IN THIS LIFE
When you’ve known someone your entire life, there isn’t a lot they can say or do that can surprise you anymore. So when David entered the bedroom, tea and toast in hand and a determined look on his face, I knew the words that would come out of his mouth before he even said them.
“No, Lottie. You’re not going into work today.” And he watched me with an expression that said he knew what I intended to say, too.
“I’m feeling better.”
“Really?” He sat down on the king–sized bed and placed the food tray in front of me. “Eat this. All of this. Then we’ll talk.”
I smelled hot green tea and fresh toast and, for one brief moment, my stomach reminded me that it was empty before rolling over with nausea again.
He sent me a long look. “I figured as much.”
I shifted in bed and tried again. “I have a meeting with my boss today, David, plus a new client who’s expecting me. I’ve also got four appointments that I can’t walk away from.”
“You have the flu and can get your clients sick.”
Now he stared me down, aiming for intimidation despite the bare feet, blue jeans, and faded T–shirt. And I saw why the men that David commanded feared and respected him. Powerful stature aside, his green eyes had a way of cutting right through you until you felt compelled to obey his every word.
However, I wasn’t one of his men.
I nibbled the toast to prove a point more to me than to David, and my stomach pitched again. David said nothing, probably because he knew better, and I pushed out of bed and headed for the master bathroom. Halfway there, my legs turned rubbery and I knew I’d lost the battle.
Another therapist would have had a field day with my stubbornness.
I leaned against the counter and dropped my head. I felt beaten and fatigued, and uneasiness I’d been experiencing since getting sick prickled at me once again. I couldn’t pinpoint the emotion except to call it restlessness, living in a fog that would eventually lift and reveal something with life–altering clarity that I hadn’t discovered before. It was an irrational sensation and one I attributed to the flu.
“I’m on leave for the next two weeks,” David called out. “Take advantage of that and stay one more day. You know you need the rest and I can take care of you over the weekend until you go back on Monday.”
His taking care of me wasn’t the issue. The love of my life was an ace in the kitchen and a neat freak with an affectionate bedside manner. I simply wanted to get back on my own two feet, and under my own terms and steam. I grabbed a brush from a drawer and worked it through my hair. As I bent over to get the underside, dizziness followed and I held on to the counter until the room settled down. I drew in a breath, straightened and tried one last time with determined optimism. My hands moved up and down, up and down and then once again.
Two hands became three, then four. I felt a gentle tugging at my head and the weight of something heavy settle on top of it. The hands stroked and pampered, moving from my hair to my face and neck. A noise followed, the sound of a lid removed from a bottle, and a rich, spiced scent spread over the room and over me. I inhaled, long and deep, wanting more. Much, much more.
“Does it meet with your pleasure?” someone asked.
I could not answer. The aroma was too intoxicating and reminded me of him. Of us.
The person spoke my name and repeated the question, and still I could not answer. My name was uttered once more.
Hands settled on my shoulders and shook.
The aroma started fading away.
“Lottie, can you hear me?” The scent evaporated and I shook my head to clear the remnants of its evocative memories. David stood just behind, a firm grip on arms. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine. I just need a moment.” I saw his worried expression in the mirror and its intensity surprised me. “What’s wrong?”
“Enough of this already.” David steered me from the bathroom back to our bed, tucked me in and made sure I felt comfortable. He stood near me for some time and asked, “What happened in there?”
“A little nausea and another dizzy spell.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to put a name to what I felt. “Maybe I still have a fever, too.”
David touched my forehead, shook his head and sat down beside me. He was studying me now, probing, and trying to see something he didn’t see before.
“You were immobile for almost five minutes,” he said, tucking my hair behind an ear.
“I think you’re exaggerating.”
The restlessness I’d been feeling surged through me again, stronger this time, and I didn’t like the way it felt. Something seemed off, and I wasn’t sure if it was with David or with me. Remnants of last night’s sleep started trickling in, and then a connection clicked into place.
“I had a dream last night and I started remembering it in the bathroom.” I closed my eyes, trying to remember more. “I was in a room with a servant who was waiting on me. She was preparing me to meet someone. A boyfriend.” No, that wasn’t quite right. “A lover.”
I felt a tingling uneasiness as I said the word.
“A lover?” David asked.
I opened my eyes, saw David’s grin and recognized the bait for what it was.
I grinned back. “The lover wasn’t you.”
His grin widened and then faded away. “That still doesn’t explain your behavior in the bathroom. You looked like a statue.”
“I’m tired, David,” I said, sliding down under the covers. “ The human mind is capable of doing unusual things when a person is under stress, like when they’re sick, and the gods only know I’ve been feeling a lot of that these past few days. Forget about it. It’s not a worry.”
David paused. “Is that your professional assessment?”
It looked like David wanted to say more but he got up and walked to the windows that overlooked the backyard instead. I wasn’t sure what was going through his mind but I knew him well enough to know not to pry. It always backfired whenever I did. So I let him have his moment, toyed with the toast, and then passed on it in favor of some tea. My cell phone rang as soon as I put the mug on the nightstand, and I answered it on the second ring.
“Tough night’s sleep, Lottie?” The voice on the other end was male and one I didn’t recognize. “You shouldn’t tell your boyfriend about your other lovers. Especially those you dream about.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“I’m disappointed you don’t recognize me.” He laughed, the sound crawling over my skin like a snake over sand. “I’m the man you dreamed about last night.”
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