“What in the heck?” Courtney said aloud as one of the spots on her carpet appeared to move. The moonlight streaming in from the window wasn’t enough for her to see clearly, so she turned on the lamp closest to her. The spots turned into brilliant red rose petals leading a path to her bedroom door.
Courtney left her bags by the front door and followed the trail. When she arrived at the bedroom door, she opened it slowly, revealing a candlelit room, more roses and a man stretched out comfortably on her bed with his hands behind his head.
“Welcome home,” Geoffrey said.
“It’s good to be back,” she replied as she slid into his arms and they shared a kiss.
“I missed you,” Geoff said as he pressed his lips to the area below her ear and inhaled deeply.
“I missed you, too.” Court kissed her way down Geoff’s body, stopping only to explore muscles and flesh.
Geoffrey moaned with pleasure. “Oh yes, I’ve missed you.”
Courtney wasted no time, taking his fullness into her mouth and running her tongue along the ridge. So began their night of passion.
After satisfying their sexual appetites and finally getting some sleep, Geoff and Court woke to a different kind of hunger.
“Pancakes?” Court asked.
“Are you making ‘em?”
“Nuh uh. You make way better pancakes than me. Wake me up when they’re done.”
Geoff got up, pulling the sheets and blankets off the bed as he went. “If I’m up, you’re up, sweetheart.”
“Come on, we’ll make pancakes together.”
Court realized Geoffrey wasn’t going to give her any peace until she got up. They both put on bathrobes and headed to the kitchen. Once there, Courtney reached into the fridge for a soda. She downed half of it immediately.
Geoff was at the helm making the batter while Courtney scrambled eggs and put the bacon on the back burner.
“How’d you like New York?” Geoff asked.
“It’s huge!” Courtney exclaimed. “Everything runs at top speed and there are people everywhere you turn. I swear, if you stand still, you’ll get run over.”
Turning the bacon over to crisp up on the other side, Courtney continued. “Walter Gillhoughly is amazing and so is Jessica LaShire. They liked the sculptures I brought with me and said they’d be in touch about a date for a gallery showing.”
“Sounds promising.” Geoffrey’s abdominal muscles tightened involuntarily. He liked that Courtney’s talents were being recognized but the thought of her being so far away didn’t thrill him one bit. What if the bright lights of the big city became more appealing than spending time with him?
“I want you to come with me next time I go. We can go see a Broadway show and act like dorky tourists.”
“I’d love to.” Geoff leaned over and gave Court a tender kiss on the cheek. He liked seeing that fire in her eyes. If New York took that blaze away, he’d flatten the whole city.
“Will you watch my eggs so they don’t burn?” Court asked, not waiting for a reply. She practically bounced over to the laptop to check her e-mail. Sure enough, Meg and Purity wanted to get together as soon as humanly possible. They wanted to know every detail about her trip.
Courtney could tell them the one thing she hadn’t told Geoffrey, Walter and Jessica didn’t just like her sculptures, they loved them. The gallery showing was already scheduled. She needed to make forty more pieces by mid-January. The only catch was they wanted her to make those pieces in New York, rather than shipping them when they were finished.
A work space was already reserved for her in a beautiful loft with the most fabulous light pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was a dream come true. But, it would mean spending the next several months away from Geoff and her friends. Court hadn’t given them a decision yet. It would be foolish to turn the offer down. Her friends would say as much once she told them. She and Geoffrey were finally getting to a place in their relationship where it was about more than sex. Too much time apart right now would be a guillotine to their future.
“Pancakes o’ Geoffrey are served, madam.”
Three gigantic pancakes covered with real maple syrup, scrambled eggs and three strips of bacon met Courtney’s eyes.
“Have you ever thought of becoming a chef?” Court questioned.
“Nope. I like eating more than cooking.”
Two hours later, Purity and Meg were sitting on the floor in Pure’s living room doling out questions like candy.
“What did they think? Are you going back to New York? What about your work here? Do you have a place to stay? How much are they going to pay you? Can we come to the gallery opening?”
Courtney responded, “They loved the sculptures and they want more. Yes, I’m going to New York but I don’t know for how long. Yes, they’ve rented a fabulous loft for me to do my work. I have no idea how much they’re going to pay me. You both better be at the opening! I won’t be able to put two sentences together if you two aren’t right by my side.”
“I always knew you’d be famous one day,” Meg commented with stars in her eyes. “Don’t forget us when you’re a millionaire.”
“Make that billionaire, and I won’t forget you.”
“What does Geoffrey think about all of this?” Pure asked.
“Well,” Courtney paused, “I haven’t exactly told him the entire story. He knows they liked my sculptures and he knows we’re talking about having a gallery showing, but he doesn’t know that they’ve asked me to live in New York for the next several months.”
“You and Geoff are just now getting into a rhythm with your relationship. Could be tough to part ways for any length of time,” Meg said.
“Maybe he could go with you,” Pure suggested.
“I think he would be too much of a distraction. Besides, accountants just can’t leave their business and take off for months at a time. And…” Courtney let her words go silent.
“And?” Meg asked.
“I sort of want to see how I feel without him around for a longer period of time.”
“You’re playing with fire, you know,” Meg warned. “What if you go away and find out your feelings are stronger and his have become weaker? A career doesn’t keep your toes warm at night.”
“That is the stupidest thing I have heard you say in a long time. I can wear socks to bed if my toes get cold.” Courtney took a long drink of her soda. “Which they don’t,” she added after swallowing. Then she burped loudly.
“You’re one class act, Court,” Purity said.
Courtney burped again and replied, “That’s me. Ms. Class.”
“Don’t you mean Mrs. Class?” Meg questioned.
“Marriage is fine for you and Pure, but I’m not really the marrying kind. I don’t need a...”
“Piece of paper to tell someone I love them,” Purity and Meg finished Courtney’s infamous line in unison.
“It’s true!” Court defended herself. “I have no intention of ever getting married. I like my life just the way it is, thank you very much.”
“I think the woman doth protest a bit too much,” Purity said.
Meg joined in the cajoling. “Mrs. Geoffrey Montgomery, Courtney Montgomery, Mrs. Abrams-Montgomery.”
“Stop it!” Courtney hollered, covering her ears with her hands and singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat to drown out her friends’ voices.
“Okay, okay, we’ll stop,” Meg said.
“So, what are you going to tell Geoffrey? I mean, he’s going to notice when you’re suddenly not around for several weeks,” Pure said.
Courtney pursed her lips and scratched her chin. “I have no idea.”
Several minutes passed before Purity broke the stillness in the air with a question. “What pieces are you going to have in the gallery showing?”
Court was glad for the change of topic. “I definitely want the alabaster series of linked rings and the trio of three trees.” She paused to change positions, crossing her legs beneath her and leaning slightly forward. “I’ve also got something new I can’t wait to bring to fruition.” Courtney glanced at Meg. “I have you to thank for the inspiration.”
“Me? What could I have possibly done to inspire you?”
“You made a home for Jeremy and Jacob. I want to capture that feeling, the feeling of family, in eight sculpture pieces.”
“What medium are you going to use?” Pure questioned.
“I don’t know. It hasn’t really come to me yet. It needs to be very tactile, but not rough, and it needs to elicit a warm comfort and security. That’s what I see when I look in the boys’ eyes.”
Meg’s tears stopped their conversation.
“Are you okay?” Purity asked, putting her arm around Meg.
Meg sniffed her reply. “That’s exactly what Bobby and I wanted to create for the boys.” She gently swiped at her tears. “If anyone can create the emotion and connection we feel as family it would be you, Court.”
Courtney could feel her tear ducts filling. “Damn it, Meg! Now you’ve got me crying.”
Purity tossed a box of Kleenex into the middle of the trio. “I’ve got more if we need it.”
The comment brought smiles through the tears and even though they didn’t know it at the time, each woman was journeying back in their mind to the date they first met. Who knew their chance encounter at a women’s spiritual retreat would lead to such deep and meaningful friendship. Nine years of late night conversations, silly adventures and shared secrets had given them a strong bond sealed with love.
If Courtney moved to New York, she would surely be noticed for her creative arts and the distance could very well change all their relationships.
No one dared speak these words aloud. None of them even wanted to share that the idea had crossed their mind. Some things were better left unsaid.
“Speaking of the boys,” Meg began, bringing everyone’s attention back to the present, “Bobby thought it was hysterical when I was putting Jeremy to bed last night and he pulled a frog out of his pajama pocket and said, ‘Meet Richard.’ I nearly had a heart attack!”
“What kind of frog was it?” Court asked.
“How in the hell should I know? It was green and slimy and had no business being in bed with my son!” Meg exclaimed.
Purity’s eyes softened when she heard Meg call Jeremy her son. The boys had only been adopted by Meg and Bobby a few weeks ago and already Meg thought of them as her very own children. Even Jacob was beginning to come around a little. They were all going to counseling sessions, individually and as a family, to help ease the transition and work through the neglect and abuse issues the boys experienced. It was not an easy hill to climb and both Courtney and Purity admired their friend and her huge heart.
“Hello?” Meg said, waving a hand in front of Purity’s face.
“I’m sorry, what?” Pure asked.
“I was asking you about the wedding. It’s only a few weeks away! Are you excited or getting cold feet?”
“Excited!” Purity answered with a twinkle in her eyes. “Don’t tell anyone…”
“Who would we tell?” Courtney interrupted.
Pure rolled her eyes at Court’s remark and continued, “I didn’t know what to get Alex for a wedding present. I mean, what do you get a man who has everything, and whatever he doesn’t have he can just go buy? But then I had this idea…” Purity jumped up and ran into the bedroom. When she returned, she was clutching a piece of paper.
“You’re giving him paper?” Court asked.
“No! I’m not giving him paper. Look!” Pure thrust the paper toward her friends.
“It’s gorgeous. But what is it?” Meg questioned as she eyed the drawing of a heart with Alex’s name in the center. The circumference was a mixture of wild vines, grapevines and roses.
“You’re getting a tattoo?” Courtney grinned.
“Yep. Right here.” Purity pulled down her shirt and the top of her bra to reveal the fleshy area beneath. “For Alex’s eyes only.”
“Daniella is the best tattoo artist in town,” Courtney said. “Want me to make you an appointment?”
“I was counting on it.”
“Maybe I should get one, too,” Meg said.
Purity and Courtney’s eyes widened as they stared at their friend in disbelief.
“You want to get a tattoo, Meggie?” Court asked.
“Well, maybe just a small one. A heart or a butterfly. How much does it hurt?”
“You might just want to get a dot,” Courtney advised.
The women fell into warm laughter. Had it really been nine years since they first met?
After Meg and Court left, Purity’s cell phone rang. A frown creased her brow immediately. The caller ID read Darrington Correctional Facility. The flesh on her skin itched as if microscopic ants were crawling all over her. She quickly hit the reject button.
It was the fourth time in as many weeks she had received a call from Derek Worthington. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone? She hadn’t reported the other calls. She also hadn’t told Alex.
As if he heard her thoughts, Alex knocked on the door lightly and then entered Pure’s apartment. “Hi honey, I’m home,” he said, even though he didn’t actually reside there.
“Hi,” Pure replied, quickly slipping her phone into her pants pocket. “How was your day?” she asked as she greeted him with a warm kiss.
“Better now,” Alex replied, lingering over the taste of Purity’s sweet lips. “Who were you talking with?”
She should tell him. Now was the perfect opportunity. “No one.” Pure quickly changed the subject by giving Alex the lowdown on Courtney’s trip to New York and her situation with Geoffrey.
“I can’t imagine how you three could ever live so far from each other.”
“I know.” Purity sighed then bit her lip and her eyes turned downward.
Alex pulled Purity into his arms and held her so close she could hear his heart beating. “It will all be okay,” he reassured.
Pure nodded her head. Now she knew how Meg felt when she kept her inability to have children a secret from Bobby. Purity tried to allow Alex’s strength to seep into her bones, but it couldn’t penetrate her brick exterior. Her walls were firmly in place once again.
Alex didn’t know what to do. Something was obviously bothering Purity, but if she wasn’t going to open up about it, what could he do?
The couple made casual conversation over dinner until Alex could stand the distance no longer. “Out with it.”
“Out with what?” Pure asked, not quite meeting his eyes.
“Whatever is bothering you.”
Purity reached for her water glass and Alex stopped her hand in mid-air. As their fingers entwined, Pure felt her resolve to handle this one on her own dissolving at the edges.
“I’ve been getting calls from Darrington Prison,” she said, looking down at the unfinished meal on her plate.
Alex’s hand tightened in hers.
“When? For how long?”
“About four weeks.” Pure swallowed hard through her constricted airway and then dared look into Alex’s eyes. She wasn’t sure what she would find there. She needn’t have worried. The anger was not aimed at her. No, all the ire building inside Alex McCallister was aimed at one man, Derek Worthington.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Purity sighed, “I don’t know.” The air was thick with unsaid words. “That’s not true,” Pure continued, “I do know. I didn’t want to dredge all this stuff up again. I thought it was over once Derek went to prison. I want our lives to be full of love and romance and honesty. Everything Derek and I didn’t have. I have all those things with you, Alex, and I don’t want to be this woman who has this psychotic man chasing her for the rest of her life. I just want it all to stop.” Pure inhaled deeply and shakily exhaled.
“You have a restraining order against him. He’s not allowed to call you from prison. Has he ever left a message?”
“He can’t. I think the calls are collect. I have to accept them.”
“Why don’t you?” Alex asked.
“Why don’t I accept a collect call from him?”
“Yes. Find out what in the hell he wants. And, tape record the sonofabitch so we can prove he’s violating the restraining order.”
The thought never occurred to Purity. She figured Derek was only calling to get under her skin. To show her that he still had access to her and could make her life miserable.
“Maybe I should ask Brad Thompson what I should do? He was my contact before and he always said to call or e-mail if I needed him.”
“That’s a good idea,” Alex agreed.
They sat in silence for several moments, fingers still laced together. They were no longer two people living separate lives. Just like their fingers, they were entwined into a single being and they would soon be joining their lives together in matrimony.