CHAPTER 44

Sofa bed at night

Dee awoke to the sound of a dial tone in her ear. It took her a second to recognize the sound for what it was and to remember she’d been talking on the phone to Cornel earlier in the evening.

“Oh, god!” she groaned, realizing she must have fallen asleep during their conversation. Dee sat up in the sofa bed and strained her eyes to see the kitchen clock:

After eleven.

Cornel had called at eight, shortly after she’d put Tad to bed. How much of our conversation did I sleep through? She felt like a jerk for falling asleep on him but, truth be told, the past week of his nightly phone calls had exhausted her. They had decided to stop seeing each other, as being together had become torturous—the physical temptation for each of them was making it impossible to maintain the platonic relationship they had agreed was for the best.

Instead, he called her every evening after Tad’s bedtime, those conversations extending into late-night tête-à-têtes that lasted into the early morning hours because neither could bring themselves to be the first to say good night. And with each of those late-night talks, Dee’s yearning for him grew exponentially, leaving her body a quivering mess and feeling quite literally lovesick: chills, low-grade fever, unable to eat, sleep or think clearly—a terminal ague that no amount of Advil and Alka-Seltzer could cure.

And now she was awake. Wide awake…and wanting. Her body ached for Cornel and there was no relief to be found. She had tried masturbating, but doing so only offered a fleeting relief. Nothing she did could stop her body from screaming for his touch, his kiss, his heart, his soul…his love.

Dee placed the phone back on its cradle and switched off the light. Another damnable night of tossing and turning, wanting and yearning lay ahead. She pulled a pillow over her head to try to quiet the sounds of Cornel inside it: His deep and sultry voice…his soft, hypnotic words…his slow and rhythmic breaths…his knocking…

His knocking? Dee threw aside the pillow and listened. Yes, there it was again—a soft knocking sound…on the door.

At this hour?

Dee’s heart pounded with fear—the trauma of the break-in still very much with her—until she calmed it down with reason. She asked herself who would be knocking on her door at this late hour on a Friday night, and there was only one answer:

Eli.

The same Eli who never responded to the message she’d left for him the day after the break-in, a snub that would have hurt her feelings a whole lot more had she not already decided to end things with him. Still, ignoring her in the face of the trauma she and Tad had been through seemed especially cold and callous, even for Eli.

The knocking persisted and it was time for Dee to give Eli some ‘what for’. It rankled her, the idea that he thought he could just show up unannounced, as was his wont, and expect her to act like everything was fine. Well, he was about to find out that things were not fine. Far from it.

Dee unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door as far as the security chain would allow. Through the crack in the door, she saw a pair of brown, smoldering eyes and a slice of face…

…with skin like obsidian.

Dee slammed the door shut, unlocked the chain, and threw wide the door. In a heartbeat she was in Cornel’s arms, their mouths pressed together and tongues tasting, darting, searching the depths of one another’s desires. Her hands ran over his body, her fingers raked at his clothes, his arms, his face, his hair, his every inch. Tears flowed from their eyes and mixed on their lips as the two stood just inside the threshold locked in a full-body death grip, holding onto one another as though to life itself.

Pulling back, Dee broke their kiss only long enough to ask, “Are you sure?”

Cornel answered without speaking, tacitly answered her question and her need at the same time, answered as he pressed his lips against hers and pulled her body into his own, answered as he swore in his heart to never let her go, answered as a voice behind him broke the silence…and the moment:

“Dee?”

Startled by the interruption, Cornel turned his head and looked for the interloping voice, coming from just outside the door.

And there stood Eli, holding a bottle of wine in one hand, a bouquet of daisies in the other, his beautiful face contorted by confusion, his perfect body frozen from shock.

Cornel returned his eyes to Dee’s, “Do you know him?”

“Know who?” she asked, letting Cornel’s body block Eli from her sight. Though she knew it was Eli’s voice, she bothered not to look at him. In her eyes, there was only Cornel.

Cornel smiled, then swept Dee off her feet and into his arms. Eyes fixed intently on the sofa bed and the promise of bliss that lay ahead, he raised a foot and kicked closed the door on Eli, on his wine and flowers, on his perfectly stunned face…

…and on the cruel and imperfect world that lay beyond.

CHAPTER 43
CHAPTER 45
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