at a time.  It's up to her to keep the men in check and make sure they don't do something she'll regret.

I just stared, suddenly wondering if my head would explode.

She didn't catch my expression and just kept going.  "My mom taught me that it was up to me to make sure that men respected me.  She taught my brother that he had to respect women, of course, but she also made sure he only dated nice girls."

"Define nice."

"The ones who don't sleep around, who save themselves for marriage."  She shrugged.  "But that's her.  I'd say girls need to save themselves for a commitment, now."

"What about women who are widowed or divorced?"

"Oh, mom never talked about them.  She did say something once about her neighbor 'throwing away a thirty-year marriage' just because the husband was cheating on her."  Beth went to college, graduated engaged, and went on to have three lovely children with her husband.  He owns his own hardware store.  They live above it.  When he needs extra help, she comes down to pick up the slack.  Otherwise, she lives upstairs as the perfect stay-at-home mom.  Her life is Pinterest perfect, a Facebook dream.  Me?  Not so much.

"What if you found out Bill was cheating on you?"

She laughed.  "Have you looked at him lately?  He's like the Pillsbury Doughboy, just not as cuddly."

"Did you ever think that maybe the men I'm with are the sluts, and I'm using them?"  There.  I'd said it.  "Maybe they want the commitment and I want to just have fun."

She stopped mid-chew and stared at me.

"Think about it.  Reed was using me for his personal maid.  I got fed up and left.  Liam was my rebound.  Is my rebound.  Greyson and I didn't do anything tawdry, so I'm 'using him' for company.  He's a conversation slut."  Popping my third beer, I took a swig and continued.  "Didn't you ever wonder why you were the one who had to keep the men in check?  I mean, think about all of the girls you went to high school with and who you knew where sleeping with their boyfriends.  They turned out okay, didn't they?  Not every girl who has non-marital sex destroys her life.

"Last night I was watching Grease, I caught the end where Sandy turned into the bad girl, and Danny turned into the good boy.  The minute you saw those hot pants of hers, you knew she was looking to getting laid.  And Danny, seeing them, whips off that nice letterman's jacket -- reverting to his all-black outfit and his bad boy image.  My mother always told me that Sandy was wrong and Danny was right.  She told me not to ever change for a man.  While I like the whole 'be true to yourself' message, the second message was that good girls were to stay good and bring the rutting, lusty male up to snuff and teach him to control his baser instincts.  Why is it my responsibility to control a man?  Why is sex equated with being bad?  Are men that afraid and insecure that they have to control us?  Don't answer that.  I'm so tired of being told that I'm not a full person because I have breasts.  I'm tired of being an object d'art who's praised for sitting in the corner and not making a peep.  I'm tired of feeling guilty for not feeling what I don't feel.

"What if I slept with men as widely as men slept with women?  As publicly, as indiscriminately, and as apologetically?  Think about it.  Wouldn't it be awesome to not worry about what other people thought and to worry only about whether or not you..."

She grabbed my beer out of my hand.  "You've had too much.  You're a nice girl and you just need to get your head on straight again.  You'll regret this in the morning."

"Regret what?  Regret telling my friend how I feel?  Maybe you're right.  Maybe I'm regretting it even now.  Maybe I should have saved my thoughts for someone less prudish."  I grabbed the bottle from her, eyed the contents, and drained it in a few seconds.  "It's been fun, Beth."

And I left.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Chapter 46: (Un)invited

I stopped short of the kitchen, realizing now that it wasn't Greyson. I felt as though I were in the hotel again, preparing to open the door and let Liam in. Let him in, quite literally, in a number of ways. I hadn't let him in this time, but here he was. In my house. In my kitchen. Playing the role of the man in my life. Uninvited. Right?


Somewhere between my falling asleep Thanksgiving night and waking up Friday morning, the two men quite literally switched places. How dare he presume, I would dare to think in anger... but which he did I mean?

For the last few months, it's been Greyson who's been with me, working mainly -- but also making me laugh, cajoling me into having a pizza with him, and keeping me company. It's with him I've been having conversations, taking road trips.  It was texting with him, about superficial and innocuous topics, that made nights less lonely.

It crossed my mind to turn around and walk out the door, to leave my own house, get in my car, and drive to where I might find the life I keep thinking I need. There isn't much I'd miss; I own so little of true value.

I'm going to kiss you.

And what has it gotten me? My hands went to my face, what was, no... what am I doing? Replicating my mother's life? Living down to Aunt Geenie's predictions? What sort of woman am I?

But make no mistake, readers, I'll walk in there and fall into his arms. When he touches me, every thought I have will vanish except for the thought of needing him. I'll shiver as he re-acquaints himself with my body, his hands going to my waist, to that curve he so loves. I'll find myself arching and my body language inviting him and every move will be honest. I'll find it hard to catch my breath again -- especially when he kisses me, his tongue mating with mine.

Sometimes I want to ask about us. About his actual, real, legitimate intentions.  Sometimes I can't help but worry myself into headaches, coming up with thoughts that one of us is using the other or that one of us is losing interest. Who's doing what varies. Sometimes it's me. Sometimes it's him.

I can't put this off. I can't run away. I have to go in, don't I?

And so I turned the corner and walked into my kitchen and saw him... and stopped, finding my hand resting on the kitchen counter so near an empty vase... if I threw it, how badly would it hurt him? He's coming toward me, so fast it seems, too fast to take in, one second he's at the table and the next he's holding me, his mouth on mine, his tongue plunging in and claiming and mine responding they tangle then hinting at what's to come later and my hands are on his face to feel where his beard once was my fingers are in his hair.... he's all over me and I'm responding and I'm on the table, under him... tangling....