"So, with Gavin moved out, the house is completely empty," Zach says while Justin grills the salmon.
"You'll find more tenants," Justin says, concentrating on the fish. It has to be done just right.
"I'm not sure I want to," Zach says, "I just got a job at JPL, and the house is paid up. I don't need the rent money like I did when I was in school."
"But the empty rooms bother you," Justin observes, watching his friend fidget as he speaks.
"I grew up in that house with just me and Aunt Miriam," Zach says, "But I got used to having you guys around, throwing your parties in the yard..."
"They weren't my parties," Justin protests, "Gavin was the social butterfly." He peers over the top of the grill at Eleanor chatting with Rebecca, "What about her?"
"She took the cottage, temporarily at least. She's not sure how long she's planning to stay in L.A." Zach laughs at this, "Kind of like you...you said the same thing when you first took your room."
Justin remembers. He's never stayed in any one place for very long since he left his childhood behind. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, the memories swirl and confuse. He never lived anywhere long enough to put down roots, form attachments. But L.A., even before he met Eleanor, L.A. got a hold on him. The empty sprawl of city where no one walks, the streets packed with cars but the sidewalks empty except for the cart pushing homeless, the destitute and the crazies, in many ways the opposite of a city, real cities that teem with life, humanity, crowds of people walking in great herds, packed subways...it was impossible to get through a day without some accidental physical contact, shoulder against shoulder, hand on leg. In L.A. you can walk and not see a single person, and there's little chance of actual contact. Justin scowls as he notices the fish blackening on the grill, his reverie had made him inattentive.
"I'm glad Zach asked you to come tonight," Eleanor says, "He doesn't date very often." As the words come out, Eleanor realizes she's probably not doing her friend any favors by talking about his social awkwardness.
"Oh, this isn't...I have a boyfriend. In San Francisco. He's a sculptor. He's going to be in group show here in a few weeks. He should be bringing his pieces here any day now," Rebecca says, and stops when she realizes she's rambling. She hasn't heard from Shannon since he left for home, even though she's emailed him every day.
"Shannon Daughtry, by any chance?" Eleanor guesses.
"You know him?" Rebecca's eyes widen in surprise.
"I run the gallery he'll be showing in," Eleanor says, "We're expecting him to come in tomorrow with his pieces. Small world, isn't it?"
Tomorrow? Rebecca thinks, a little bitter that his gallery manager knows more about his schedule than she does. Id he even planning on seeing me? she wonders.
Zach and Rebecca brought bathing suits specifically for the hot tub.
"I should have one of these installed on the patio," Zach muses.
Rebecca sits back and goes over various scenarios in her head, of showing up at Shannon's gallery opening, surprising. In some versions he greats he with a passionate kiss and begs her to never leave him, in others they have an angry confrontation in front of all the fancy Beverly Hills art lovers gathered around tables of wine and brie.
Justin is just waiting for their guests to leave; he has plans for this evening that don't involve company.
"I got something for you. On the dresser," he says when they are finally alone.
Eleanor finds the bag in their dressing area. "Just this?' she says, "Anything else you want me to wear?"
"Just that," he answers.
"You have a thing for shoes now?" she asks, laughing a little as she shows them off.
"Are you questioning me?" he growls. He's changed into his gear, she notices, and trembles a little. It's been some time since he last felt the need to flex his power.
He grabs her, turns her around, caressing her face gently before giving her hair a hard tug. It always amazes her, how soft, how tender he can be, even while he demonstrates his strength. Those arms, those hands, could crush her bones, and that thought causes a frisson of desire to snake up her spine.
"On your knees," he commands.
She's on her knees in front of him, his to command.
"Please don't hurt me," she whimpers, all part of the game, "I'll do whatever you want."
"Yes, you will," he growls, reaching down to pull her hair again before he rains his lash down onto her soft exposed back. She sighs with every strike, a little pain, a little pleasure, a little fear, a little desire.
There was a time when this game had nothing to do with sexuality. But she changed his game; her cries of pain and ecstasy turn him on like nothing else can and it isn't long before he sheds his costume to join her on the floor, thrusting himself deep inside her.
She gasps and growls, like an animal, wordless. mindless, existing entirely as sensation. That's what she always feared about sex, why she thought to avoid it, it can't be intellectualized, her mind submits to her body, desire taking hold so she's unable to think.
He lowers his head to kiss her as she falls back against him.
"Good?" he asks, his voice hoarse and quiet.
"Very," she sighs, "I needed that."
"I know," he says, "I always know what you need."
He arrives just as she's thinking he's going to blow her off completely.
"Was not calling me your way of getting back at me for running of on you?" she asks, unable to hold back the anger rising from the relief of his visit, "You wanted to show me how it felt?"
He moves in closer, caresses her cheek. "You have no idea how it felt, Rebecca," he says, "You disappeared without warning, you didn't answer your phone. I feared...so many things, Beck. That you'd been killed, or taken by some psycho. I couldn't sleep, I was so afraid for you...As angry as I have been at you for that, I would never want to put you through what I went through."
"So why didn't you call? Or at least acknowledge my emails?" Rebecca persists, trying to ignore the tears forming in her eyes.
"Because I didn't want to say anything in anger that I might regret later," Shannon answers.
"Why do you always have to be so understanding, so fucking perfect, all the time?" she hurls at him as he walks into her little cottage.
"You aren't angry at me," he says taking off his shoes, "You're trying to provoke a fight because that's easier than talking. But we're not doing this the easy way, Beck. We have to talk, to get through this."
His shirt follows his shoes, and he sits barefoot and bare chested on her bed. Rebecca remembers he did that the first time she brought him back to her place. She had accused him of being too forward, and he told her he just didn't like being confined in clothes.
"The last time we talked, you didn't want to hear what I had to say," Rebecca says as she joins him on the bed. There isn't much else to sit on in this tiny cottage.
"Beck, I was having a hard enough time processing the fact that you'd run out on me because your professional life wasn't where you thought it should be, and then you hit me with an affair," Shannon says, "It was a little much, you know?"
"I know," she says, "I wish I hadn't done that, I really do. I thought I'd never see you again, I thought being with someone else would help me forget. But it didn't. I just thought more about you every time."
Shannon bites his lip, "I tried that, too. I went out with Irina a few times."
Rebecca scowls, "She's been after you since we met her. I bet that bitch was very happy when I took off."
"Yeah, she was gloating when I asked her out," Shannon laughed, "But she ended up disappointed. I knew I was only doing it to get back at you, and that made me feel guilty, so I spent the whole time avoiding any kind of physical contact with her. It was awkward, to say the least."
They laugh together, then fall silent, each waiting for the other to say something. Rebecca finally breaks the silence, "Shan, I know I was wrong to run out on you like that. I've tried explaining what I was going through, when I don't really understand it myself. I don't think I could forgive you if you did that to me, so I feel like a hypocrite asking you to forgive me..."
"But you know I will forgive you, because I'm so understanding and so fucking perfect, right?" Shannon days, pulling her head down onto his lap, "We're very different people, you and I. But we fit. I'm not about to let you go, when I know we still belong to each other." He leans down to kiss her, "I've missed you, Beck. Don't ever run out on me again."