And when I came to, I was back in the tent, with Dex’s steaming body half on top of me, his fingers trailing up my stomach and resting there. I rolled my head over towards his and tried to focus my eyes, tried to push through the drunkenness I felt. He was watching me intently with a quizzical, almost frightened expression on his face. I wanted nothing more than to pull him closer into him, to kiss him, to hold him. But he was keeping his distance.
Now that he had gotten me off, I felt reality returning to me in small batches. What the hell just happened? What did it mean?
I stared at him, trying to catch my breath, unable to come up with words. I reached up for his face and stroked his sideburn with my finger. I was this close to thanking him, as stupid as that would sound.
He closed his eyes at my touch. I wanted nothing more than to get him off right there. I tried to lead his face to mine but he pulled back and slowly shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t.”
“You can’t what?” I whispered.
His eyes flew open. They shined with something I hoped wasn’t remorse.
“I don’t want to hurt you. And I will,” he admitted.
“Maybe I want to be hurt,” I teased quietly.
“No. Not like this. I…care about you too much to do that to you. This whole thing with Jenn. I can’t. I shouldn’t have done this.”
Oh great. He really was remorseful. I thought this was the best thing that ever happened to me and he completely regretted it.
He saw my face fall and quickly put his hand on my cheek, bringing his face in closer.
“This has nothing to do with you,” he said, his eyes like lasers, imploring sincerity. “I take that back. I don’t regret this. It’s strange to be needed for once. I just wish things were different.”
“You can make them different,” I said, putting my hand behind his neck and pulling him into me until I was kissing him. He returned it slowly, sweetly. His kisses were made of diluted fire, his tongue so soft and warm against mine.
“I still need you,” I murmured. He rested his forehead against mine and closed his eyes, his breathing irregular. Then his lips found mine again. It made my heart ache, made my soul ache. I loved him far too much. I needed him to know.
But he pulled back again and ran his finger along my mouth. I could see the frustration in his forehead, which hid the struggle he must have felt below.
“If things were different,” he said slowly. “If I was a different person.”
“If you were a different person, I wouldn’t be…I wouldn’t want you,” I said, trying to get him to see.
“You shouldn’t want me,” he sighed. “And I shouldn’t be pawing at you like this. Not when we are partners. Not when I have Jenn. And not now when I have a child.”
He was fucking right. Damn Jenn. Damn this unborn child and their stupid loveless relationship. The thought tore me up inside, erasing the moments of ecstasy I had been feeling only minutes before. I wanted to cry. My emotions were too high to handle. I should have just let him run off into the woods.
“Hey,” he whispered roughly, stroking my hair off of my face. “We’re OK. You know I’d do anything for you. You mean…so much to me.”
“But it’s not enough,” I choked out, avoiding his eyes in case the tears decided to come.
“Kiddo… Perry. We’re going to be OK. You still have me in every other way. You…you really have me more than she does. I’m here and I’m going to be here for you. We’re going to get through this. And tomorrow we’re going to leave this crazy place. For good.”
He had so much sincerity in his eyes that I had no choice but to believe him, or at least relent. I nodded, though I didn’t know what any of it meant. He smiled sweetly and kissed me on the forehead, keeping his warm lips there for a beat or two.
Then he got up, quickly put on his pants and tossed my pajamas at me. I gave him a shy smile and covered up my indecency.
He climbed back into the sleeping bag and patted the spot beside him. “Come here, please.”
I did as he said with my back to him. He held me tightly against him, our head sharing the pillow, his lips at my ear. “Things will be better tomorrow. You’ll see.”
“Good night, kiddo,” he said. He kissed the back of my head. It was only then I noticed the mad wailing had stopped and the only thing I could hear was my heart thumping slowly. It hurt just a little bit.
The next morning was Groundhog Day redux. Same whistling wind, flapping tarps, rat–a–tat sprays of rain against the tent, a gloomy blue glow and the ever–present damp nip in the air. If I had woken up to “I Got You Babe” on an AM radio, then it really would have been complete.
I was alone in the sleeping bag. I kind of preferred it that way. It gave me a chance to breathe and go over what the hell had happened last night. It was all coming back to me in the hazy light of day. The sound of his moans. The feel of his lips on me, like he wanted to eat me alive. The image of his head between my legs. Had Dex seriously gone down on me? Did he really run his mouth all over my body? Dex? My Dex? It seemed like a fabrication of my mind. I mean, I saw ghosts, why couldn’t I imagine a heated sexual experience with the man I was hung up on?
But then the feelings came back. Dex’s reluctance to go any further. His so–called allegiance to Jenn and her baby. Their baby. Ugh, the whole thing made me feel sick. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel any guilt for having been the other woman, even though I had been in Jenn’s position before. I just felt bad for Dex.
Although, I really shouldn’t have. After all, I didn’t force him to do anything. He kissed me first.
I put my hand to my forehead and scrunched it up. What a mess. In some ways it was amazing and some others…wow. Did I really do that? Even the fact that he saw me completely naked, the fact that he gave me an orgasm…I couldn’t have been more vulnerable than that.
And then to say he couldn’t go on. What a load of crap. I wasn’t complaining but…how was that fair at all? It’s like he just wanted to be in control of everything, even down to sex. He knew how I felt about him. Sure, I’m the one who got off in the end, but he wanted that to happen. He got at me. He won. And I was unable to get at him.
Suddenly, I was less embarrassed and more ticked off. It was a more manageable and face–saving emotion anyway. It was like he used me in the most backward way possible. All he did was bring my emotions and feelings for him to an absolute boil, and then walk away clean, as if he didn’t do anything wrong. Walk away back to his stupid hot girlfriend and love child.
OK. Now I was mad. I shoved on my clothes, which were still damp since I had officially run out of anything clean, and headed out into the storm.
Dex was nowhere around the tent or picnic table. A quick glance at the beach told me he wasn’t there either. Unless he was really asking for it and decided to go on a walk somewhere, the only other place he could be was the shitter.
The weather was the exact same as it was yesterday. In fact, in some ways the fog seemed thicker and the waves were steeper, angrier. They seemed to call to me, to echo my mood, which was rapidly going sour. The damp clothing and the overall feeling of grossness didn’t help either.
I had decided that I should probably make some coffee, since he hadn’t seemed to do that either, when I felt a presence watching me. The goosebumps rose on my arms.
I looked up and got the crap scared out of me. It was Mary standing in the trees, observing me silently in her dark swath of a dress and her pale, weird face. How long had she been there for?
I was about to call out after her but she put her finger to her mouth to motion me to be quiet. Then she turned and walked off, her figure disappearing behind the trees.
I got up and went after her. I knew it wasn’t right for me to leave the campsite without telling Dex first but I didn’t really care what he thought at this point. Mary held the answers.
I followed her into the woods, towards the inner campsite and past the bog, to an area I hadn’t been to yet. It was another clearing like the other campsite but had rows of stunted fruit trees and some foreign–looking bushes deliberately placed throughout. It looked like a long forgotten garden.
Mary headed across the soggy grass and walked along a narrow, pebbly path that cut through the center of some rustic rose bushes. I followed carefully, not wanting to get caught on the spiny thorns and overgrown brambles.
On the other side of the bushes was a patch of weeds and a low stone bench surrounded by small stacks of chopped wood. She sat down on the bench and clasped her hands in her lap. I paused, ripping my sleeve on a greedy branch and looked down at her. I wasn’t sure whether it was safe to talk to her yet or not.
Finally she looked up at me in surprise, exclaiming, “Oh, you’re here. How nice to have your company.”
She wasn’t being sarcastic. It’s like she didn’t realize I followed her. I gave her a small smile. “Where are we?”
“This is my rose garden in the orchard. I had brought the seeds with me from California. I thought the flowers would cheer the poor souls up.”
She shook her head, “It was a waste of money to come here. A waste of life.”
“Money?” I repeated. I remembered the bit in the book that mentioned the rumors of how the Reverend paid the Canadian government to let him and Mary come here. “You paid them to let you come, why?”
“John did. He paid them so he could be alone with me. My mentor, my Reverend, he was more sweet on me than he was on the Lord. He brought me here to be alone, away from the church and everyone else. He knew I had no one else, that I would do whatever he said.”
I know what I wanted to ask next but I wasn’t sure how to say it. “Did you love John? Did you want to have a child?”
Mary started picking at her hands, peeling off dead skin in long scaly layers and flicking them on the grass below. I tried to hide my grimace.
“I loved John. Yes. But not in that…way. It was sinful. Perhaps I would have if I was given the chance. But I wasn’t. He brought me here. He…had his way with me. And then I was with child. I think the child was all he wanted. I know I didn’t want it.”
Oh, geez, Mary was raped by the very person she trusted. I felt increasingly bad for the mousy woman with her twitchy eyes and sad complexion.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“That’s kind of you to say that,” she said. “But it doesn’t change anything. I was stupid and naïve. He had me by the scruff of my neck and we both knew it. Then of course I found San. That was wrong too, I knew that. But what did it matter. I was already having a child out of wedlock. I was already on the wrong side of the Lord.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?” I asked. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of slipped out.
She took a quick glance at me before diverting her attention back to her hands. “I don’t have many other people to talk to.”