"I can't argue that," I said.
"I don't mean Jean-Claude," he said.
"You broke up with me before I was with Micah the first time," I said.
He shook his head and then screamed, partly pain, and partly anger, I think. "Once I calmed down, I could have forgiven you about Micah. I'd seen it with Raina and Marcus, but you moved him in here. Even that, I would have let go, or tried to, but I thought you were screwing Nathaniel. I thought you were f**king him before you broke up with me."
"One, you broke up with me." I needed not to be held when I was this angry. "Let me go, Micah."
"Let me go, I'll try not to do anything stupid."
He sighed, but he let his arms fall to his sides. I walked out just far enough not to be pressed to his body.
"Like I said, you broke up with me, Richard, not the other way around. You broke up with me, because, quote, you didn't want to love someone who was more comfortable with the monsters than you were, unquote."
He actually looked embarrassed. "That was really unfair of me, and I'm sorry."
He'd finally got me in the mood for a good fight, and he was apologizing, what kind of a fight was that? "Sorry about what, that you said it, or that you believe it?"
"I'd really rather this was just the two of us, Anita. Please."
I shook my head. "You had your chance to be alone with me, and you didn't want it. These are the hands that held me while I cried over you, they've earned the right to stay."
He nodded. "I guess fair is fair," he said, "but there are some things that you deserve to hear that they don't. If you ever let me be alone with you again, I have things you need to hear, but today in front of them, this is all you get. I thought you were cheating on me with Nathaniel before Micah ever came along. Now I know that wasn't true."
"What on God's green earth made you think I was doing Nathaniel that far back?"
"The way you looked at him. The way you reacted to him." He looked at me, and his expression asked, Why wouldn't I think that?
"I'm attracted to a lot of men, it doesn't mean I'm ha**ng s*x with them." In my head, I added, just because you never pass up a piece of tail, doesn't mean I don't, but I didn't say it out loud. First, it wasn't entirely true, and second, the fight was winding down, I didn't want to wind it back up.
"I know that now, and I'm sorry." He glanced at Nathaniel, who must have put the biscuits in the oven while we were arguing, because he was starting to get plates down, and the pans of biscuits were nowhere in sight. "You asked me why if I'm ha**ng s*x with Clair, I don't look at her the way you look at Nathaniel."
"I'm sorry, I had no right to say that, especially not in front of her."
"I started it," he said, "but the answer is simple. I don't feel for her what you feel for him."
I shook my head. "Why is everyone so determined that we're a couple?"
He smiled, and it was sort of sad, wistful, and bitter all at once. It reminded me of Micah's smile when he'd first come to me. "Because you're more of a couple right now without the sex than I have been with anyone that I've been sleeping with."
I didn't say, including Clair, because it was none of my business, and it would have been mean. I didn't want to be mean.
"Sex doesn't make you a couple, Richard, love makes you a couple." The moment it left my mouth, I would have taken it back. I was just sort of frozen there, afraid to look anywhere but at Richard's face, because I didn't know what my own face looked like, I didn't want to show shock to Nathaniel, but I didn't know what else to show. I hadn't meant to say it.
"You always do that," Richard said.
"What?" I asked in a small voice, that didn't sound like me at all.
"Fight, rail against it."
"Love, Anita, you don't like being in love. I don't know why, but you don't."
I had no idea what to say to that.
"I'm going to check on Gregory. Either Damian's asleep, or he ate him." His words tried to make light of it, but his face and eyes couldn't pull it off. But he turned and left, vanishing into the dimness of the living room beyond.
The kitchen was suddenly very, very quiet. If Micah was still standing behind me, no noise betrayed it. I knew he was still there, but he must have been holding his breath, waiting for me to say something, do something. The trouble was I didn't know what to do.
Nathaniel walked past me without a word. He had an armful of plates, green glass, blue glass. He started laying them out on the table in front of the chairs. First a green, then a blue. He went around the table away from me, then laid the last one back at the head of the table within touching distance of me. I'd stayed like some kind of idiot, rooted to the spot, not sure what to say. I couldn't declare undying love, because it's not what I felt. It wasn't.
He moved that small step from the table, and he was suddenly standing right in front of me, close enough that I got a faint whiff of vanilla, and it wasn't the baking. His face was serious, but his eyes held a hint of a smile. He leaned in and laid a kiss on my cheek, while I stood there like an idiot. I was afraid. Afraid that he'd demand that I tell him I loved him, or something equally ridiculous, or equally impossible. But he didn't. He just kissed me, then leaned back with a smile. "I've had hundreds of people tell me they love me, but they didn't mean it. They just wanted to use me. You may never say the words out loud, but you mean them."
The timer buzzed on the oven, and he turned with a smile. "Biscuits are ready." He used a dish towel for a pot holder and took the biscuits out. They were golden brown, and the smell of them filled the kitchen. He took out the second pan, closed the oven, turned it off, and looked at me. "I know how you feel about me now, because you'd have died before saying it in front of Richard, unless it was true. If you never say it again, I'll always value that I heard it once."
He started toward the darkened living room. "I'll tell everybody that breakfast is ready." He stopped at the door and turned back, with a grin on his face that I'd never seen before. One accidental confession, and he was suddenly cocky. "But I still want intercourse." He vanished around the doorframe, trailing a sound of masculine laughter.
Micah came to stand beside me. "Anita, are you alright?" When I didn't answer, he gripped my upper arms, and said, "Look at me."
I blinked too fast and too often, but I looked at him. Things were moving too fast for me. I grabbed his arms and said the first thing that occurred to me. "If I faint, Richard will think I did it because of him."
"You're not going to faint. You never faint." He started easing me into a chair as he finished saying it. I let him, because I was feeling fuzzy around the edges. I didn't want to sit here and have breakfast with these people. I needed some time to think, and the only way to get it was to hide in my bedroom. I couldn't bear to hide. Damn it, for the first time in my life I wished I was a little less stubborn, a little less brave.
My head was between my knees when everyone trooped back in. I didn't faint, but I don't know how, because sitting across from Richard and watching Clair butter his biscuits made me wish I had.
Nathaniel laid out silverware, fetched more coffee, made sure we had at least six kinds of jam, jelly, and preserves. When had there ever been red currant jelly in my refrigerator? I looked at this man bustling about my kitchen, and knew the answer, since Nathaniel had been doing the grocery shopping.
Part of me wanted to run away, but the other small part of me that usually saves me from being a total pain in the ass was wondering if they made those white frilly aprons wide enough to fit over Nathaniel's shoulders. I mean if he was going to play Suzy Homemaker, didn't he need an apron, and maybe a string of pearls? The thought made me giggle, and I couldn't stop it, and I couldn't share it. I ended up having to excuse myself from the table to let the laughter have its way with me. By the time Micah found me, the laughter had given way to tears again. Nathaniel didn't come looking for us. I was glad, except for a small part of me that kept expecting him to come through the door. I was ready to be angry if he came, and disappointed if he didn't. Some days I don't make sense, not even to me.
Micah tried to lure me out of the bedroom with the promise of breakfast and claiming that I couldn't hide in there all day. I think it was the hiding comment that got me. I accused him of saying it deliberately, and he said, "Of course I did. Nathaniel isn't expecting you to fall on your knees and propose. He's happy the way things are."