Debra! You’re dead! Van is NOTHING you made him out to be. I’m sitting at dinner listening to him ramble…it’s all white noise now…I tuned out over ages ago. You said he was hot! He’s a 7 only because he has a Rolex and resembles Chris Evans…everything else screams Republican. I bet he masturbates to women like me. I’m SO out of his league! No more blind dates! You know my type…where’s his edge? He’s blah!”
Janelle hit send, tucked her phone away, and regrettably turned her attention across the table to Van. Half an hour later, he was still talking though the conversation became marginally bearable with each compliment, which Janelle, accustomed to being the center of attention, greedily lapped up. She resumed texting when the conversation shifted away from greatness her.
Debra replied: Be nice. He drove hours to meet you. And you insisted on driving up a day ahead of us. Not so adventurous anymore, are you? We’ll see you tomorrow evening, depending on the weather.
“The weather?” In all the confusion, Janelle hadn’t noticed the storm brewing outside. Just then, the restaurant hostess warned of severe weather, and closed the eatery. Her planned escape thwarted, Janelle was now stuck in a log cabin in the middle of the Sierra Nevada with a man she secretly loathed.
Back at the cabin and resigned to her fate, Janelle, in a gesture of kindness after her childish behavior, offered Van her preferred side of the bed – a bed large enough for a small army. Ever patient, Van was under no illusion. Unlike Janelle’s whorish ex Michael who described her as a pretentious self-serving bitch, Debra believed Janelle’s self-obsession grew from insecurity. Janelle was striking, a little short and curvy, with a beautiful deep olive complexion, large dark eyes, and a wealth of thick chestnut hair which she pulled back into a knot. Since her breakup, she’d gone natural; something Michael violently opposed.
“Why are you walking around with a nappy head?” Debra told Van how Michael’s words had cut Janelle to her core. “Tread lightly. Janelle is more sensitive than she appears.” She forewarned. Van was her boyfriend Ben’s lifelong friend she’d met while visiting Ben’s family in Del Norte County, four hundred miles north of Napa County where they lived. Debra needn’t worry – Van’s history with the jaded type was par for the course and Janelle didn’t intimidate him nor would he go out of his way to impress her. For him, their weekend would affirm his belief that the right woman was worth the wait.
Lights out, Janelle forwent the sexy lingerie she’d purchased for the occasion, and slipped into bed wearing a knee length tee-shirt. Van stripped down to his boxers and crawled in beside her. Though their chemistry meter read zero, she expected Van to try his luck. To her dismay, he went fast asleep. The weather worsened as the hours ticked by. Janelle stared up at the pitch black ceiling, unable to sleep. Van didn’t stir.
“Van?” she tapped his back. “I can’t sleep.”
“Really? You woke me up to say you couldn’t sleep.” Van grunted slightly annoyed. “I thought that only happened in films.” He turned onto his stomach, clutching his pillow. “Just close your eyes…count sheep…go to your happy place…” his voice tapered off.
Janelle tossed and turned, kicking herself for seeking the attention of a man she deemed inferior. She thought he was full of himself, but found herself caring about what he thought of her, which is why his indifference both comforting and conversely unnerving. Janelle possessed keen observation. Nevertheless, Van Young was an enigma, an open book yet utterly unreadable. His hazel eyes seemed to bore under her skin in search of sustenance and reduced her from femme fatale to femme banale with the bat of his thick lashes. She hadn’t wowed him with charm or compulsory first date dribble. In fact, he greeted them with only mild concern. He wasn’t like any man she’d known; when she spoke, he listened intensely. And though Janelle feared Van might unlock her inner doors, this unassuming man intrigued her.
Janelle rolled over, her stomach on Van’s back. “Hope the weather let’s up.” Her bare legs rubbed his. His muffle wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped for. She outlined his back muscles. “I’d hate to drive home in this mess.”
“Janelle? Is there something you need?” His patience hung by a thread. “Have I missed something? It’s…” he patted the nightstand blindly searching for his watch – he replaced it after straining to read the time. “…it’s almost midnight and I had a very long drive. If I’m making you uncomfortable, I’ll sleep in the other room. Debra and Ben won’t be here until.”
“You’re fine,” she said honestly. “It’s been a rough day. Or maybe it’s the weather. I can’t sleep.”
“Come here.” Van rolled onto his back and Janelle burrowed into his side. He sighed deeply and stroked her coils. “You should wear your hair down. Your curls are pretty. They’re all ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ Grrr!”
“Did you just growl? You’re crazy.”
“Yeah, well, your feet are cold so I guess neither of us is going to the prom this year. Go to sleep.”
The next morning, Janelle rolled to Van’s side of the bed and buried her face in the warm linens. “Van?” She called over the sound of heavy wind and icy rain pelting the window. The storm worsened overnight. It would be a miracle if Debra and Ben arrived before dark, if at all. When her calls went unanswered, Janelle slithered from bed, completed her morning bathroom rituals. She brushed her teeth and rather than pulling her hair away from her face, flipped her curls around, and let them fall naturally. She smiled and growled at her reflection – Van was right.
She spotted a plate of eggs, toast, and bacon on the kitchen counter. “He made breakfast, she thought aloud, setting the timer on the microwave. “That’s more than Michael would’ve done.”
Michael and Van were polar opposites. Michael was a badass; Van was dull. Michael swaggered; Van consulted his SAT NAV system before venturing out. When focused on her, Michael was an animal in bed; Van’s apathy was so dense, light bent around it. Even still, Van was a decent person, and from what little she knew, he didn’t bow to a challenge. Michael certainly wouldn’t have stood for her prior evening’s behavior. Their four year relationship was hollow - punctuated by only short stints of fidelity and the occasional display of affection followed by thundering roid-rage. Van was either a saint or a glutton for punishment. With her conduct, most men would have run the opposite direction.
Janelle took her plate to the living room and turned on the television. The weather wrecked havoc on the dish signal – most the channels were offline or snowy. Frustrated, she settled on Andy Griffin.
“Hey. You found your breakfast in the fridge, good. I caught the guy at the general store as he boarded up the place.” Van said grocery bags in hand, closing the door behind him as Janelle shoveled the last bite of eggs in her mouth. “I left my plate on the count…er?” he searched the empty void where his plate had been. “…when I ran out…”
Shit! Don’t look at him! Janelle froze in suspended animation when Van circled back in front of her, brooding. His white fitted T-shirt and blue jeans were soaked, and his short dark sandy hair pasted to his scalp, his jaw square tense. Janelle’s gaze sheepishly shifted to his mouth, to a set of lips made for slow kissing, and higher to his eyes which pinned her to the sofa.
“I didn’t know,” she mumbled pitifully, then swallow the remnants of his breakfast. “If it’s any consolation, it was really good.” she gave a did-I-just-say-that grin at Van’s deadpan expression. She realized he wasn’t going to let her off the hook without an apology which she gave sincerely. “I’ll heat your food…”
“No worries.” Van’s face softened, hinting at a devastating smile. “I have to change out of these wet clothes.” He pulled the wet shirt over his head as he strode to the bedroom. “Debra called.” he shouted. “The roads are slick and flooded but she insisted Ben risk the drive. So it’s just us until then. Luckily there’s a recreation room downstairs with flat screens, tabletop games, and fitness equipment.” He dried himself and changed into a grey sleeveless compression shirt, a darker-grey pair of shorts.
“Really?” Janelle said. Her interest in the conversation waned as she flipped through the snowy channels. Minutes later, she joined Van. “Well, that’s saves me the trouble of getting dressed.” This mistakenly implied Van wasn’t worth her remaining properly dressed. “What are you doing?” she asked Van who was sitting Indian style on the bedroom floor.
“I’m baking cookies. What does it look like I’m doing?” He peaked through one eye. “I’m meditating.”
“Sorry.” She poured the contents of her suitcase onto the bed and ignored Van’s irritation. “I don’t know why I brought these clothes.” She stripped down to her underwear. “It’s not as if we were going clubbing, shopping, or anything. Debra mentioned hiking. Hiking? I don’t hike! I rarely walk. Our elevation is what?...6,500 feet above sea level. Seriously? I mean…she’s my best friend, right?” she paused briefly as she pulled her shirt over her head. “Debra should’ve known hiking was out of the question.”
Van rose with an exasperated huff and it was five minutes before Janelle missed his presence. “How rude!” She marched downstairs to tell him off. But that plan unraveled the moment she caught sight of him reclined beneath a set of weights. As he lifted the plates, muscles across his upper body and in his legs and thighs flexed. Hot damn! Van was toned absolutely everywhere. He was at least six inches taller than she was so, naturally, his physical presence overwhelmed hers. But how had his physique gone unnoticed?
Van’s focus shifted to Janelle when he noted Janelle entrance. “Yes?” He continued lifting.
“Um, didn’t mean to interrupt you.” Janelle averted to eyes and hastily pulled her thoughts together. “Why’d Debra chose such an isolated area? Besides the restaurant, there’s no one for miles. And the weather. She didn’t plan ahead, did she?” It was lame but it was all she could summon.
“The weather wasn’t supposed to shift until next week, Janelle.” Van released the bar, and the plates met loudly. He collapsed flat on his back, frustrated. He forced patience in his tone. “Maybe Debra thought you could use a change of pace.”
“Why would she think that?”
“Look. I’m spit-balling.” He rose to his elbows. “I’m in no position to judge. You talk about your flashy job, your ex, your new condo, and your car. But I don’t know the real Janelle – the Janelle coming to terms with her past – the Janelle who’s worth her best friend driving up the side of a mountain through an ice storm.” Van sprang to his feet. “I’d like to meet that Janelle because frankly this…” He gestured toward her with a sour expression. “…this preening, vapid Janelle bores me.”
The wind shook the windows. Van’s gaze lifted to Janelle’s and locked there, reading her thoughts she sincerely hoped he wouldn’t. His words stripped away her barriers and self-protection mechanisms, and left her in a state of keen vulnerability the like she hadn’t felt since Michael. However, unlike Michael, Van didn’t walk away. He stood calmly and for a moment, Janelle foolishly believed he would retract his comments. Had she engaged in their prior evening’s conversation, she’d have realized Van was a man who refused to shy away the harsh truths even in the privacy of his own thoughts. He had done just that for his last girlfriend Roma, he wouldn’t do it again.
“I…” Janelle began. The lights flickered out and the wind howled. “What the hell?”
Van toggled the light switch. “We’ve lost power. Right…” He stretched the back of his head then ran upstairs to the kitchen with Janelle at his heels. “We need to fill as many pots as we can with water in case the pipes freeze. There’s a flashlight, and other supplies in the cupboard.” He rummaged through the utility drawer. “I’ll find matches and candles just in case the power doesn’t return.” He pointed to the fridge. “You’ll handle dinner. We have a gas stove so cook anything that’ll spoil. Food is easier to store cook than raw…”
“I don’t cook.” Janelle’s words were low, shaky.
“There’s salad,” He laughed and rolled his eyes. “Fortunate for you, Little Princess, salad doesn’t require cooking. Now get a move on.”
“You don’t understand!” Her shoulders tightened. “I have food issues.” She forced her words snared in her throat. If he wanted the real Janelle, he’d deal with her baggage. “My mother died of a heart attack caused by a history of anorexia three years ago. My sister, also anorexic, blew her brains out in my kitchen months later. Myself, I’m a recovering bulimic. It began when I was nine, and ended the day I buried my mom, which coincidentally coincided with my breakup. Good news is, I never knew my father so no great loss on that account; which kinda makes my food issues the least of my problems.” She stood firm while Van’s hazel eyes quarried the depths of her soul; a place frequented by few. “Not funny anymore, isn’t it?”
Van shook his head. “No.” he said quietly. “It’s not funny.” How could he have been so stupid?
Neither of them spoke for a long, tense moment. The slow trickle of silence wore on Janelle’s resolve. Surely now Van would run, Janelle wagered. But he didn’t run or even flinch.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Janelle.” Van extended his hand, and with proprietary ease, seized hers. “Please accept my humble apology. I spoke callously and I’m ashamed of myself. That’s not who I am.” His eyes narrowed in thought. “Please allow me to make it up you - I’ll be your personal chef for the duration of your stay.”
“Apology accepted.” A soft smile lit Janelle’s face. “I haven’t exactly been forthcoming.” Van’s large hand made hers seem fragile, and the warm touch of his bare skin on hers more intimate than she expected. “We just met, we’re tired as hell, and neither of us is at our best. Let’s forget the last twenty-four hours, start again.”
“I’d like that. We’ll start again.” Van breathed a sigh of relief and set about his task. “By the way, you’re beautiful,” he said quietly without turning to face her. “I wouldn’t change anything about you.”
Janelle blinked innocently. “Thanks.”
It was quarter til nine and the power hadn’t returned; candlelight gave the room a soft amber glow. From a sleepy hotel room at the foot of the mountain, Debra managed a faint signal, saying they couldn’t drive any further and they’d get an early start the next morning. That they were safely off the road came at a great relief to Van and Janelle who were sitting casually on the living room floor in front of the plate glass window listening to the wind and slush mercilessly battering the trees.
“This was delicious.” Janelle washed down her last bite of cold lobster salad prepared from her untouched lobster from the previous night. “Promise to cook for me and I’ll marry you right now. I’m so full.”
“Glad it met your approval.” Van collected their dishes and returned them to the kitchen. He returned to find Janelle spread eagle, moaning. “You are too fast, didn’t you?” He laughed at Janelle’s pitiful nod, sat beside her, and asked, “No room for dessert?”
Eyes wide, Janelle’s cartoonish head shaking garnered a heartier laugh. “Oh, what have I done?” She rubbed her belly and looked up at Van. He was flipping through a book and wearing a pair of thin rimmed glasses which coupled with his J. Crew attire gave him a scholarly appearance. Van was a formidable conversationalist, thoroughly versed in numerous areas so it came as no surprise his well-thumbed volume of ‘History of Henry Esmond’ was his traveling companion.
“You’re adorkable in glasses,” Janelle purred.
“Adorkable?!” Van’s brows pleated.
“Yeah. You’re like a sexy nerd. Adorkable.”
“You’re unbelievable.” Van shook head, and a small, appreciative smile crept across his lips. “Thanks. I think.”
“In case you missed it that was a compliment.” Janelle collapsed under the weight of the meal churning in her stomach. “I’ve attempted to read Thackeray but it doesn’t hold my attention in the same way Dickens does. What everyone’s seeing in ‘Vanity Fair’ is beyond me. It’s boring.”
“Vanity Fair is a masterpiece.” Van’s gaze sharpened. “My ex, Roma, was a Dickensian. She literally worshiped her copy of ‘David Copperfield’ from its hand-carved, illuminated bookcase.”
“Never underestimate the power of crazy. Michael, my ex, believed educated women were anomalies and respected solely for their freak-factor. I mean, we were together for years and, besides his infidelity and rage issues, our conversations were limited. I hung on because I stupidly believed I could change him. And…” Janelle cut herself short, fearing she’d open Pandora’s Box. In the spirit of honesty, she continued. “And after so many years of being with someone, I didn’t know how to be alone. And that frightened me.”
“I can imagine. So what changed?” Van asked.
“I felt weak and I didn’t like myself.” Janelle thought for a moment. “Things changed when I realized I feared the fear of being alone more than the prospect of being so. I don’t think Michael saw the breakup coming. It came during one of his spells of fidelity; we weren’t even arguing. I’d had enough of hating myself so I ended the relationship without a penny; that’s what happens when you rely on others to take care of you.” She snorted and pressed on though she felt Van’s primal urge to protect her swell.
“You didn’t have anything?”
“No.” She replied. “I found a small apartment and bartered with my landlord until I got on my feet. Thanks to my extensive knowledge of wine, I landed a hostess position at a local vineyard and gradually, things fell into place. Now I’m a sommelier for Mondavi where the rich pay handsomely to get well and truly drunk.” Her smile faded slowly remembering the depths from which she’d climbed. “Yeah, I was petrified but I pulled myself together and shut out the world. Sure, I show them superficial bullshit but they can’t touch the real me and I’ll never depend on anyone again. My philosophy: If I don’t care about you, you won’t care about me, and no one gets hurt.”
“But you do care. I’ve seen glimpses of it.” a quizzically expression crossed Van’s face.
She grimaced and snorted. “Don’t tell anyone else. I have a reputation to uphold.”
Van sat has book aside and lay on his stomach beside Janelle, looking down at her. ”I’m being serious. I admire you and your determination to start anew. The deaths of your mother and sister, and a life changing breakup, managing your eating disorder; you’re incredibly resilient, Janelle.”
“Thanks.” Her eyes fluttered around his looming face, comfortable with her vulnerability.
Van found himself in the depths of Janelle’s eyes, in ways he’d guarded himself since his last relationship. Lying there with her thick, loose hair around her face, her brown eyes staring innocently up at him, he permitted himself the pleasure of lingering over her delicate features. Janelle sent his heart racing like a teenager. He chuckled quietly at the absurdity.
“What?” Janelle asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking.” He pushed the thought of kissing her out of his mind and reluctantly labored to drag his eyes away from her lips.
Janelle smirked devilishly. “You’ve never been with a black woman, have you?”
“Ha!” Van’s coughed and stood. “Wow, look at the time. I have to clean the kitchen before bed.” Minutes later, as he stood at the sink rinsing their glasses, he nearly jumped out of his skin when Janelle slapped his butt.
“I’ll start your shower, you sexy nerd. Grrr!” She sauntered to the bedroom. “Oh God, I growled. Well, stand next to craziness long enough, sumthin’ bound to rub off on ya!”
The corner of his mouth rose in a twitch of a smile. Having someone cater to his needs was a welcomed change. When she let her guard down, Janelle was charismatic, even delicate. Van took a deep breath and reminded himself how easily her current could pull him under.
“What was it like with Roma?” Janelle asked as she lay on Van’s bare chest.
“What was what like?”
Van played in her hair. “Real men don’t kiss and tell.”
“Well, I’m not a man so let me tell you about Michael.” Janelle gave a short laugh. “Michael was narcissistic even in bed. One time I caught him making sex-eyes at himself in the mirror…kinda like Zoolander without the corresponding charm. It took every ounce of strength I had not to laugh in his face. I kept waiting for him to strike a pose or flex his biceps.”
“Something tells me you’re used to being the center of attention.” He soothed her head down when she rose in protest. “Relax. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing…in bed, that is. How else will you know what turns you on? I don’t believe you have ever been made love to; no one has focused solely on your needs. For you, sex has been banal, ticking boxes when it could be so much more.” He spoke quietly, allowing his fingers to trail down the tender skin between her shoulder blades. “Each touch should carry his intentions of pleasing you when his words fail. Each kiss, you fall deeper in love with him. If he falls short, he doesn’t deserve to be in your bed.”
Janelle lay perfectly still though inwardly she gagged for Van. Ironically, she wouldn’t have given him a second glance two days ago. Suddenly, in her mind at least, Van was a sex God and possibly the future father of her children. Misty images of them playing with their perfect brown babies in their perfect garden in front of their perfect house, and waving at their perfect neighbors danced in her head. Thinking she’d fallen asleep, Van called her name and snapped her back to reality.
“I’m awake.” Her dusky words were almost inaudible over the hollowing wind. “You’re right, though. I’ve never had that.”
“Maybe one day you will.” Van sighed. Janelle’s skin felt heavenly beneath his fingers.
One day? Half naked, Janelle purposely left the door open for him to stake his claim right then! Van sensed as much and rolled her flat on the bed, and leaned so close, their lips nearly met.
“One day a man will make love to you. He will be the last to do so.” He drew a tight breath. “Trust me, he’s worth the wait.”
“Oh Lord.” Janelle panted, anticipating the moment their lips would touch. “You’re not a religious fanatic, are you? I mean, I can compete with other women. But The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost require an entirely different skill set I don’t possess.”
“Janelle,” Van thumbed her hair away from her face. “You talk too much.” He dipped his head and kissed her lips so passionately she melted beneath him.
Janelle closed her eyes as his mouth drifted down to the hollow of her neck, across her collarbone, then retraced its path to her lips. Her hands ran through his hair. Her nipples were peaking and her thighs tingled. Certainly, no kisses had ever shattered her soul the way Van’s were, no touch left her so weak while simultaneously acutely aware of her sensuality; as if through his hands, she was discovering her own body. Janelle was alight. Van planted kisses from her right ear, and across her jaw line to her left. She leaned her head back, exposing more of her neck which he dutifully devoured with quiet earnestness.
Keening moans escaped her lips as he kissed, licked, and kneaded her breasts everywhere while somehow managing to avoid touching her aching nipples. She nearly exploded when he gave her neglected nipple a soft suck. The room was dark but Janelle could just make out Van’s eyes watching her watch him sucking her ample breast. The faint sight of his pillow-soft lips seizing her nipple, and Van’s erection pressed against her thigh drained her sanity. The thin layer of cotton panties that covered her slit was now sodden, and she was well on her way to an out of body experience.
“Open your legs,” said Van. His long poetic fingers parted Janelle’s thighs, ensuring no friction soothed her agony. “Don’t cum. I swear I’ll make it worth the wait.” With that, he turned his attention back to her breasts. Eventually, Van kissed a slow, delicious trail from her larynx to her navel. Janelle arched upward, toward his mouth, straining for ever elusive contact.
“Stop teasing me.”
He kissed her inner thighs. “Teasing you?” Van position himself flat on his stomach between her bent legs. His hands gripped her thighs, and kissed where her juices soaked through her underwear. “I haven’t begun to tease you.” He traces his name on her panties with his tongue. “Do you wax or shave?”
“Whatever you prefer.”
“Come here.” He pulled her closer and nibbled, nuzzled, licked her pussy through the layer of material, forcing her to lie still and endure his sweet torture. Cautiously, delicately, he placed the flat of his tongue against her clit and alternated between long licks and short burst of spin tingling taunts, punctuated wet kisses.
“Oh shit! Wait…no, no…don’t stop.” Janelle prevaricated, twisting the sheet in one hand, Van’s hair in the other. “Don’t stop. I’m gonna cum.”
“You’re cumming already?” Van kissed her mound. Self-satisfaction crept into his tone. “I haven’t taken your panties off.” He nibbled her tiny nub, then sucked.
“Sweet Mother of God! Let me cum!” Janelle wiggled and squirmed. Van had reduced her to a quivering blob of blaspheming goo.
Van pulled her panties free, tossed them into the darkened room, and breathed her scent. His nose rubbed against her clit while his tongue thoroughly explored her lips, flicking and sucking her tight hole at leisure. It had been quite some time since he’d pleasured a woman and none more worthy or as captivating as Janelle. Unaware of what their future held, Van savored Janelle, giving her clit undivided devotion, while stroking her g-spot with a gentle rhythm. Soon the room filled with the wet sounds of him committing her body to memory with his tongue, touching every centimeter of her flesh within his reach, and the heaviness of her gasping moans.
“Shit, Van!” Janelle rose up on her elbows. A beam of moonlight shone across Van’s back, knelt between her wide parted thighs. One of his large hands massaged her hip, the other worked magic inside her. If he could turn her out with his mouth, she thought, there was no telling what else he had up his sleeve. “God damn, I’m shaking.” She caressed his head and looked down at him, looking up at her. She felt him smile without missing a beat. “Va…woo…” Working out the logistics of his tongue while reconciling the conservative man she’d been ready to dismiss with the man buried between her legs reduced Janelle’s speech to unintelligible syllables. The familiar swell of orgasm sent her back against the pillow. Soon it reverberated and pulsed through every cavern of her being, heralded by a deep, throaty wail. Weakly, she clutched his arms until the spasms died away.
Normally, she didn’t allow her lover to continue consuming her after orgasm as post-coital attention was painful. Van was the exception. He was gentle, attentive. Pangs of guilt and shame of how she’d mistreated him crept where her pride once dwelt. Sensing something was weighing on her, Van rolled Janelle on top of him; his finger entwined in her hair and tantalized her lips with a deep kiss they both foolishly permitted their hearts to crave.
Afterward, she lay in the curve of his arm, studying the pout of his lips with her fingertips. “You’re not a religious fanatic, then?” A smile developed beneath her fingers.
“No, I’m not. I’m waiting.” He explained. “Since my last relationship, I’ve forgone sexual intimacy – well, intercourse. I’m waiting for ‘The One’.”
“The One?” Janelle repeated.
“Yeah, the woman I’ll spend my life with.”
Janelle was dazed. Van obviously possessed formidable self-restraint because she didn’t know a man alive who could withstand such pressure. Testing his resolve, her hand crept down his abs, and over the front of his boxers. “You mean, if I touched you here…”
He clasped her wrist. “Then I’d stop you.” He rolled on his side, sweeping Janelle’s hair away from her face, just making out the disappointment she tried to conceal. “I want you. God, I want you.” He said carefully. “But I’ve wanted you from the moment we met, and that terrified me because I knew you didn’t care for me.” He pulled the covers over Janelle’s shoulders. “After Roma…well…since then, I don’t make a habit of getting my heart broken by unobtainable women.”
Janelle heart sank in her chest. “Roma cheated?”
“Worse. She strung me along for years.” Van’s eyes drooped, becoming more thoughtful as he explained. “Roma and I worked for the same realtor. She’s in commercial property, I in estates and tenancies. Like you, I have a knack for selling expensive shit to people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” He shrugged. “Anyway, the bubble burst – companies closed their regional offices – commercial properties weren’t in high demand which meant Roma was lucky to close two deals a year whereas every fat cat in the market for foreclosed high-end property beat a path to my door. Roma’s situation worsened rapidly so when our leases expired, I purchased my parents’ sleepy little cottage in the foothills and supported both of us.”
“Sleepy little cottage? What a waste. I bet she gutted the place of its charm and installed all new mod cons. Roma doesn’t strike me as the sleepy little cottage type.” Janelle’s assessment was correct.
“She wasn’t, well….” He collected his thoughts, rather pleased a cottage appealed to Janelle. “You see, I wanted a stable family and a sensible lifestyle. For a while, Roma wanted the same. Then, as my star rose, I became her safe harbor until someone better came along. And I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”
“I hate her!” Janelle spat. “Women would kill for a guy like you.”
“Don’t get on your high horse, Little Missy!” Van laughed. “My stock shot up with you only because I resemble Captain America. Which, might I add, is the best movie of all times. I’m literally fighting off women left and right nowadays.” He joked, lightening the mood.
“No!” Janelle pounced on him, and gently bit his earlobe. “You’re mine.” She kissed him softly with a sincerity she’d expected.
Van hesitated, because despite the intimacies they’d just shared he hadn’t lost sight of pain such a woman as Janelle could inflict if he allowed himself to be sucked in too quickly. “But I’m not yours.” His index finger stroked down her neck. “You didn’t want anything to do with me, did you?”
Janelle, too ashamed to respond, climbed off him and rummaged through her purse for her phone. She found the text message she’d sent Debra from the restaurant and gave the phone to Van who read it quietly. Janelle felt his angst keenly.
“I’m sorry.” She climbed back into bed, resisting the urge to touch the man she’d grown familiar.
Quiet filled the space between them. Neither knew what to say. For a few unguarded moments, Van foolishly believed Janelle’s condescending behavior was a mask, that deep down she was the frail woman piecing her life together. In fact, it’d all been a farce, entertainment until the weather let up or their friends arrived. The childish message itself didn’t register and easily attributed to nervousness. Her spitefulness struck a nerve, as if she’d reopened the cavern of insecurity Roma left, and poured salt. Neither she nor Janelle accepted as he was. It was a bitter pill to swallow but one he would bravely.
“I’m a 7, huh? I’m a 7 only because I resemble someone else, and own a Rolex; a watch I wouldn’t have worn hadn’t I broke my $40.00 Timex.” Van handed Janelle her phone. “You can have the damn watch. It’s was a gift from a client – it’s worthless to me.”
“I’m so sorry. We agreed to start over, and I felt I should be honest with you.” She placed her hand on his chest and felt the muscles stiffen as he moved away from the temptation of her naked body. “There’s no bullshit with you. I don’t have to paint a pretty picture. I don’t have to pretend, and I like that. I wrote…”
Don’t. Don’t explain.” He interrupted and turned to face her.
“No, hear me out. I want honesty, full disclosure.” Janelle started. “I wrote that message because you intimidate me – you weren’t overawed at first sight – you were frank, too frank – you saw through me and I was terrified. And I’m venomous when I’m afraid.” She inched closer to Van who, this time, didn’t pull away. He moved one of her wild curls away from her cheek and studied her.
“Truth is, I’m not Michael. My weekends aren’t spent in exotic locations unless I’m meeting a client. I’m not Captain America. I don’t leap into burning cars to save kittens. I’m flammable – that kitten is on its own.” His eyes roved over hers, and he spoke clearly. “Though selling properties to snobs isn’t backbreaking labor, I jealously guard my leisure time. Most often, I’m in my workshop or on the lake with my father. That may sound boring but that’s who I am.” He said brightly but the sun in his tone didn’t deceive Janelle. “So, peculiarly, it’s better this way. I’d rather know where we stand now than get my hopes up. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. Obviously, you’re not The One.”
“I could be.” Her voice broken, scarcely her own.
“But you’re not.” Van kissed Janelle’s forehead, and held his lips there a second too long. “The One would know.”
Van’s phone shrieked to life before dawn. Carefully not to rouse Janelle, he slid from bed and took the call in the living room. Ben informed him that the weather reports were positive, the roads were clear, and he and Debra would be on their way after breakfast. Van glimpsed the flashing green light on the microwave; the power restored. Quickly and quietly, he took breakfast from the freezer, dressed, and set about shoveling a safe path from the driveway to the front door. He cursed when he noticed enormous snow banks blocking in their vehicles. Undoubtedly, this monstrosity was creation of the snowplow which cleared the road overnight.
Van rolled his arms in their sockets, already burning from overexertion. His eyes darted between his new red Jeep Compass and the mountain of snow, weighing his options: ram the hell out of the heap, and risk waking Janelle. Or shovel the damned thing by hand. Man and machine prevailed when he remembered Janelle slept like a rock. Though wearied by the events of the previous night, Janelle’s happiness still mattered.
“Of course, she matters.” He mumbled to himself from the warmth of his truck, peering blankly at the cabin, wondering with a heavy heart, how it had come to this – how had it fallen apart before it begun – how, in a matter of days, had a woman affected him so – how could he protect himself from himself. “Screw it,” Looking over his shoulder, he threw the gear in reverse, and plowed through the snow bank.
Janelle awoke alone in a tangle of blankets. She sat upright and squinted towards the open window. The weather had lifted considerably. “Van?” She called. There was no answer. She called again. Still nothing. She leapt from bed and dressed hastily. “Van?” she shouted ahead of her; first in the kitchen, living room, and then downstairs to the recreation room. All empty. “What have I done?” She slumped on the living room sofa. Van hadn’t deserved her malice, and well within his rights to leave her. The front door opened with a crash, snapping Janelle out of her pity party.
“Good. You’re awake.” Van was soaked and kicking snow from his boots. ”The power is back on and Ben called. Weather’s clearing up and the roads are open. They’ll be here shortly. I shoveled the driveway so they’ll have a place to park.” He closed the door and hung his heavy coat across the drying rack. He didn’t meet Janelle’s eyes. “Once they’re settled in I’m heading home.”
“You’re leaving so soon?” Janelle stood fidgeting her sleeves. Van refused to look at her. He seemed to have acquired a knack for distancing himself from her – in the same room yet a million miles away. “You can’t leave. You must be frozen.”
“Yeah, well,” He raked his wet hair. “I have a five hour drive ahead of me – I might stop along the way depending on the roads.” He glanced at Janelle and immediately regretted doing so. “I should get out of these wet clothes and start packing. Your breakfast is in the in fridge.” With that, he strode to their bedroom.
Shortly after, Janelle heard the bathroom door close and the shower spring to life. Her heart plummeted. “Van?” She rest her forehead against the bathroom door, mumbling. “Don’t leave. Neither of us knew what to expect – both of us said insensitive shit this weekend. It’s part of getting to know one another. I'm sorry I was cruel. Just…” She whispered. “…just don’t…don’t give up.”
“Cruel!" Van opened the door, shirtless. "You're a lightweight compared to Roma. That woman had claws!" His insults made Janelle smile. "But you’re right. We came into this with baggage, and we’ve said and done things we’re not proud of.” Van opened the door, shirtless. “I’m not leaving because of this he-said -she-said, juvenile crap. Yeah, we’re a little jaded but we’re still adults. And I’m not giving up. I’m leaving because I wanna give us a chance. Don't look at me like that.” Janelle’s big brown eyes were magnets to his soul. He wasn’t aware his had the same affect on her. “I adore you, Janelle. But we should step back, slow down, and get to know one another from a safe distance.” He searched her eyes until the weight of his words closed them. Van tugged her into his arms and whispered against her lips. “Let's see where things go naturally because when we make love for the first time, I don’t want you to close your eyes and imagine I’m someone else.”
“When? When we make love?” Janelle’s eyes fluttered open, full of hope. “But I’m not The One.”
“Who knows,” Van kissed her lightly. “You could be.”