Authors: Autumn Markus
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Fiction
“Yeah.” They smiled at each other. Then something Leisa said finally sunk in. “Wait a minute…came back? You were actually in the apartment earlier this morning?”
“I said so, didn’t I?” Leisa said absentmindedly, pulling her phone from her purse and flipping to her calendar. “I came over for an early riser. I thought Travis was something else in the morning, but you guys—”
“Stop!” Jena held out her hand. “Key. Now.”
Leisa looked up and shook her head thoughtfully. “I don’t think so. It will just end up in Nick’s pocket and him living here, and don’t you even deny it.” She looked at Jena, eyebrow arched. “No argument? Good. I’d hate to see us start on lies now. Before we take the big step of moving houses, let’s see how well your nomad holds it together, okay? Just for a while?”
Jena saw the seriousness behind the laughter in Leisa’s eyes and nodded slowly, dropping her hand to her lap. “Okay. We wait.
For a little while.”
doing whatever he could to please Kapos, hoping against hope that the resident might have mercy and let him go on time the night of the concert. Hearing Conor joke about how much fun he was going to have with Jena drove Nick crazy, especially when he didn’t see her for those days. She was trying to get a weekend’s worth of research and studying done so she could go out with a clean conscience.
Kapos kept Nick on edge until the very last minute, waiting until exactly four thirty to walk into the break room where he was muttering over charts. The resident feigned a look of surprise and asked why Nick was still there when his shift was over.
Nick’s head jerked up, expressions vacillating fleetingly between irritation and hope before he was able to marshal the neutral look that Kapos favored. The resident watched him closely for a moment before smiling in satisfaction.
“He’s capable of learning! No one should ever see your disappointment or how pissed off you get when things go wrong.” He looked pointedly toward the door. “What are you waiting for, Cooper? Your rotation is over. Get the hell out of here.” He walked out the door, whistling, not waiting to see Nick jump to his feet to shove his white coat into his locker before grabbing a jacket and rushing out himself.
Conor and Sam didn’t even look around from their heated
battle when Nick dashed in the door of Jena’s apartment and gasped out that he would just be a minute.
“What makes you so sure we still have a ticket for you, Dickolas?” Conor asked coolly, trying to hide his smile when Leisa walked in to the room and Nicholas visibly slumped.
“Don’t be mean, Connie,” Leisa ordered, flicking him on the back of the head as she smiled at Nick. “Travis and I have our own tickets. Jena is changing, but she’ll be right out.”
Nick scowled at the back of Conor’s head. He dropped his satchel next to the door and slumped on the couch. Leisa joined him. She curled her feet beneath her and looked at Nick seriously. “How are you, Nicholas? Better?”
“Yep.” He looked toward the hall. “My best medicine is in a room back there.”
Where I belong
, he added to himself, and not just because most of his clothes were in the bedroom with Jena. Because she lived closer to campus, Nick’s wardrobe had slowly but surely migrated across town. Any inconvenience was more than made up for by the few extra precious minutes spent holding her every morning.
Leisa smiled at him, and had opened her mouth to speak when the trill of Jena’s phone cut her off. She rose and picked it up from the counter before schlepping it back to Jena’s room.
Flopping back down on the couch when her errand was complete, she opened her mouth to speak again, only to grunt in frustration when Jena called Nick’s name hesitantly, saying the call was for him. Nick smiled apologetically as he headed for Jena’s room.
His hand was on the doorknob when Jena stepped out, holding the sides of a tiny, red kimono closed. Nicholas let out a low whistle, and she rolled her eyes, her lips curled into a smirk that didn’t quite make it to her eyes. She danced out of his way as he snatched playfully at her robe, and tossed him the phone. Nick watched her legs until they disappeared into her room and the door closed.
Oh, yeah. Phone.
“Hello?” he asked, walking back to the living room and wondering who would be calling him on Jena’s phone.
“Nicholas? Please don’t hang up.” He nearly dropped the phone when he heard his mother’s voice. The shock must have been apparent on his face, because Leisa’s eyebrows raised and she quietly stood up from the couch, discretely leaving the room so he could talk in relative privacy.
“How the hell did you get this number?” Anger thrummed in every word; he barely noticed the look that passed between Conor and Sam before they shut down the Xbox and headed for the kitchen. “Didn’t the fact that I don’t answer my own phone clue you in that I don’t want to talk to you, Mother?”
The problem was, he was relieved to hear her voice. He wasn’t terribly close to either parent, but he’d been a little closer to his mother. She always seemed interested in whatever he was doing, and her soft, cultured laughter was family to him.
“I tracked down Conor’s mother. Do you know how many Gradys there are in Boston?” She chuckled weakly, and Nick’s heart ached. “I was lucky the third day and got a cousin who gave me the right number.” Nicholas was surprised that his quiet mother had that kind of tenacity and had to grudgingly admire the grit it would have taken her to talk to complete strangers for days. “I told her what happened, and she promised to get me a number where I could get hold of you.”
Fucking Conor. Nick knew where Mrs. Grady had to have gotten Jena’s number.
“She also told me to tell you to remember the fourth commandment and not to be an ass.” Laura sighed. “I’m guessing that’s the one about honoring your parents?”
Nicholas sank down on the couch and leaned back, closing his eyes. “Yep. What do you want, Mom? And are you sure you want to talk to me on the gold digger’s phone?”
“Nicholas. Please don’t be like that. You don’t know the whole story, and it sounds like you’re still not interested in hearing it. I just wanted to know that you’re okay, son. I miss hearing from you. How are you? How is school going? How is Jena? I’ll take anything. Just…anything. Please talk to me.”
“Well, Mother, I’m fine after a minor breakdown and a horrible month. I’m not embarrassing the bastard in front of his good buddy, Dr. Call, anymore. Jena—” Nick’s voice thickened as he thought of how close he’d come to driving her away, and he had to clear his throat before he could continue. “Jena is beautiful and I love her, despite your best attempts to ruin that for me. Enough?”
There was a minute of quiet. “I’m so happy for you, though you probably don’t believe that. Neither your father nor I wish you or Jena any harm. I wish you would talk to him. You’ve totally misunderstood—”
“What, exactly, is there to misunderstand in his siccing that bitch on me and Jena? Why was it necessary to try to make Jena feel small, or to accuse her of being after money that I don’t even have or want? Was it his idea that Sofia grope me in front of Jena, or was that a bit of ad-libbing?”
The apartment was dead quiet except for Nick’s steadily rising voice, and he knew everyone was listening.
And he didn’t care.
“Your father had nothing to do with that.” His mother sounded angry. “He thinks Mark misunderstood something he said and took friendship too far. As far as Will knew, Mark’s daughter just wanted to get out of the hotel that night, so he called you for help. That is all, I swear to you, son.” She finished on a pleading note.
“What could he have possibly have said that could have been ‘misunderstood’ that badly? He’s a controlling bastard.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Look, don’t bother Jena anymore. I’ll answer if you call my phone, okay? I just don’t want to talk to Dad or
Dad. If that works for you, fine. If not, this is goodbye. I won’t have Jena hurt again, and I can’t…I can’t go through what I went through last month again.”
“Conor told me.” Her tone was gentle, and Nick squeezed his eyes closed to keep calm. “Nicholas, please…I’m so sorry for what happened. We love you, and—”
“Enough. Okay, Mom? Just enough. We’re getting ready to go out right now. Call me in a day or two and we can talk again.” Nick’s free hand was fisted, and he forced it to relax.
“Okay. A couple of days. I love you, son.”
Nicholas laughed roughly. “Do you realize I can count the times I’ve heard that on the fingers of one hand, and two were right now?” She drew a sharp breath, and Nick immediately felt guilty. “I know you do. I love you, too. Talk to you soon.”
Snapping the phone closed, he tossed it across the couch and sat with his head against the back, arm across his eyes, trying to find fun in the evening again.
The couch settled next to him, and Jena’s hand was on his leg. “Everything okay?”
One arm remained over Nick’s eyes, but he folded her fingers in his other hand. “Yeah. I guess so. I think she wanted to try to convince me that they’re not purely evil.” He chuckled reluctantly. “Sorry she called on your phone. Apparently someone with a
really big mouth
gave her your number.” He half yelled the last sentence, and grinned when Conor and Sam re-entered the room and the game console started up again.
“Consider it payback for this afternoon, Dickolas,” Conor grumped. “That was just nasty. And you’d better’d damn well fix whatever you guys broke in the bathroom.”
“What the hell could they break in there?” Travis’s curiosity-laden voice came from his room.
“Hell if I know. It sounded like the shower curtain went down, too.”
Nicholas choked back a laugh, remembering the more than slightly failed shower sex he and Jena had attempted that morning.
“Wet People are Slippery” should be a warning posted on all bathroom walls
, he thought fondly.
Leisa called from the kitchen, “I broke a toilet seat once. I was standing on it, and the guy I was with—”
“Do I really want to hear this, Leis?” Travis yelled, and Leisa giggled and stopped talking.
“Destruction is only acceptable in proportion to the magnitude of the orgasm involved,” Sam opined over the sound of machine gun fire. “Was it worth the cost of clean-up and repairs, Jena?”
“If that’s your yardstick, I think they could have hit the bathroom with a rocket launcher and it would be worth it,” Conor muttered, and everyone laughed.
Including Jena. Nicholas looked over and saw silent tears of laughter streaming down her cheeks as she clutched her stomach.
“You do realize our friends are discussing our sex life? Loudly? I’m surprised the neighbors haven’t weighed in with their opinions yet.” Nick started to laugh, too.
Jena nestled her head against his shoulder. “Nicholas, I’m the spawn of crazy people, and I seem to attract crazies wherever I go. If I got all out of joint whenever anything embarrassing came out of someone’s mouth, I’d have been dead long ago.” She reached up to kiss his cheek and said softly, “Give your mom a chance, okay? For me?”
Nicholas nodded and kissed the top of her head before standing up. “Spawn of crazy people, huh? What am I getting myself into with Thanksgiving?”
Jena grinned as she headed for her room. Nick got a glimpse of a black bra as she pulled the edges of the robe together. “If I told you, you’d run screaming. This is nothing next to the many ways my mom can embarrass me. At least your parents are just evil. That’s a decision, and they can change that. Mine are certifiable.”
“Agreed,” Travis and Leisa chorused from separate rooms. Jena smiled and shrugged as she shut the door.
Nicholas turned toward the TV with a sigh, the game providing background noise to his thoughts. Despite the joking, he wasn’t really in the mood for the concert after talking to his mother. Why couldn’t she leave well enough alone? He was just getting used to not hearing from her, and now he wanted to call back just to hear her voice.
Conor looked around at Nick pointedly. “We leave in ten, cupcake.” He had a thing for punctuality, and Nicholas had no doubt he’d leave without a second thought if Nick didn’t move his ass.
“Just a fucking minute,” Nicholas grumbled, brushing past Travis with a brief greeting before shutting himself in the bathroom and brushing his teeth at lightning speed. He pulled damp fingers through his hair and gave up.
Conor shook his head and jingled his keys in his hand as Nick re-entered the living room, jacket in hand. “You can’t be a Parrothead without an island shirt,” he declared.
Nicholas noticed Conor was wearing a green shirt with the gaudiest purple flowers that he had ever seen, and Sam was barely covered by a red flowered bikini top under her coat. Conor looked at his watch. “You have two minutes before we drive off into the sunset.”
“Fucker.” Nick dashed back to Jena’s room, kissing her as she exited, and grabbed the closest thing to an island shirt that he owned, throwing it on over a black tee. With a grin, he decided to change into the worn 501s that had provoked Jena’s “Holy Crap” moment a couple of weeks earlier. Shoving his feet into old Vans, he stomped into the living room. “Satisfied?”
Conor raised an eyebrow when he saw Nick’s shirt. “Plain red?” He snorted in disgust. “I’ll let it pass this time because it
have a small palm tree print on the pocket and we’re late, but that is totally unacceptable.”
“I think he looks pretty damned good,” Jena said, grinning at Nick from her perch on the arm of Travis’s chair.
Nick glanced toward her with a smile, but then turned his head for a better look. When he’d rushed past her to change his own clothes, he’d been focused on her face, not what she was wearing. But now that he was noticing…
Due to the nature of her job and lifestyle, Jena most often wore what was comfortable and sporty, but not that night. That night the worn khakis had been replaced by jeans so formfitting that they looked like they’d been sewn onto her body and a halter-top in a bright green that reflected and amplified the color of her eyes. Her wavy hair, usually pulled into a practical braid, had been coaxed into bedhead curls that framed her face and flowed down her back. She rose, her smile dimming as he continued to stare.
Conor’s voice was quietly amused. “You’d better take a bat, Nicholas, or she’s not getting out of the concert with you tonight.” He tugged Sam out the door, followed by Travis and Leisa.
“Well?” Jena finally asked, glancing up at him quickly. Nick could see that she was about two seconds from bolting back into her bedroom and locking the door.
He stepped close and ran one finger down her neck and over her shoulder while exploring her stomach with the fingertips of the other hand. “I think I’d like to go peel this outfit off of you,” he murmured. “Then I want to justify destruction of this apartment. Three or four times.”