Authors: Max Ellendale
The realtor came and went, giving us the rest of the keys and
showing us how to use the CIA-style security system. Thankfully, she also
brought us a fruit basket because we wouldn't have had anything to eat
otherwise. We unloaded the car, showered in the walk-in ceramic and glass style
shower, and finally collapsed on the sofa by the fire sometime in the middle of
"We need curtains. Any creeper walking in the woods for
thirty miles around can see us," Jilly said, her body a bit tense as she
stared at the completely black windows. The dim light from the fire reflected
back at us.
"The shades are inside the windows. Didn't you see her show
us?" I picked up the remote from the coffee table and pressed the blue
button in the center. "Feels like a garage door opener." Slowly,
black shades rolled up. "They have these in Alaska."
"I must've missed that," she said, laughing a bit but
relaxing immediately. "That's better."
"And the windows are reinforced because of the storms they
get here and blizzards. Better than at the condo."
"It's already safer here," she said, shifting her
position some. I laid on my back while Jilly lay half on top of me. She draped
her leg over mine and let her arm fall across my middle. My ribs no longer hurt
with gentle pressure. It only bothered me when I sneezed. I kissed her forehead
and she nuzzled my chin with her nose. She was out cold within seconds and I
let the crackle of the fire lull me soon after.
The next morning, I woke to sunlight flooding in the living room
and the blanket tucked up to my chin. Jillian wasn't with me but I heard her
talking somewhere in the house. Her voice echoed through the empty spaces.
"No, I'll authorize it. Yeah." She paused. "She's
doing better. Just hold everything for now. I'm not sure what she'll want to
sell. Right." Another pause. "Thanks."
I peeked up over the couch then rolled to my feet with a grunt.
The clock in the kitchen read 2:00 PM which surprised me. I hadn't slept that
long in months.
"What exactly are you authorizing?" I teased when I
found her in the kitchen surrounded by two dozen grocery bags. "What...is
"The giant grocery in town delivers. Did you know?" She
perked right up and nearly fluttered over to me with a half-eaten apple in her
hand. I took a bite when she held it to me.
"Nope." I crunched on the fruit. "I know nothing
about this area. How'd you find out?"
"Internet and the realtor left a map and lists of local
places. There's only one pizza place that will deliver out here."
"Are you happy that you'll never have to grocery shop
again?" I laughed softly, watching her bounce around the kitchen while
putting things away. She wore a long black skirt and a mismatched T-shirt as
she did so. Her body moved airily like she floated across the shiny wood floor,
bare feet hardly making a sound.
"Very," she chirped.
"Who were you talking to?"
"Rhoda. You had about ten emails from her." She pointed
at the computer that I hadn't noticed perched between the groceries on the
marble countertop. "She had money to deposit that needed your
"You're just taking care of all sorts of business
today," I said, leaning against the counter. My body seemed to sigh both
in relief and from the exhaustion that suddenly hit me in the stillness of our
new place. "Thank you."
"Welcome," she said, closing the stainless steel fridge
after putting away a gallon of milk. I started when I realized I wasn't helping
then pushed myself up to do so. She smooched my cheek when I reached up to
stock the cabinets with the canned goods and cereals that she bought. I smiled
at her and she grinned.
"The bed will be here soon," I said.
"It's already here," she told me, nodding toward the
stairs. "I made it up."
"How'd I miss all of this?" I leaned against the counter
again once we put everything away and she stepped in front of me.
"You were actually sleeping for once. I didn't want to wake
you." Her hands fell to my waist and she stroked my hips. I put my hands
on top of hers and she squeezed my fingertips.
Over the past few years, our roles in life were pretty equal. We
did almost everything together, Jilly took care of a lot of the household stuff
and I looked after the finances. Today, she was doing it all and I was grateful
"Rhoda misses you and she's worried," she said.
"She keeps asking how you are."
"How am I?"
"Better," she said, stroking my chin with her finger.
"How are you?" I asked.
"A lot better," she said, her smile broadening.
"I admire your resilience, Jilly. I really do."
"I admire your bravery," she said, cupping my cheeks in
her hands. My arms remained at my sides but my fingers twitched as I fought the
urge to touch her the way I used to. "You can touch me," she
whispered as if she read my mind.
"My bravery?" I scoffed a bit but placed my hands on her
middle. She didn't shy away or recoil.
"Yes. Don't give me that look." She patted my cheek and
I laughed. "You're brave."
"You're resilient," I told her.
"We're good together."
"Yeah." I smiled when she nudged my forehead with hers.
"We are. Come on, I want to show you something."
"Okay." She laughed when I grabbed her hand and tugged
her out the French doors to the deck. Beside the deck off the kitchen, a
wood-paneled hot tub stood ready and waiting. I turned it on and the water
began to bubble and warm.
"What do you think?"
"It's perfect. Want to go in?" she asked, glancing
around us but of course, no one was near. People were miles away from us unless
they hiked the path about half a mile into the woods.
"In the daylight with no suits?" I lifted a brow at her
and she grinned, nodding. "And you said I was brave?"
"You are. C'mon." She tugged me over to it and I watched
as she ditched her shirt. Her skirt fell away with her panties and she climbed
Every inch of her was perfect once again. Not a bruise or blemish,
save for the old scar on her thigh. I hesitated a little but she waved me
forward, her hand outstretched. I took off my yoga pants and sweatshirt, then
my undergarments. The bruise on my ribs had faded to a yellow-green now and,
when I stepped into the water with her help, she ran her fingers over the marking.
Neither of us said anything and the water warmed slowly until the soothing heat
wrapped around us like a comforting hug. Jilly sat across from me, our legs
tangled underwater, and ran her hands back and forth over the bubbly surface.
Her expression, soft and content like it used to be, brought an ache of
yearning deep from the pit of my soul. For a moment, I thought about painting
her image again, with her eyes gazing down in the water, and crystal blue sky
reflected in her sapphire eyes. She smiled when she caught me watching her and
flicked a little water at me. "C'mere," she said."
I shifted my position, gliding to the space beside her. She turned
to me, bending her leg on the seat, and stroked my wet hair. I turned to kiss
her wrist and she nudged my chin upward so that I'd meet her gaze. Her eyes
searched mine, briefly but thoroughly, before she leaned in to kiss me. Her
lips, luscious rubies against mine, led me through yet another unpracticed
dance until we found our old rhythm. Except it was more new than old, and a lot
softer but bold. I let her lead me in any way she wanted.
Eventually, she sat back, pulling me toward her so that I was
kissing her from atop. I caressed her face, taking my time with her and
projecting my affection with every stroke. Her hands cupped my breasts and
something long dead ignited inside me like it had the first time she touched
me. The ache between my legs rushed me so fast that I lost a bit of breath. Her
hips moved slightly, forcing her core against my thigh until she stopped,
ending the kiss to gaze at me. She'd scared herself, like I'd expected she
might, but I didn't let her pull away too far. I stroked her cheek then her
neck and she kissed the fingers of my other hand. She was very interested in my
hands lately and the thought finally struck me.
"It's my hands that worry you," I whispered. Her gaze
flickered in my direction and she nodded. I rested my palm in the space between
her breasts and felt her heart pounding heavily. She held on to my wrist, both
restraining me and keeping me from pulling away. "They're as they've
always been." I lifted my free hand up to show her. She watched as I moved
my fingers, one after the other, and turned my palm over for her to see. Almost
like an infant, seeing something for the first time, she followed. "My
hand and yours," I said when she lifted her palm to press against mine.
Our fingers laced together and she squeezed me firmly. "No one else."
"Soft," she said, stroking her thumb between our palms.
"Very. And gentle."
She smiled and hugged my hand that was on her chest, shifting her
position to place her head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her, resting
my chin on her forehead, while she played with my fingers. She kissed each of
them, multiple times, and let me trace the curve of her lips and jaw line. The
water bounced around us in soothing vibrations against our backs.
We stayed there like that until the sun disappeared behind the
trees and our fingers were prunier than prunes. Neither of us spoke for quite
awhile but we didn't need to.
Eventually, she kissed me again and I smiled.
"How come you don't paint anymore?" she asked out of
"Lost my inspiration for awhile."
"Come over here," I called to Jilly while she stood by
the stairs of the deck. I'd set myself up on the flat land beside the creek.
Hay bales made a wall behind a makeshift wooden construction horse I found in
the rafters of the barn.
"No way." She shook her head, her hair fluttering wildly
in the gentle breeze. "I don't want to."
"Come on now, Jillybean, buck up," I said as I loaded
the rifle. The simple old weapon belonged to my father before me. She crossed
her arms over her middle and nearly pouted.
"You only call me that when you want something," she
said, finally giving in and meandering her way down the slope.
"That's right. And today I want to teach you to shoot."
I cocked the gun and she walked a wide circle around me and came up from
behind. I laughed a little bit and she huffed. She came to stand beside me and
I gestured toward the cans I had lined up on the construction horse. "We
can start with the pistols if you want."
"No, those freak me out more." She shook her head then
squinted when I took aim.
"Ready for the noise?"
"Yes," she said, covering her ears. With the gun braced
appropriately, I squeezed the trigger and the can barreled off the horse. Jilly
dropped her hands and looked at me. "That wasn't as loud as I
"Open spaces. Here, stand where I am," I said as I
reloaded the bolt action Winchester. Reluctantly, she moved in front of me and
I helped her get herself into position. I brushed her hair off her shoulders
and she shivered a bit when I reached around to hold the rifle with her.
"You'll feel some kickback against your shoulder but not as much like
this. Square yourself off and keep your elbows down."
"I don't like this very much," she said, but went with
"What if we're in the hot tub and a grizzly bear comes
charging and I slip and break my face? You'll have to protect us."
"Jess." She laughed and elbowed me gently.
"Cheek to the stock. Aim like I showed you before," I
instructed, holding her and the gun at the same time. I slipped my finger over
hers and guided it to the trigger. "Squeeze, don't pull."
"Okay, okay," she said quickly then
rang out and she squeaked with some of the recoil. We completely missed the can
but the target on the hay bail showed where the bullet penetrated.
"Not bad for a lefty. Ready to try alone?" I nudged her into
position again and she looked at me out of the corner of her eye.
"You going to give me a massage later when my shoulder
"Yes." I laughed and took position behind her.
"Elbows down, go on."
It took her a little bit to ready herself, but when she finally
fired, she hit the target on her own. She looked at me with a bright smile and
I grinned. "Nice. Tomorrow is pistols."
"Oh great," she said, rolling her eyes and laughing.
I taught her how to reload and we fired a few more rounds. She got
closer to the cans each time until she finally hit one, nearly jumping with
excitement. When she set the weapon down, she leapt at me and I hugged her,
lifting her off the ground to spin her once. She laughed and tossed her head
back, then set her feet down. Her smile was endless and her firm kiss told me
she enjoyed our celebratory embrace.