He twists the cold bottom of the glass against my foot briefly as he walks out on deck. I am lounging in the chair, feet up on the rail, my nose stuck in a book when he asked if I would like a cold glass of something. I nodded, loathing the disturbance but so thirsty I could have sucked the ink off the letters on the page and I finally managed to tear myself away from the words when the ice-cold glass touched my skin.
Caleb is smiling, holding out what has to be either a gin and tonic (it's all the rage these days, that damned wonderful Bombay Sapphire), or a Mojito, but I'm not hugely fond of those the way I am of so many other drinks first, and it's ironic really since I shouldn't drink and I can't hold my liquor because I'm leaky and lightweight and frail but hey, if you build it, I'll drink it, and anesthetize my life into something a little more manageable, something I can swallow.
Like this ice, when it melts into tiny shards of amazing cool against my tongue.
Caleb is enjoying a rare day off and he's invited me to spend it with him. He's relaxed for the moment, something out of a magazine ad today. Worn khaki cargo shorts and a plain white, v-necked t-shirt. Unshaven, blue eyes full of mischief. Days like this I want to hate him, but I couldn't if I tried. These are the days he truly enjoys what he has worked for and accomplished and if only I would concede defeat and choose him, he says his life would be complete. The bucket list is ninety-nine items crossed off and one far beyond his control.
Or not, if he plays his cards right. What's the difference? I am numb enough to play along and we're both old enough to pretend and smart enough to understand the risks and benefits involved and really, it's not so much of a stretch to imagine life like this on a day like today, the sun beaming down upon the water, quiet activity as the crew scrub the boat bow to stern.
I shift slightly in the chair and my shirt rakes up to reveal a neat baby-pink bow on my bikini bottoms. He stares, unabashedly and I pull the hem of my shirt down again. He looks away and reaches with both hands over his head, grabbing his shirt and pulls it over his head and down his arms with one motion. I watch, admiring the natural tan, and the cut of his chest, the way his tattoos flow with his body. He's a beautiful man, with only one flaw and it certainly isn't physical, not by any means at all. He has those effortless good looks, whereas Cole had a darker, intense sexuality that he could turn off and on at will, he would gift you with it but rarely. Caleb doesn't need a switch, he is stuck at on.
His dark brown hair mixed with my flaxen blonde is what brought about Henry's ash blonde color. His medium blue eyes mixed with my green brought about Henry's hazel blue-gold irises. His incredible rage mixed with my submissiveness brought about a child who doesn't know which end is up in his emotional map, with no compass, who has had to be taught how to act and react and how to control his feelings, lest they ruin his life forever.
Isn't that how this works?
We are getting business out of the way first today and Caleb passes me an envelope stuffed with results of his most-recent health checkup. He flies to a private clinic in the US for his stress tests and such, a top-notch facility where money can buy almost anything except dishonesty. Here we discover right away how he is doing, and how his heart is holding up, in spite of the disease that threatens to rip one more knight from my round table.
I frown, trying to recall the different medical terminology and he smiles gently and explains, line by line, crowding in beside me on the lounge chair until we are pressed together tightly between the arms of the chair. He smells like aftershave and Maker's Mark. He smells really good.
It is a positive report. Everything is positive and he is healthy. His heart is working. That's all I need to see, that he isn't going to just drop. At least not from this.
He shifts on the chair slightly and puts his arm around me, his chin resting on the top of my head. It's so warm and breezy out. I want to fall asleep, I am so relaxed. He has bigger plans.
My proposal now?
What? I break out of my reverie.
Did you have a chance to review my proposal? The new deal I made for you?
I bite my lip and shake my head. I didn't open it.
How come? He shifts again and I am in his arms, pressed against his chest, my face somewhere below his and he pulls back to look at me.
I push off and stand up, pulling myself across the deck along the railing, hypnotized by the sea. It's the same song and dance. I don't know what you want me to say.
I want you to read it and then give me feedback, princess. Am I getting close? What would you include? What would you take away? What do I need to do differently?
You want me to give you a map to show you the way to my heart, at the expense of my marriage and my other relationships?
Well...yes. He laughs, sheepishly. I want you to tell me what you want and that's what I will do.
I daydream, instantly. Beyond his means, far beyond his capabilities. I smile and he catches on.
Not something I can't pull off, Bridget. I want to know how to win your favor. Permanently.
I roll my eyes and finish my drink. I stop talking. Talking never served any purpose anyway. I sit down beside him on the chair and tilt my drink up to drain the last drops of gin. He laughs.
I get it, no more words.
I shake my head and smile. No more words, Caleb.
Only one thing left, then. He pulls me down against his skin. He is warm from the sun and I relax my muscles and let go, closing my eyes as his arms close around my thin frame. He squeezes me and exhales.
We are interrupted by one of the crew, who is clearly new and was told to clean this deck, not seeming to understand that if the owner is using it, all bets are off. But Caleb doesn't engage him, instead apologizing and pulling me to my feet. He leads me inside, and then heads back out for the glasses and we bump down the hallway, giggling like little children, overheated and without a care in the world. I don't know what he puts in my drink but I feel like I've had three or four instead of one, and the edges of the day are fuzzy and out of focus, veering wildly. I see his grin before me and I follow it until we reach the master suite, my tiny fingers threaded through his.
The minute my head hits the pillow I want to sleep. Clearly his afternoon holds other plans. I am spun out, held tightly and turned until clothing becomes bare flesh. He is holding me down, fingers tightly wrapped around my neck, forcing my wrist back down when I bring up my hand to block him, and putting his head down to whisper in my ear, words of comfort. Reassurance. Promises made where promises have absolutely no business at all.
He kisses down my face, along my jawline, to my neck, shoulders and back and then he pulls me into his arms and rocks against me, hard. Deliberately rough. Desperate. Determined. And I let go. I don't fight him. I let him take what he wants and I give him what he needs and I don't fight anymore. I don't feel what he wants me to feel and I don't think about Cole. It's a first.
Later when the afternoon sun hits the floor he seems to be almost dozing. Eyes closed. Head jutting out over the top of my skull again, arms still locked around me. I could drift off. The stateroom is cozy and secure. Abruptly he gets up and pulls on his shorts and leaves the room. I turn over lazily and stretch, pulling the sheet up to my chin, frowning at the time on the screen of my phone.
He returns with a tray that contains toast, orange juice and the proposal.
I take a piece of toast and a sip of juice and then he takes it all back out of my hands and replaces it with the envelope.
I don't want to look at this now.
Well then, when?
Is it time-sensitive?
If it wasn't, could I still say yes?
Then no. I guess not. Hell, thirty years, Bridget, what's another decade or two? He gets up again and walks out.
I find him back on deck. The crew have been released for the day and the boat is ours, save for the captain, who isn't Caleb because Caleb doesn't have any interest in navigating water, just time.
I glance a kiss off the "B" in his tattoo.
What's the rush, Cale?
I've grown old waiting for you. It's starting to kill me. Slowly.
Oh, come on.
You get whatever you want. It's an argument he dares to start and I put my finger up in front of his face. One. Shhhhh. Hush. Quiet. Don't. Whatever that finger means, it works.
My eyes spill over. The valve is turned and the tears begin to slide down my cheeks.
I don't get what I want. He isn't alive anymore.
Who? It's a challenge. Someone's in the mood to fight.
I see the rage and jealousy wash over his face and I am suddenly wishing for it to strike me with full force. Throw me over. Hold me under until I drown. Either way, I win.
He never had the time invested in you that we do, princess. I don't understand.
It wasn't a game to him. There were no winners or losers. He just wanted me for me.
Caleb just stares at me. He is watching me wait for him to respond. I focus on his jaw flexing. In, out. In, out. His eyes flash from angry to frustrated to worried to confused to gracious and back to angry. But still I wait.
I don't have a map or a key or a solution or an instruction manual for-
I know this. I KNOW! He yells.
Then whatever your proposal includes isn't important, is it?
I still want you to read it, Bridge. You might be surprised.
I did not get a chance to read it.
Upon returning home, Lochlan took it from my bag, read it through and then took it out to the fire bowl on the patio and tore it to ribbons, stirring it into the flames until it was nothing more than melted letters on charred scraps of paper. I asked Lochlan what it said and he swore at me and he forbade me to ever go near Caleb again. Ever. That he's finally gone too far.
I had to promise Lochlan until we were both shaking. In return I exacted promises that he would protect me from this. From Caleb and his plans and his needs and his desires. We know these promises won't hold past sunrise but we still crossed our hearts anyway, hoping to die, pretty sure at this point that all of this is going to ultimately kill us anyway.