"Ronnie said a lot of things," he said, voice softer, less angry, more puzzled. He shook himself like a dog coming out of water, and managed to give me a smile. It left his eyes sad, but it was a start. "Maybe she just couldn't stand to see you committing yourself to somebody, not that much."
I shrugged, because I didn't think that was it, but I couldn't blame him for thinking it. "I don't know."
He gave me that smile again, his eyes like dark hopeless pools. "You go home, Anita, and enjoy it." I caught a glitter of tears before he turned away and looked out into the dark again.
I didn't know what to do. Was I supposed to hug him? If it had been a girlfriend, I probably would have. But it wasn't, he wasn't, and I didn't need any more complications tonight. I did the guy thing, and patted him awkwardly on the back. Whether I would have worked up to a full-blown hug, I don't know, because Micah was beside us.
"Sorry to interrupt, but it's been nearly an hour since we hit the parking lot." It was his subtle way of reminding me that sometimes an hour was all we got from the time I squashed the ardeur down to the time it resurfaced.
I took the hint. With Micah beside me, I felt more secure. If the ardeur had risen, he'd have been there to see that nothing disastrous happened. I slid my arm through Louie's arm and bumped my head against his shoulder. "Come on, Louie, we'll walk you to Jason's car."
He nodded, as if he didn't trust his voice, and was careful not to look at either of us as we walked him toward the lights of the parking lot. Micah pretended that nothing was wrong. I pretended that there were no tears to see. I kept my hold on his arm all the way to where Jason waited standing beside his car.
Jason opened the passenger side door for Louie, giving me a questioning look over Louie's shoulder.
I started to shake my head, but Louie hugged me. Hugged me suddenly, and fiercely, so tight it took my breath away. I thought he'd say something, but he didn't. He just held on, and I wrapped my arms around his back, held him, because I couldn't not hold him. About the time I thought I was going to have to think of something to say, he stepped back. He'd been crying while he held me, but I hadn't felt a single sob, nothing, but the fierceness in his arms, his hands, and silent tears.
He blinked and gave Micah an odd smile, that was almost a sob. "How did you talk her into moving in with you?"
"I moved in with her," he said, voice very quiet, very even, a careful voice, reserved for frightened children, and overly emotional adults. I'd heard that voice often enough aimed at me. "And she asked me."
"Lucky," Louie said, and that one word sounded like it meant anything but, lucky.
"I know," Micah said, and he put an arm around my shoulders and moved me just a little back from Louie, so there was room for him to get through the open car door.
Louie nodded again, too rapidly, and too many times. "Lucky." He slid into the car, and Jason shut the door behind him.
Jason leaned into me. "What just happened?"
It wasn't my secret to tell, but it felt like dirty pool sending Jason to drive Louie home without warning him. "It's his secret to tell, not mine. I'm sorry. But let's just say he's had a rough night."
Louie knocked on the window. The sound made both Jason and me jump. Micah had either seen it coming, or had better nerves than we did. Jason moved back enough so the door could open. "Don't bother to whisper this close to the car. I can hear you."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't be, it's not like he didn't see the fight. Tell him, so I don't have to." And Louie closed the door again. He leaned his head back against the seat, and more of those completely silent tears began to escape him.
We all looked away, as if it were somehow shameful to watch. I think we'd have been less embarrassed if he'd been undressed. "What is up?" Jason said.
"He proposed to Ronnie, and she said no."
Jason's mouth dropped open just like mine had. "You are joking me."
I shook my head. "Wish I was."
"But they are like one of the happiest couples I know."
I shrugged. "I don't explain the news, I just report it."
"Shit," Jason said. He glanced back at his car, and at Louie. "I'll get him home."
Jason gave me a shadow of his usual grin. "Well, can't send him home with you. Wouldn't that complicate the hell out of things?"
"What?" I asked.
Micah kissed me on the side of the face. "The ardeur rising with Louie in the car. Speaking of which..."
"You guys go," Jason said, "we'll be okay."
I kissed him on the cheek, quick and sisterly. "You're a braver man than I am, Gunga Din."
He laughed. "That's not the original quote, is it?"
"Not exactly, but it's still true."
He looked suddenly serious again. Very unJasonlike. "I don't know if I'm brave or not, but I'll get him tucked in."
"We have to go," Micah said. He started leading me toward our Jeep.
I kept looking back as Jason went around the car and got in. Louie sat motionless, head back. From a distance, you couldn't tell he was crying.
Micah pulled me in against his body, hugging me loosely to his side. I leaned in against the solidness of him and slid my arm around his waist, so that we finished the walk touching from chest to thigh. I was glad he was with me. Glad we were driving home together. Glad that home meant both of us.
Nathaniel was leaning against the side of the Jeep watching us walk toward him. He was leaning with his hands behind him so that his weight trapped his hands behind him, pinned between his h*ps and the Jeep. It wasn't just intercourse that Nathaniel hadn't been getting with me. Nathaniel had other "needs" that I was, if possible, even less comfortable with. It made him feel peaceful to be tied up. Peaceful to be abused. Peaceful. I'd asked him why he enjoyed it once, and he'd told me that it made him feel peaceful. It made him feel safe.
How could being tied up make you feel safe? How could letting someone hurt you, even a little, make you feel good? I didn't get it. I just didn't get it. Maybe if I'd understood it better, I'd have been less afraid to go that last mile with him. What if we had intercourse and it wasn't enough? What if he just kept pushing, pushing me to do things that I found... frightening? He was supposed to be the submissive, and I was his dominant. Didn't that mean that I was in charge? Didn't that mean he did what I said? No. I'd had to learn enough to understand Nathaniel and some of the other wereleopards, because he wasn't the only one with interesting hobbies. The submissive had a safe word, and once they said that word, all the play stopped. So in the end, the dominant had an illusion of power, but really the submissive got to say how far things went, and when they stopped. I'd thought I could control Nathaniel because he was so submissive, but it was tonight that I realized the truth. I wasn't in control anymore. I didn't know what was going to happen with Nathaniel, or me, or Micah. The thought terrified me, so I thought about it, really thought about it. What if I found Nathaniel a new place to live? What if I found him a new place to be? A new life?
I rolled it over in my mind as we walked across the pavement. I thought about sending him home with someone else, letting him weep on someone else's shoulder. But more than that, I thought about getting under the covers with only Micah on one side, and no one on the other side. Nathaniel had his side of the bed now. I hadn't realized it until that second, hadn't let myself realize it. The three of us enjoyed reading Treasure Island to each other. For Micah and me it was a revisiting of childhood favorites, for the most part, but for Nathaniel most of the books were new to him. He'd never had anyone read to him before bedtime. Never had anyone share their books with him. What kind of childhood is it without books, stories to share? I knew that he'd had an older brother, who died, and a father who died, and a mother who died. That they'd died, I knew, but not how, or when, except that he'd been young when it happened. He didn't like talking about it, and I didn't like seeing the look in his eyes when he did, so I didn't push. I didn't have a right to push if I wasn't his girlfriend. I didn't have a right to push if I wasn't his lover. I was only his Nimir-Ra, and he didn't owe me his life story.
I thought about not having Nathaniel in the bed, not for feeding, but not having him there to hear the rest of the story. To hear what happened when Jim realizes what a soft-hearted villain Long John Silver really is. The thought of him not being there at that moment when we come to the end of the adventure was painful, a wrenching kind of pain, as if my stomach and my heart both hurt at the same time.