“But Anita, you don’t have to have sex with someone if you don’t want to, not even out of guilt.”
“I’m drawn to her,” I said.
“Through the metaphysical ties, I get that, but you find her a burden, not a pleasure, and that’s not about her being a woman, that’s about you and her not being compatible.”
“How can I just kick her out of my bed? I’m the first kindness she’s had in centuries.”
“So it’s pity sex,” J.J. said.
I opened my mouth, closed it, and then tried to think instead of just denying it. I did feel sorry for Jade; who wouldn’t?
Jason snuggled me closer. “I’m sorry, Anita.”
I turned so that I was spooning against his body and could look at J.J. more. “Are you saying that my issue isn’t having sex with a girl, but that Jade just doesn’t match up with me in the bedroom?”
“If Jade were a boy, would you still be having sex with her, or would you have gotten frustrated and moved on?”
I tried to think that one through and finally said, “I don’t know.”
“I do,” Jason said.
J.J. looked at him, and he put his arm tighter around me, as if afraid I’d move away.
“And?” I asked, and even to me it sounded grumpy.
“Don’t sound so hostile, Anita.”
I think I frowned harder. “Just talk to me, Jason.”
He moved his face enough so I could see him smile at me. “I’ve seen you kick men out of your bed that were great lovers, men you enjoyed having sex with, because some other part of their personality didn’t match up with yours. I’ve never seen you be this patient or try this hard with any of the guys. I didn’t realize how hard you’ve been working with Jade until today. I’m sorry that I thought it was just a sort of homophobia.”
“I thought it was, too,” I said.
“You’ll never like women as much as you like men,” J.J. said. “You like dick too much.”
I half laughed. “J.J.”
“It’s so cute that you blush like that, but you don’t need to be embarrassed that you like dick better than pussy. I love Jason, and Nathaniel is amazing, but I’ll always love the girl parts better than the boy ones, and you’ll always be the opposite; no harm in that.”
I grinned at her and thought how perfect she was for Jason. I was so glad they’d found each other.
“You need to break up with Jade,” she said.
The grin faded. “I’m all she’s got.”
“You’re all she’s got because you haven’t made her find anyone else,” Jason said.
“I don’t know if she can take any more rejection.”
Jason turned me in his arms, so I was looking up into his sincere and strangely serious eyes. “Are you really willing to spend the rest of your life trying to date someone you not only don’t love, but that you actually don’t enjoy having sex with? Come on, Anita, everyone else that you’ve passed over for regular lovers has found other people to date, or at least fuck.”
“I feel guilty about them, too,” I said.
“I know you do,” he said, eyes still serious, but with a gentle smile to soften the edge of it.
“But why does she feel guilty?” J.J. asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Why do you feel guilty that you can’t be in love with all of them, or fuck all of them? Why does that make you feel guilty?”
“They’re tied to me metaphysically, some of them forever. They didn’t ask to be tied to me, and I don’t love them. I mean this really is until death do us part, and I don’t love them.”
“But you’re tied to them until death do you part, too, trapped with a whole bunch of people you don’t love. I’m not even sure you like all of them.”
“I don’t dislike any of them,” I said.
She smiled and patted my arm. “It’s okay, Anita, it’s okay that you don’t like everyone the ardeur has found for you.”
“Before I had so much control of the ardeur it could make the men, lovers, that it found for me perfect matches with me in so many ways; we think that’s what happened with Micah and Nathaniel.”
“Or maybe you would have loved them anyway, Anita,” she said.
I shrugged. “We’ll never know now, will we?”
“So you feel guilty because you had enough control to not fall in love with all of them?” she asked.
“Wait,” Jason said. “Damian and Nathaniel got tied to you at the same time and you didn’t fall head over heels with Damian, so just saying it’s all about control level on the ardeur isn’t true.”
I stared up at him; he was right. “Why didn’t I love Damian as much as Nathaniel then?”
“You were attracted to Nathaniel for a while, before the ardeur made him your leopard to call. You were never that drawn to Damian,” Jason said.
“Damian is beautiful and great, and . . .”
“You don’t have to defend him to us,” Jason said.
“You don’t like to reject anyone, do you?” J.J. said.
“It’s not that exactly, it’s more I like to include people, not exclude them, sort of; I don’t like the idea that anyone is lonely, or sad, that I’m responsible for.”
“You’re not responsible for all these people, Anita,” J.J. said.
“Yeah, actually, I am.”
Jason reached across me to rub his hand down her arm. “Actually, she sort of is.”
“Explain that to me again.”
I looked at Jason; he looked at me. He shook his head. “No, there is too much, I will sum up.”
She laughed. “All right, give me the short version.”
“Once vampires get organized, or powerful enough in any given area, they are at the top of the food chain. They see lycanthropes as less powerful, and a master vampire’s metaphysical abilities usually make that true. Jean-Claude is the first-ever vampire king of America, and that makes him the leader of all the metaphysical Americans, and Anita is his queen, so in effect she is part of the leadership of all of us, and that means she is responsible for us, all of us, in a way.”
“What he said.”
“So, you’re the queen to Jean-Claude’s king, I get that, but he doesn’t feel as responsible for everyone’s happiness as you do. He just makes sure they have a roof over their head, food, the basics; no leader is responsible for the emotional well-being of all the people that work for him. You can’t be, it’s not your job.”
“I’ve tied them to me, they can’t get away, and then I reject them? It’s just . . . mean.”
“But you’re just as trapped, Anita, and if you don’t work this issue, whatever it is, that makes you feel guilty and overly responsible to them all, you’re going to end up truly trapped, like forever.”
J.J.’s eyes were a little too direct. I looked down and found my naked body, still sticky from Jason, with him cuddled naked beside me. He and J.J. were holding hands across my bare stomach. I looked at it all, and didn’t want to have this conversation, and the moment I realized I was afraid of the conversation, was being chickenshit, I had to make myself meet that clear, blue gaze.
“There, why did you look back? You aren’t happy with me, you’re uncomfortable, but you’re going to tough it out, right?”
“No cowardice allowed,” I said.
“It’s not do or die, Anita, you’re just over your comfort level. It’s okay not to want to look at me right now.”
“Not for Anita,” Jason said, drawing her over me so he could kiss her, softly.
She drew back and looked at him. “What do you mean?”
Jason looked at me. “She is one of the bravest people I know, because when she’s scared, or nervous, or so uncomfortable that she wants to do anything but what she has to do, she does it anyway. She taught me that you can only truly be brave if you’re afraid, that without fear there is no bravery.”
“That’s . . . admirable,” J.J. said.
“You’re going to embarrass me talking like that, Jason,” I said.
“Well, you can return the favor by bragging on how amazing I am in bed.”