Authors: JC Andrijeski
I didn’t want to have to explain to him why I didn’t want to talk to him, or why I did want to talk to him, or why I cared, or why I couldn’t even come up with coherent words to explain any of how I felt to him, or why I so badly wanted to yell at him right now. I didn’t want to talk to him about why my stomach hurt just from hearing his voice, or why I felt so fucking abandoned when he walked out that day and acted like it was no big deal to leave me.
His presence grew achingly soft. Warmth blasted into my chest, affection, making me close my eyes, pulling on me.
Miri, gods, Miri. I––
I could feel what he was about to say, and I shook my head.
No. Don’t say it.
I gritted my teeth.
Don’t say that to me when you’re thousands of miles away and sending me trinkets with your vast millions of dollars, just to shut me up...
That’s not why. That’s not why!
Then why? What do you want from me?
Feeling my anger harden, I thought about Nick again, deliberately thinking about that kiss, about how good it had been, the fact that just that afternoon, Nick had been feeling me out for more than just a drunken kiss. Feeling the intensity of Black’s reaction somewhere in the background, even as he tried to keep it from me, I realized I was trying to hurt him, trying to shove him away from me.
Or maybe trying to bring him back.
Gods, Miri. You’re driving me fucking crazy. You must know. You must know how I feel about you. How much I––
But I still couldn’t hear it.
Go away, Black,
I sent coldly.
He fell silent. I clenched my jaw harder.
Just leave me alone and go away,
That time, after what felt like a really long pause...
I FELT BAD about what I’d said to him later.
I felt bad, I saw how crazy I was acting, how I wasn’t being reasonable.
So when they offered me a place on the couch, I told them I was going to take a cab home and come back in the morning.
Nick frowned. From his expression, he maybe even guessed what I was thinking.
Or maybe... probably... I just read into the look he gave me to a ridiculous degree.
Either way, I didn’t budge on leaving. I promised all of them that I’d be back in the morning before they woke, and that I’d be there when they came down to open their presents. I promised Nick and Angel first, but I didn’t see Nick relax until he saw me saying it to his kid nieces.
It’s one thing to lie to adults, but Nick knew I’d never lie to those kids.
So I called a cab, and sat on the porch with Nick and Angel, sharing sips off a bottle of tequila Nick opened while we waited for the cab company to wade through the dozens of drunken calls they’d already gotten. Almost an hour had passed before it was finally my turn on the queue and a bright green cab pulled up to the curb.
“You really don’t have to leave, Miri,” Nick told me, grabbing my hand as I stood up from the porch steps. “There’s plenty of room. Really.”
That time, maybe because he’d drunk enough, I felt the heat behind the request. I also felt the extra pressure on my fingers as he held on to me a few seconds too long.
I almost wondered if Angel noticed too, since she cleared her throat, looking away as she took another swig off the half-finished bottle, her expression neutral.
I disentangled my hand from his gently.
“I need to go home, Nick,” I said. I smiled at him. “But I’ll be here bright and early to help you fine-tune that hangover. And I’ll bring coffee.”
He grunted, smiling, but I saw the tautness behind it.
Briefly, I almost wondered if he’d ask me about Black.
He didn’t though. He just watched me until I walked to the curb and opened the cab door.
HE MUST HAVE been listening. Watching at least.
I went home and took a shower, then crawled into bed without bothering to get dressed. I lay there, under the covers, naked with wet hair, when I felt Black’s presence cautiously pooling around me again.
Something about the way he did it felt almost like asking permission.
You’re not going to open any presents from me, are you?
he sent softly, after I exhaled, making it clear I knew he was there.
Not even one? Not even if I ask?
Even so, I felt the part of me that had already softened.
Some deeper, less conscious part of me had already relaxed; it couldn’t help but relax once I felt him with me. I wasn’t sure if that irritated me more than it genuinely relaxed me though, at least in the conscious part of my mind.
I didn’t like needing him. I didn’t want to need anyone, not like that.
he sent, hearing me.
Things work differently for seers, Miriam.
He said it matter-of-factly, as if that explained everything.
I knew for him it did... in some ways, at least.
His thoughts grew even softer.
Not even one present, Miri? Not even if I ask really, really nicely?
He pulled on me more, his thoughts warmer, more deliberately coaxing.
I sent you an actual Christmas present this time, Miri. A real one.
I let out a low snort.
As opposed to what?
he sent at once.
The others were groveling. This is a present-present.
Sighing, I stared up at my ceiling.
Is it here? The non-groveling present?
I felt a flush of pleasure on him when he felt me wavering.
Outside your door. You practically tripped on it walking in. I didn’t want to say anything then.
Staring up at the ceiling, I fought with the part of me that wanted to argue with him more, that wanted to resist the warmth he was pooling all over me.
It felt futile though.
Exhaling in a near growl, I threw back the covers.
I could feel that he’d relaxed too, and not entirely because I wasn’t yelling at him anymore. I didn’t really want to think about why that was, or if it had anything to do with the fact that I’d left Nick’s house, knowing Black wouldn’t want me to sleep there.
he sent. His thoughts grew more blunt, carried more of an edge.
But I appreciate it, doc... a lot. More than I should probably tell you right now.
I’m not sleeping with him, Black,
I sent, exasperated.
Just shoving your tongue down his throat when you’re drunk,
Just letting him put his fucking hands on you...
The words came out hard, abrupt. I felt regret on him the instant he said them.
I also felt I wasn’t the only one who had been drinking.
Even so, a denser heat reached his thoughts.
Gods, Miri. Don’t do that again... please. I just about fucking lost it. I’m still not... handling it well, Miriam...
I shook my head as I crossed my living room in the dark.
You don’t get to tell me what to do,
I informed him.
Not when you leave like you did. Not when you take off and won’t even tell me why. You don’t get a vote, Black.
he sent, harder.
You seem to have some pretty strong opinions about what I do with my cock when you’re not around.
I flinched, frowning at that, but I didn’t answer at first.
We’re friends, Black,
I meant me and Nick,
I sent, annoyed.
No you didn’t,
he sent back, sharper.
And stop fucking with me, please. Please, Miri. And stop pretending you don’t know I think of you as my girlfriend. Or that you don’t know how completely fucking insane it made me, having to watch you with Nick the other night...
No one made you watch,
You’re my girlfriend, Miriam... in my mind at least. Don’t pretend you didn’t hear that part. If you want me to think about you differently, you need to tell me...
I sighed, shaking my head.
We’ve never even slept together, Black.
Is that the criteria now? For being with someone? To have had intercourse?
I pursed my lips though, standing in front of my closed front door.
Why haven’t we slept together, Black? You know I would have, those days when we first got back from Bangkok. I as much as asked you for it.
The silence deepened again.
Can we talk about that later, Miri?
I paused, even as I finished undoing the last lock on the door to my flat.
“Why?” I said aloud.
He didn’t answer.
Exhaling in exasperation when the silence deepened, I opened the door, not thinking about the fact that the outdoor light was on over my porch until I’d already swung it wide. Making a snap decision, I leaned out and snatched the package up anyway, despite my lack of clothes.
Bringing it inside, I closed the door behind me.
Thanks for that,
he muttered as I re-locked the door.
Now I’m going to worry about your fucking neighbors, on top of everything else...
Did any of them see that?
There was a silence, and I shook my head when I realized he was actually looking.
I told him.
I’m worried about you,
Biting my lip when I felt the emotion behind that, I decided to let it go.
I looked at the box I held in my hands. His mind had gone silent again, so I didn’t have access to any of my usual guessing games.
Pausing to light a few candles on the coffee table where I’d left matches earlier, I sat cross-legged on the floor by the same table, on a rug I had left over from my parents’ house. Pulling one of the glass candleholders down to the floor, I placed the box down in front of me. I didn’t bother to look for scissors but found the seams in the brown paper with my fingers, plucking at the tape and then tearing the paper to get it open.
The box was relatively small. It was square, about the size of something that might hold a coffee mug, or a balled up T-shirt.