Jack Broad Miniseries: Part 5
“Oh wow.” Shannon exclaimed, “It's really late.”
She'd lost track of time. After eating a meal that Jack consumed most of they had slipped out to a movie kiosk and rented a film. Jack had talked her into it. But they had driven around to various kiosks looking for a particular movie and taken a while to find it.
“I didn't realize this was such a long film” Jack mused. Though she doubted the truthfulness of that statement.
Shannon bit her lip and looked around the place for a while. They sat in the dark, the television turned off after the show. The clock said it was almost midnight.
“You could just stay, you know. I'll sleep on the couch.” Jack offered.
“I don't want to kick you out of your room, Jack. You just got back from the hospital today.”
“I don't mind. I can sleep anywhere.” He assured her, adding, “And I have.”
She didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay for as long as possible. She couldn't release herself from Collin yet. The weeks in the hospital made it seem at times as if he'd been dead for years, but in other ways, it felt like she was still just finding out that he was never coming home. She felt haunted by him. And it made her conscious prickle that she wanted Jack.
She sat up, having stretched out on the short side of the sofa to watch the television. Jack was at the far end, cautious not to drive her away with his presence. Except for carrying her to the car, he'd not ventured to touch her the rest of the day. Shannon secretly wanted him to. She didn't want to build anything into a steaming sexual crescendo, although her mind had already peeked around that curious corner a few times. She just wanted to soak in some human contact, to feel protected from whatever it was that seemed so intent on being her absolute ruin.
“I won't sleep with you, Jack.” She whispered, certain it would slow him down, make him rescind his interests efforts.
“I wouldn't want you to.” He smoothed the top of his thighs uncomfortably, “I quit doing that a long time ago.”
“You quit having sex?”
“I think God punishes us when we do something we know we ought not to...” He whispered.
She pushed her brows together and winced. All these years later he blamed the death of his loved ones on himself. Worse he felt that he'd earned it. It almost pulled the wind out of her chest.
“Jack... I.” She cleared her throat a little, “I looked in the boxes.” She whispered.
He didn't reply, just nodded. The whole day seemed to implode in on itself in a single moment. Jack had been so gregarious and involved all day, but in the single statement he retreated back into his caveman mode of bitter silence and she feared he might never speak again. Shannon felt crushed with regret for having mentioned it.
“Don't be angry with me. I didn't know anything about you, I was here alone... I just wondered what type of person you were. If you were safe...”
“I'm sure that answered it.” He stood to walk away, solemn.
“Yeah it did. I learned a lot.” She called after him as he climbed the stairs, drawing him out, willing him to communicate. But no further words came.
She heard him walk the hall above her and shut the bedroom door. She waited for some sound or indication that he was returning or doing something. But nothing came. The silence grew louder around her. Finally she hobbled to the steps and climbed them slowly.
At the top of the stairs she called his name quietly. But waiting for his reply brought nothing. The cool of the wall slid by under her hand as she limped to the bedroom door and turned the knob. It wasn't locked so she pushed it open.
Jack was prone on the bed in the dark. Shannon limped in and sat down beside his shoulder. He didn't move or even seem to breathe. She smoothed her hand across the width of his back and resettled herself so she was more comfortable. Her left leg stretched out along the muscles of his arm and he grew stiff at the sensation, as if he was about to pull away. Though he didn't.
“It wasn't your fault, Jack.” She soothed, “It was an accident.” Her hand still slid back and forth across his shoulders.
“You don't know anything, Shannon.” He said, his deep voice muffled by the mattress. “I've spent these years trying to repay the world for what I took out of it. But I don't think that's possible.”
“You're not a bad man, Jack!” She insisted, “You don't owe the world anything.”
“Oh, God. You don't even know.” His voice pulled tight.
Shannon cringed a little. “What are you planning here, then Jack? Is that what it is, some big plot? What? Are you that evil?” She truly believed she knew the answer, but it still made her uneasy the way he spoke. As though he truly were a monster.
“The only accident was the baby. I didn't love Cally. I didn't even know her. She was just one of the girls I... well you know, one of the many girls that follow guys around at the rodeo.” He rolled over and pushed her hand away, “She showed up at my place one day with a positive pregnancy test. Told me she was a virgin before me and I was the only one. Her parents were well off, she didn't need me. But she swore she loved me and wanted the baby to have its daddy. She was young. Infatuated. She didn't know anything.
“I didn't want a kid, I didn't want a woman. I was happy with what I was doing. I wanted her to go away. But my parents heard us fighting and I was so ashamed I asked her to marry me a few days later. It felt like dying... I wished she'd leave or...” He started crying. Quiet, low. His voice quavered, “I wished she'd lose the baby and just go away. Leave me alone.” Suddenly he was sobbing, some emotional plug dislodged, “I don't know why. I'd give anything to have that child back. To undo what was done. But I was young and nothing meant anything back then. I knew I shouldn't have been sleeping with those girls, I was raised better than that. And I lost everything. Anything that was left I gave away, I didn't want or deserve anything that made me happy. I don't deserve to live, but I can't seem to freaking die either. Walter wasn't kidding. Every tour I nearly get killed. Every time I skate by the skin of my teeth and go back and try again to take that damn bullet that's finally going to end it...
“And then you come along...” He sighed.
Shannon stood up. Suddenly the room seemed too confined. The situation shifted inward and she struggled to cling to the thought of him and his confessions. But she didn't want people needing her. She could barely handle the guilt of not being able to provide what Heather and Bill needed from her. Something rallied inside her before the complaisance of depression swallowed her whole, trickling compassion through her sticky veins. Warring inside.
“Jack, it wasn't your fault. You were young. Everyone does stupid stuff when they're young. God's not punishing you. If you were so terrible wouldn't you just die and go to hell? It's supposed to be even worse than living, isn't it?” She managed before starting to walk away.
“Where are you going?” He asked, a little worried.
“I don't know.”
“Shannon.” He whispered, adrift in his own battle.
She turned around and looked at him in the dark. He had leaned up in the bed, propped by his elbow. Her heart tugged towards him, pulling her, but her feet wouldn't move. She could want him, love him even. If it weren't for the nagging thought of Collin that plagued her mind.
“Please don't leave. I'm sorry...” He crawled out of the bed, “Here, you stay. I'll sleep downstairs.” Jack held her by her shoulders as he slipped past, turning her back into the room.
“Jack...” She had to run away, but she was concerned for him. Her heart was teetering on a blade between what she feared and what she wanted. She mirrored his motion as he stepped aside and he stopped. Shannon threw her arms around his neck and smoothed one side of his face with her hand. “Some times bad things happen. It is not your fault, please don't go down that path.” Maybe it was a misplaced surrogacy, but she did want him- needed- him to be okay. To win the fight against his demons. Even if she couldn't bring herself to stand with him yet. Or to battle her own.
His arms wrapped around her, slowly. He lifted her off the ground and held her against him. His mouth rested on the exposed part of her shoulder. After a few moments he set her back down but his lips traced the curve of her neck to her jaw. It sent shivers through her body and she unintentionally exhaled deeply in his ear.
It flipped a switch in him. He picked her up against him again and walked to the bed, an arm under her shoulders pulling her along the mattress until he could lay himself over her. All the while his mouth and tongue pressed hot against her chest and throat. She arched her back and pressed herself against him, trying to free herself more but it served only to excite him further. His hands were hot and rough, tracing her shape from every angle he could manage.
Shannon closed her eyes in an effort to slow her own self down. Her body wasn't immune to the last year it had gone untouched. It threatened to operate without her mind entirely as Jack ran his hand under her shirt and became tangled. She pulled it off over her head and pushed it away. Jack sat up astride her and did the same before pressing her back into the bed with his weight. Her hands smoothed across the scars on his back, and the sensitive skin on her belly could feel the tiny raised scars on his stomach.
His mouth on hers was so needy, so wanting. She had to break free to catch her breath often as he seemed intent on stealing it. He pulled her right leg up and ran his fingers under the cuff of her jeans, the curve of her calf filling his hand. He loosed his hand from the fabric and did the same along her thigh, though the sensation was lost on her skin through the jeans. She struggled to free her hands and undid her pants, kicking them to the floor.
Jack's mouth smiled against hers as he ran his hand from her ankle to her hip and back down from her bottom to her calf. He gripped the front of her hip and pulled her against him for a moment before pushing her away and smoothing a hand across her panties and up her belly. Shannon could barely breathe and her skin shrank away from the tickly sensation of his palm as he moved carefully along.
She kissed him hard and ran her fingernails along his back, pressing herself against him. For a moment he became more forceful, even slipping his fingertips under the band of her underwear. But suddenly he stopped and push himself up. Shannon ran her hands up and down his arms, noting the strange sensation of the scars on them under her palms and the thick bulge of muscles there.
He looked at her for what was almost an uncomfortably long time. Finally he collapsed beside her and pulled her against him. Ran his fingers through her hair.
“I can't.” He whispered.
“I know.” She said, really she couldn't either.
She slipped away to brush her teeth and use the bathroom before bed. Jack came to the bathroom door a few minutes later. He knocked so she let him in and stood beside him while they brushed their teeth. She carefully traced the long lines and round marks of old wounds on his back. Some where older and white, while most of them were new and still a purple color. He finished and turned to kiss her before leaving when she noticed his pants leg had a patch of blood on it.
“Oh my god, Jack. There's blood on you.” She pointed to his left thigh.
He looked down at himself. “Damn. I bet I pulled those stitches lose.” He undid his pants and pushed them down. This thigh was caked in blood and removing the fabric tore lose a small scab that had formed, causing more blood to ooze out. Just his muscle flexing as he moved pulled already torn stitches farther apart.
“Those need redone.” She said, unable to focus on the wound itself as it turned her stomach.
“Nah. I'll just tape it.”
“Jeez, Jack. Doesn't it hurt?” She asked as he pulled his pants up, “When was your surgery anyway?”
“Yesterday, that one was the last one. It doesn't really hurt that bad.”
He considered the stain on his jeans before standing back up all the way. The sight of her made him smile wide. He was plain, neither particularly handsome or unattractive. But that changed when he smiled. He had remedied the problem enough to suit himself and lead her back to bed by the hand.
Jack slept the night through, without waking in terror. At one point Shannon stirred when he had a spasm like one who imagines they're falling while asleep. He reached out in the dark and ran his fingers through her hair before gathering it up and spreading it across his arm. He grew still again breathing in the smell of its perfume, an act that made her insides feel like crumpled foil and excitement. All their nights together, even apart, she'd not known him to sleep without fear.
Shannon, though, woke a few times with a sinking feeling of guilt and despair. She wondered where she was and why she was there. Who was this man? Who did she think she was sharing his bed and pillow? She felt like at any moment Collin would come beating the door down, disgusted with her, looking for her. Furious. Demanding answers she couldn't conjure.
The sun was at full volume when she woke for the last time. Jack was spooned against her and had his arm reached over her waist and his hand stuck between her tucked knees. She could hear his eyelashes on the pillow behind her and knew he was already awake.
“Why can't you stay forever, Little Bird?” He barely whispered, unaware she had awoken. The scruff on his face rustled against the bedding and her hair. His free arm was under her head and his hand held hers and traced the sensitive juncture between wrist and palm delicately.
She didn't move. Didn't stir. Just closed her eyes and soaked in the moment. She couldn't bear the thought of leaving any more than she could stand the thought of staying. She was irrationally torn between two loves; two loyalties. At length, Jack smelled her hair, kissed her head softly and left the room.
When she came downstairs a few minutes later he had produced a guitar and was filling the apartment with slow soft music. His voice was amazing. When he saw her he grinned wide while singing and serenaded her with the rest of the little love song he was crooning. The man on the sofa looking so softly at her was in complete contrast to the cold silent individual that had shared residency with her at the hospital. His strong sloping shoulders and long thick legs, the flexing muscles of his forearms as he strummed the strings and formed the notes, Shannon couldn't help but be impressed. She sat on the stairs and watched him, noticing little things about his features she'd not before. How his big brown eyes gave him a docile look, and his blond hair glimmered even in the dim light of the single living room window. His teeth were straight except for one eye tooth that pushed its way out ahead of its neighbors and his thin upper lip curled over it when he smiled. Jack finished and looked at her as if he were dreaming.
Shannon's heart ached. It was a dream, as far as she was concerned. The guilt in her made her want to fly; to run as far as she could. It kept her from herself. Like a hostage. She had to leave before he fell any further. Or before she did.
(TO BE CONTINUED)