My dreams are bright, garish splashes of colour and noise that flit haphazardly from one scenario to another with no apparent connection. I sleep fitfully and I think it’s still morning when I wake. It’s hard to tell because the strip of light filtering through the small gap in the blinds seems bright enough for mid-morning but the sunrise is so early in the summer months, it could be 5am or midday for all I know. It takes me a moment or two to remember that I don’t have blinds, and neither, for that matter, does Stacey. A split-second later and my eyes protest in agony. I close them again, frantic recollections of last night assault my thoughts, in tandem with the hangover battering my senses – a motorcycle kick-starting inside my head. I think I know where I am. Is this Henry’s place? I vaguely remember him rescuing me from the press last night. What else do I need to know?
This bed is large and comfortable, without being ostentatious and the pillow beneath my head is plush and soft. Opening my eyes, I find a room that is airy; the décor understated and classic, but I don’t find Henry. A hideous thought occurs to me that this might not be Henry’s home at all, and I may have woken up in a stranger’s bed. I was very drunk. Pushing the nauseating idea away, I attempt to swing my legs out of bed and lift myself to my feet. I stand up too fast and the room dips away from me, as my stomach rises and I just about manage to stop myself from vomiting. Nice, Jea. Real nice. I take a steadying breath and head towards a door to what I hope is a bathroom; pausing momentarily by a chest of drawers, my eyes smitten by a photo pinned to a noticeboard on the wall above. The image is of Russell Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator, a character who journeyed at least a thousand miles on a rocky, treacherous road to vengeance. The words scribbled across the image are the very same that I have seen quoted countless times and seeing them now, for real, clarity hits me hard with a vision of an excited teenaged Henry the first time he read this. It’s only now that I can fully appreciate what this meant – and still means – to him and I hastily scribble a mental note to thank Mr Crowe if I ever get the chance.
You left him, remember? A small, sarcastic voice whispers in my head. What makes you think he wants you back? And besides, nothing’s changed. You can’t be with him. Telling myself to shut up and feeling sicker than ever, I open the door and walk into a dream. The room is indeed a bathroom and it’s larger than my bedroom, the air dense with steam that cloys at my skin like caresses. The spray from the open shower spits back off the tiles, the screen and Henry’s naked body and settles in my hair like morning dew. The shower is noisy and Henry has his back to me. I know I should be embarrassed at walking in on him unannounced like this, but my eyes are riveted by the fine sight of his muscular legs, back and buttocks as the water cascades over him, longingly streaming over each and every sinew, like explorative hands on a lover’s body. He’s humming softly again and I struggle to make out the tune over the hiss of the shower. I recognise the melody but can’t place it. I stand immobilised, listening and watching, unsure whether I should leave, announce my presence, or jump in next to him.
Henry makes the decision for me by turning around. Noticing me for the first time, he fixes me with an impenetrable stare, his blue eyes widening fractionally. It’s not often that I am completely lost for words but this is one of those occasions. I open my mouth to speak but find myself taking in a big gulp of moist air instead. What do I say? Sorry would probably be a good place to start but what would I be apologising for? Walking in on him naked? Or walking out on him? I try to speak again, unsure whether I can even begin to articulate a modicum of the jumble in my head. It’s like a ball of wool that has become so tangled, I can’t seem to find a thread to start unravelling the mess, and the more I try, the further I entwine myself. I halt again, my mouth opening and closing like a beached fish, as Henry steps dripping out of the shower and moves stealthily towards me; the very weight of his stride echoing in my heart, as he closes the distance between us in a second. I have one more second to register the droplets of water clinging to his carbon black eyelashes, in his chest hair and happy trail and another to note his growing erection. Wordlessly, he picks me up and places me under the shower, before peeling at my rapidly dampening clothes with deft fingers.
My throat closes over and I feel my eyes burn with unshed tears. Nothing’s changed, I think desperately, as he tugs at the camisole wetly hugging my breasts like a second skin. My heart rate spikes and my breathing hitches. I know my body is responding to him and I’m helpless to prevent it – all my earlier conviction deserting me like migrating birds. The water is soothing; a cleansing force, like summer rain on a humid day. I close my eyes as he removes my few garments, taking his time over the scrap of lace around my hips. Tossing my sodden underwear aside, he places soft trailing kisses on my feet and ankles, making his way north up my calves and thighs. His touch ignites me; my skin aflame beneath his lips. like dying embers brought back to life, and desire soars like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of my despair. He skims over my groin and breathes deeply before nipping at my navel and breasts. He does all this swiftly, rising to his full height in moments, before taking my face in both hands. His eyes are glowing but serious, full of a concern that I understand completely and he looks at me – a question resonating in their fathomless blue shadows. I nod fractionally, my head for once listening to my heart and he kisses me on each cheek, tenderly wiping away my treacherous, silent tears with his lips – a tissue soft veneration.
“I am so pissed at you for last night. I know you’re a strong-willed woman and I appreciate that you’re used to taking care of yourself but please don’t ever walk home alone drunk like that again. You put yourself in unimaginable danger and it spins me out to think of what might have happened to you. I don’t know what has caused you to be so guarded, but I want you to know that I am prepared to fight. To fight your demons, your horrible quick temper and to fight for you. Let me love you, Jea.”
Eyes wide, I nod again, and he smiles; triumph and relief ghosting across his perfect features. He leans down to my lips, kissing me more tenderly than ever and, what little remaining resolve I have, scatters like dandelion seeds in the breeze; ugly weeds no longer, they float gracefully before drifting away into bittersweet oblivion, carrying my deepest wishes to the wind.
I know we have serious issues to discuss, but right now all I want is him. Losing myself in him is my sole focus – all thoughts of dark pasts and ex-girlfriends momentarily forgotten. I respond the best way I can and grab handfuls of his soaking curls, pulling him close to me, revelling in his hardness. His breath is ragged as he kisses my throat, tilting my head back to give him better access, before drifting across my collar bone and leaving lingering nips at my clavicle. He dips down to my breasts and takes both in his hands, like a prospector weighing gold, biting and sucking at my flesh and lapping rhythmically at my hardening nipples. He toys with the points, rolling them between his thumbs and forefingers, watching them elongate magically at his touch, before flicking his tongue over each and grazing at them with his teeth. I cry out and my hands splay across the damp tiles involuntarily, an attempt to hold myself together and hold back the inevitable that is closing in on me. Each touch lifts me higher, every kiss and nip giving and asking for more. His lips send messages through me like an old fashioned telex machine, bouncing information from one point to another in an erotic kind of Morse Code. My body reads him perfectly and replies with abandon, my hands seemingly moving with their own life to his erection, my legs rising and wrapping themselves like ties around his waist, as he lifts me up and against the wall. I guide him into me, relishing the exquisite feeling as our combined friction hits me exactly where I need it. Our rhythm is gentle, holding each other back at first and savouring the reunion, but then Henry kisses me savagely and I can’t contain it any longer. I rake my fingernails across the sinew of his back and grind myself down onto him, quickly bouncing back up again and again. Henry slams himself into me, my back sliding up and down the wet tiles, the concentration on his face evident, as he struggles to maintain the strength in legs. On and on he pushes, a master watchmaker winding up a precious timepiece. I feel my insides quickening with each turn, the springs tightening, the cogs and gears grinding against each other; a beautiful mechanism, well oiled and faultless, keeping time in perfect harmony. Henry grunts in approval and slips a hand between us into the soft flesh of my clitoris, fingering slowly and deliberately. Chimes strike in my head and I explode into orgasm, the clock overwound, splintering into thousands of pieces of precious metal and jewel bright stones. I sag against him as Henry thrusts into me twice more before stilling; his breath hot on my neck. He kisses me hard, pulling on my hair and forcing me to look up at him.
“The first time we met, you told me that you don’t like to play games. Well I’m asking you now. Is this a game for you? I know that being with me means you also have to suffer some pretty intrusive shit from the press and that all this bollocks must be as frightening to you as it is surreal, but you ran the other day and last night put yourself in a position where I had no choice but to act the superhero and now, here you are again, back where I’ve dreamt I want you to be. I lay awake for hours contemplating what your reaction would be this morning and if I’m honest, this is exactly the scenario I’d hoped for. Now, however, I’m concerned that you’ll run again and I want to know this. Is this some kind of wicked game, Jea, because if it is, tell me now and we can dispense with the charade.”
Hmmm another speech. He does like to make these doesn’t he? Well I certainly can’t accuse him of being the strong silent type and now I know the name of the song he was humming when I walked in: Wicked Game. How can I prove to him that I’m not playing? I need to give him something to believe in me, but how can I do that when I’m not sure I can believe in myself?
“Henry? Are you sure you want to do this? I know it’s a cliché but it really isn’t you – it’s me. I told you the other day that the press don’t bother me and neither does your past.”
“So what your saying is that it’s your past that’s the problem. How about you give me the benefit of the doubt and let me be the judge of what’s good for me? Yes, I really want to do this and I wish you’d let me. If you’re not ready to talk right now, fine, but don’t push me away. I couldn’t stand that.”
What did I do to deserve this man? He truly has the patience of a saint. I wrap my arms tighter around his chest and nuzzle into him, the damp hair there soft and springy.
“Ok, but don’t say you weren’t warned and I’m saying nothing without coffee and breakfast. I can barely function without food and caffeine in the morning as it is, let alone after a skin-full the night before and especially not after being pounced upon by hot, naked men in strange bathrooms. I think cooking me breakfast is the least you could do.”
I smile sweetly and watch him grin. He really does have the most beautiful smile in the world; boyish, carefree and dazzling in it’s intensity. It delights and excites me immensely. I want to be the reason for that smile. I want that smile to be mine.
“And what would madam like for breakfast?” he says with an arch of his brow.
I think for a moment before unhooking my legs from around his waist and dropping to my knees.
“You,” I whisper salaciously, a slow smile spreading across my face. Food can wait, I think, with a two fingered salute to my hangover. Henry – and his perfect smile – is the only cure I need.