Beneath This Man (Chapter 4)
'You have nothing.' I say as he approaches behind me and grabs the jar of peanut butter.
He cradles the jar under his arm and unscrews the lid with his good hand, tossing it on the breakfast bar, before perching on a barstool and proceeding to dunk and lick his finger clean.
'I'll go to the supermarket.' I shut the fridge door and make my way to the stairs.
He pulls his finger from his mouth. 'I'll come.'
'Okay.' I carry on my way.
'I'll come because I want to.' he says quietly.
I stop in my tracks. 'Okay.'
'Ava, will you look at me?' His voice is impatient. I don't appreciate it.
I turn to face him, silently pleading with him to instigate a talk, but he just stares at me, looking almost mad.
'I'll get ready.' I turn, leaving him in the kitchen.
I shower in the spare room en-suite, leaving myself standing under the hot water for an eternity, like it might wash away all of my troubles. When I eventually emerge from the shower enclosure, I search through my bags and find that Kate has, quite literally, chucked anything and everything in. I throw on a cornflower blue fifties dress which flares at the waist and my cream ballet pumps before rough drying my hair and pinning it in a low mess at the nape of my neck. A quick flick of blusher and mascara and I'm done.
I present myself to the mirror, but I don't look much better after my attempts to make myself appear better. My eyes are probably matching Jesse's on the hollow scale and the empty feeling that's been lingering since last Sunday has not been filled by Jesse's presence. Maybe I've got all of this wrong. Maybe I am better walking away because I certainly don't feel any better for being here. I sigh at my reflection, willing it to give me some answers, but I know the only place I can find the answers I'm looking for is sat downstairs feasting on peanut butter. I grab my bag and make my way down to him.
He's asleep. I look at him sat on the sofa, one leg up, one hanging off the edge, his palm resting on his chest. His mouth is slightly parted and his lashes are flickering. I leave him, taking myself to the kitchen to down my pill and use the time to send a quick text to Kate, letting her know all is fine, even though it's not, and then I ring my brother. With all that's happened, I forgot I'm supposed to be seeing him today.
'Dan!' It's so good to hear his voice. 'Where are you?'
'Well, the hotel I was booked into let me down, so I'm staying with Harvey.' he teases.
I ignore his little dig. He doesn't care that he's had to find somewhere else to crash. He hated Matt. 'How are Mum and Dad?' I ask.
'Worried,' he states flatly.
I knew they would be. 'They needn't be.'
'Yeah, well, they are. And me too. Where are you?'
Where am I? I can hardly tell him exactly where I am and with who. 'Kate's,' I lie. It's not like he'll be talking to her or visiting her to discover the truth. And anyway, Mum knows I'm supposed to be at Kate's and I'm certain she would have told him. Is he testing me?
Silence falls down the phone line at the mention of Kate's name. 'I see,' he says shortly. 'Still?'
Oh, the detachment in his voice. They haven't seen each other for years, but time, it would appear, is not a healer. 'It's just temporary, Dan. I'm looking for somewhere as we speak.' Actually, as we speak, I'm sitting in the penthouse of Lusso waiting for the Sex Lord of The Manor – who has a raging hangover and with whom I'm in love with – to wake up so I can take him to the hospital and get his hand seen to – the one that he put through a window because I pissed him off. I start pacing around the kitchen island.
'Have you spoken to that twat of an ex?' he asks. The spite in his voice is palpable.
'No, but I've heard he's been in touch with Mum and Dad. That's very nice of him.'
'Fucking prick. We need to talk about this. Mum filled me in on her little chat with Matt. I know he's a snake, but Mum's worried. It didn't help you not coming down to Newquay.'
'I rang,' I defend myself.
'Yeah, and I know you've not given her the whole story. What's with this new man?'
I freeze mid-pace. That's a good question. 'Dan, there are some things you can't tell your parents.'
'Yes, but you can tell your brother.' he says firmly.
'Can I?' I blurt. I highly doubt that. Big brother would probably join my Dad in the heart attack ward. This is the reason I didn't go to Newquay; interrogation and nagging. I will have to face up to it eventually, but not now. I've never been so glad that my parents live so far away.
'Yes, you can. So, when can I see you?' he asks, chirping up a little.
See me or squeeze me for information? 'Tomorrow?' I try.
'I thought we were doing today?' He sounds so disappointed.
So am I. I really want to see him, but I really don't too. 'I'm sorry. I'm looking at a few places to rent, and then I've got stacks of drawings to finalise.' I lie again, but I couldn't possibly muster up the strength to appear reasonably normal in such a short space of time. Maybe by tomorrow I'll have dragged myself out of my hole of depression and uncertainty. I very much doubt it, but at least I have time to try.
'Great, we'll make a day of it.' he confirms my fears.
A whole day of evading his questions? 'Okay, ring me in the morning.' I say, and secretly hope he goes out with all of his mates tonight and suffers a dreadful hangover which delays his call to me. I need time.
'Sure thing. See you tomorrow, kid.' He hangs up.
I start thinking of ways to get around this and after an hour of aimless pacing around the penthouse, I come up with none. I can't avoid him forever.
The intercom phone system chimes and I answer it to Clive. 'Ava, the maintenance man is on his way up to fix the door. Oh, and Mr Ward's window has been replaced.'
'Thank you, Clive.' I hang up and make my way to the door.
I answer to an old boy, who is already inspecting the damage. 'You have a rhino ram-raid you?' he asks, scratching his head.
'Something like that.' I mutter.
'I can secure it for now, but it'll need replacing. I'll get it on order and let you know when it arrives.' he says, placing his tool box on the floor.
'Thanks,' I leave him chipping chunks of splintered wood off the doorframe and turn to find Jesse half asleep, looking suspiciously at the door.
'What's going on?' he asks.
'John had a fight with your front door when you didn't open it.' I inform him dryly.
His eyebrows shoot up, but then he looks worried. 'I should ring him.'
'How are you feeling?' I ask, assessing him and concluding that he looks a bit brighter after an hour power napping.
'Fine, I'll get my bag.' I sidestep him and make my way past.
His hand flies out and grabs my arm. 'Ava.'
I halt and wait for a follow up, any words that are going to make this all better, but I get nothing, just his heat seeping into my flesh from his harsh grip of my arm. I look up at him and find him watching me, but he still doesn't open his mouth.
I sigh heavily and pull myself free, but then I remember my car isn't here. 'Shit.' I curse quietly.
'Watch your mouth, Ava. What's up?'
'My car's at Kate's.'
'We'll take mine.'
'You can't drive one handed.' I turn to face him. His driving scares the shit out of me at the best of times.
'I know. You can drive.' He tosses his keys at me, and I panic slightly. He trusts me to drive a car worth more than one hundred and sixty thousand pounds?
'Ava, you're driving like Miss Daisy. Will you put your foot down?' Jesse moans.
I throw him a scowl, which he chooses to ignore. The accelerator is so sensitive, and I feel so small behind the wheel. I'm scared to death I'm going to scratch it. 'Shut up.' I snap, before doing as I'm told and roaring off down the road. It's his tough shit if I do bump someone.
'That's better.' He looks at me and smiles. 'It's easier to handle if you're not pussy footing around on the power.'
I could pin that statement on him. He is right, though, but I'm not telling him so. Instead, I concentrate on the road and getting him to the hospital in one piece.
After three hours in Minor Injuries and an x-ray, the doctor has confirmed that Jesse's hand is not broken, but he has some muscle damage.
'Have you been resting it?' The nurse asks, 'If it's been a few days since you incurred the injury, I would expect the swelling to have subsided by now.'
Jesse looks at me guiltily as the nurse wraps his hand in a bandage. 'No,' he says quietly.
No, he's been clenching bottles of vodka in it.
'You should have been,' she reprimands him, 'And it should be elevated.'
I raise my eyebrows at him and he rolls his eyes while the nurse puts his arm in a sling before sending us on our way. As we get to the entrance, he removes the sling and chucks it in the litter bin.
'What are you doing?' I gasp, watching him walk out of the hospital doors.
'I'm not wearing that thing.'
'You bloody are!' I yell, fishing it out of the bin. I'm shocked. This man has no regard for the wellbeing of his body. He has assaulted his internal organs with gallons of vodka, and now refuses to co-operate so his hand heals properly?
I stalk after him, but he doesn't stop until he gets to the car. I'm holding the keys, but I don't trigger the door release. We glare at each other over the top of the DBS.
'Are you going to open the car?' he asks.
'No, not until you put this back on.' I hold the sling above my head.
'I told you, Ava. I'm not wearing it.'
I roll my eyes before narrowing them back on him. 'Why?' I ask shortly. The stubborn Jesse is back, but this trait I'm not so pleased to see.
'I don't need it.'
'Yes, you do.'
'No, I don't.' he mocks.
Good Lord! 'Put the fucking sling on, Jesse!' I shout over the car.
'Watch your fucking mouth!'
'Fuck!' I hiss back petulantly.
He scowls real hard at me. What must we look like in the middle of the hospital car park, shouting fuck at each other over the roof of an Aston Martin? I don't care. He is such a caveman sometimes.
'MOUTH!' he roars, and then winces at the sound level of his yell, his bad hand shooting up to clasp his head. 'FUCK!'
I burst into laughter as I watch him dance around in circles, shaking his hand and swearing his head off. That will teach the obstinate fool.
'Open the fucking car, Ava.' he shouts.
Oh, he's mad. I squeeze my lips together to suppress my laugh. 'How's your hand?' I ask on a giggle that breaks out into a full belly laugh. I can't hold it in. It feels so good to laugh.
When I recover and straighten up, he's looking at me fiercely over the car. 'Open,' he demands.
'Sling,' I snap, throwing it over the roof.
He grabs the material and throws it on the tarmac before returning his furious eyes to me. 'Open!'
'You're a child sometimes, Jesse Ward. I am not opening the car until you put that sling on.'
I watch as his eyes narrow on me and the edges of his mouth lift into a concealed grin. 'Three.' he says, loud and clear.
My jaw hits ground. 'You are not giving me the countdown!' I screech disbelievingly.
'Two,' His tone is cool and casual, while I'm stunned. He leans his elbows on the roof. 'One,'
'You can get stuffed!' I scoff, standing firm. I only want him to put the damn sling on for his own sake. It makes no odds to me, but this is principle.
'Zero,' he mouths, and starts stalking around the front of the car towards me, while I instinctively head around the back. He stops and raises his eyebrows. 'What are you doing?' he asks, circling the other way.
I know that face; that's his you're-really-copping-it face. I know he won't think twice about pinning me to the ground and torturing me until I submit to whatever he demands through fear of peeing myself. What would I be submitting to, though?
'Nothing,' I say, making sure I keep to the other side of the car. We could be here all day.
'Come here.' His voice is that low, husky familiar tone that I love, and another piece of him that has returned, but I'm being distracted.
I shake my head. 'No,'
Before I can anticipate his next move, he breaks into a full sprint around the car, and I dash off in the opposite direction on a squeal. People are staring as I weave myself through the other parked cars in the car park like a deranged madwoman, before I skid to a stop at the back of a high top, four wheel drive. I peek around the corner to see where he is.
My heart falls out of my mouth, straight on to the tarmac. He's doubled over, his hands braced on his knees.
What the hell am I doing encouraging such stupid behaviour when he should be recuperating? I run towards him as a few passersby clock him and start to approach. 'Jesse!' I shout as I near.
'Is he all right, love?' An old boy asks me as I make it to him.
'I don't…WHAT!' I'm hoist off my feet with one arm and thrown over Jesse's shoulder.
'Don't mess with me, Ava,' he says smugly, 'You should know by now, I always win.' He reaches up my skirt and rests his hand on the inside of my thigh as he strides towards the car with me draped over him.
I smile sweetly at everyone we pass, but I don't bother to fight him. I'm just happy he has the strength to lift me. 'My knickers are flashing.' I complain as I reach around to smooth my full dress over my bum.
'No, they're not.' He lowers me down his body slowly until my face is level with his, my feet off the ground, his chest firm and warm against me. His eyes have won back a bit of sparkle and they are searching mine. He's going to kiss me. I have to stop this.
I wriggle in his arms. 'We need to go to the supermarket.' I say, focusing my sight on his chest as I squirm my way free.
He sighs heavily, dropping me to my feet. 'How can I fix things if you keep dodging my attempts?'
I brush my dress down and return my eyes to his. 'That's your problem, Jesse. You want to fix things by distracting me with your touch instead of talking to me and giving me some answers. I can't let that happen again.' I trigger the door release and climb into the car, leaving Jesse with his head hanging, chewing his lip.
We pull into the supermarket and I drive up and down looking for a parking space. I've learnt something new about Jesse today – he's a crap passenger. I've been bullied into overtaking, cutting people up and jumping lanes, all in an attempt to gain a few yards. This man is a hothead when it comes to driving. Actually, this man is a hothead full stop.
'There's a space.' He thrusts his arm across my line of sight, and I bat it out of my way.
'That's a parent and child space.' I dismiss, passing it.
'So…I don't see any child in this lovely car of yours. Do you?'
He drops his gaze to my stomach, and I suddenly feel extremely uncomfortable. 'Did you find your pills?' he asks, maintaining his stare on my stomach.
'No,' I answer, swinging into a parking space. I want to blame him for distracting me from my normal personal schedule, but the truth is, my personal organisation skills have always been rubbish. I was forced to pay another mortifying trip to Doctor Monroe to replace the second batch of contraceptive pills that I lost in a week, and I made myself have tests to ensure I hadn't contracted any sexual diseases after constant unprotected sex with Jesse. The suggestion of Jesse's active sex life left me little choice.
'Did you miss any?' he asks, his lips pressing into a straight line.
He's worried I could be pregnant? 'My period came last Sunday evening.' I say. Like an omen or something, I want to add, but I don't. I switch off the ignition.
He remains silent as I get out of the car and wait for him to eject himself.
'Could you have parked any further away?' he grumbles, joining me on my side of the car.
'At least I'm parked legally.' I walk to the rack of trollies lined up at the shelter and slip a pound in the top to release one. 'Have you ever been to a supermarket?' I ask as we make our way up the canopied walkway. Jesse and a supermarket is not something that fits together naturally.
He shrugs. 'Cathy does it. I usually eat at The Manor.'
The mention of Jesse's super plush sex club has me bristling and losing all enthusiasm in trying to make conversation. I feel his eyes on me, but I ignore it and focus ahead of me.
As we make our way around the supermarket, I load in the essentials and Jesse loads in a dozen jars of peanut butter, a few jars of chocolate spread and a several cans of squirty cream.
'Do you not have anything?' I ask, dumping milk in the trolley.
He shrugs and takes control with his good hand. 'Cathy's been away.'
I guide him around into the next aisle and instantly realise that I've unwittingly led him into the alcohol section. I fly around in a panic and get the trolley rammed into my shin. 'Fuck!' I exclaim on a wince.
'Ava, watch your mouth!'
I rub my shin. Damn that hurts. 'We don't need this aisle.' I blurt, frantically pushing the trolley back towards him.
He walks backwards. 'Ava, stop it.'
'I'm sorry. I didn't realise where we were.'
'For God's sake, woman, I'm not going to dive into the shelves and rip the caps off the bottles. Are you okay?'
I frown and look down at my shin. 'I'm fine,' I mutter, pissed off that I wasn't paying attention to where we were. I lean down and run my palm up my shin. It bloody hurts.
I go to straighten up and I'm stunned when I find Jesse on his knees in front of me. He rests his damaged hand around the back of my leg and lifts with his good hand to sit my foot on his knee before leaning down and planting a kiss on my shin. We're in the middle of the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon and he is literally on his knees kissing my leg.
'Better?' he asks as he looks up at me. 'I'm sorry. For everything, Ava.'
I look down at his beautiful, stubbled face and I want to cry. I can see total sincerity in his eyes as he looks up at me. 'Okay.' I reply quietly, not knowing what else to say.
He nods and sighs, then leans up and plants a chaste kiss on my stomach before getting to his feet. He leads me away from the alcohol aisle and straight to the cosmetics section where he collects some shaving gel and blades. I look up at his overgrown stubble and wonder whether I want him to get rid of it. The more I look at it, the more I like it.
By the time we get back to Lusso, it's six o'clock and we find the door has been repaired. Jesse goes to lie on the sofa, exhausted from a few hours out, and I stand in the kitchen after unpacking the shopping, wondering what to do. It's Saturday evening and usually at this time I would be cracking open a bottle of wine and settling down for the evening. There is no wine and I can't settle, so instead, I ring Kate.
'What are you up to?' I ask as I plant myself on a barstool with a coffee – not wine, but coffee.
'We're on our way out.' she says cheerfully.
'Yes, we. Don't ask me who we is, Ava. You already know.'
That means it's Kate and Sam, and I'm not to make a big deal of it. I am, however, slightly envious. 'Where are you going?'
'Sam's taking me to The Manor.'
Okay, the envy has disintegrated. 'The Manor?' I blurt incredulously. Is she winding me up?
'Yes, don't get the wrong idea. I asked him to. I'm curious.'
Holy fucking shit! Kate's coolness knows no bounds. While I disintegrated on the spot when I discovered exactly what The Manor represents, she wants to go and socialise there? Bloody hell, I can't believe Sam has agreed to this. Sam is a member which should, but obviously doesn't, alarm her. The man I'm involved with owns the place, and I've still not established all of the nitty gritty with regards to the business and/or recreational side of things. Well, I know it has been recreational, but to what level? Judging by the evil looks I was subjected to by the female members on the few occasions I was there, my suspicions tell me there has been a lot of recreational. The thought depresses me, and I'm hankering after some wine even more now.
'And Sam's happy to take you?' I ask as casually as I can, but there's no hiding the shock in my voice.
'Yeah, he's told me what goes down and I want to see.' She sounds so matter-of-fact, laidback Kate prevailing again. I'm in meltdown just thinking about the place. I hate her for being so open-minded. And what does go down, anyway?
'It's a nice place,' I shrug to myself, spinning my coffee mug on the counter. What else can I say?
'How's Jesse?' she asks.
I detect the edginess of her tone. Does she still like him as much now? It's clear the fact that he owns The Manor will not be an issue, but she wasn't best pleased when I eventually stopped crying for long enough to tell her about the drunken arsehole I encountered when I came back to make amends with him. He seems fine, but I'm definitely not. What to say?
I settle for, 'He's fine. His hand is just muscle damage and he insists he's not an alcoholic.'
'I'm glad.' Her sincerity is sweet, and I'm relieved she isn't hurling explicit language down the phone and demanding I walk away. 'Well, he doesn't fall out of bed and wrap his lips around a bottle of vodka, does he?' She laughs.
'No! He just doesn't know when to stop when he does start, apparently. It's still a problem, though, Kate.'
'You'll be fine, Ava.' she assures me.
Will I? I'm not so sure. I thought being here with him would start to mend the mess, but it hasn't. I've told him what I want, but he doesn't seem to be all that keen on giving it to me, attempting, instead, to distract me as he knows best. I decide to give him until the morning. If he hasn't talked to me by then, I'll leave. I'll cave into his touch soon if I'm not careful.
'Yeah, listen,' I snap my attention back to Kate. 'I would say have fun tonight, but I'm more inclined to say… keep an open mind.'
'Ava, you don't get more open minded than me. I can't wait! Speak to you tomorrow.'
'Bye,' I hang up and run through my times at The Manor, when I thought it was an innocent hotel. I shake my head at myself. How could I have missed it all when everything seems so obvious now? I should cut myself some slack because I was completely diverted by a tall, lean framed man with dirty blonde hair and hypnotising green eyes. He was perfect. He still is, if a few pounds lighter and a few issues heavier.
I make my way upstairs to change out of my dress, throwing on a pair of cotton shorts and a vest before removing all of the grips from my hair.
When I get downstairs, Jesse is still asleep on the sofa. I mess around with the T.V cabinet for a while, but I can't get the damn thing to open and reveal a television, so I slump into the chair and watch Jesse sleeping, his mangled hand draped over his solid chest and rising and falling with his steady breaths. As my thoughts wander naturally to chocolate eclairs, calla lilies and Angels, I drift off to sleep.