I'm not ashamed to admit that I have developed a lot of chick-like behavior when it comes to her. "I know, but I can't help it. I love having you close. I want you within my touch all the time. I don't want you to slip away again."
"I'm not going anywhere."
She's told me that before. "You promised me I wouldn't come home to find you gone, but I did."
Her finger is tracing that endless swirl on my chest. "Our circumstances were different when I made that promise."
"I came back for you that day you left. I was going to ask you to stay after I told you I loved you."
She lifts her head to look at me. "You loved me then?"
"Of course, I did." She doesn't say anything and I suspect it's because she's thinking about how different our lives would've been if I'd found her instead of that letter. "Would you have stayed?"
"Yes. All I wanted was for you to ask me."
But our lives are different from what they were when she disappeared three months ago. She isn't the same person and who she is now could very well keep her from coming back to me.
I kiss the top of her head and we're quiet. I have a hunch that both of us are lost in the thoughts of what might have been. We'd be approaching the six-month mark if she'd stayed. I'm sure I'd be getting ready to propose if I hadn't already. I don't know. Maybe we would've eloped. "What are you thinking?" I ask, hoping she'll tell me she imagines us engaged or possibly even married.
"The same thing you are—wondering what our lives would be like if we'd spent the last three months together instead of apart."
I want her to be more specific about where she thinks our relationship would be. "What do you think we'd be doing?"
"I'm pretty sure we'd be doing what we just did. It's sort of our thing." That's not really the answer I was looking for, but I'll take it.
"I agree with that. Shagging seems to be one of our favorite things to do."
She giggles as she says, "Shagging. We don't say that but I like it. Did you know Margaret calls it nookie?"
She called it whatever when I spoke to her last night. "I wasn't aware of that. When have you discussed nookie with my mum?"
"She came to see me at Avalon a couple of weeks before I left. She suggested I show you all the reasons you should ask me to stay—which included putting it on you hard." She's covering her face with her hands and giggling again. "She told me a little nookie wouldn't hurt."
For fuck's sake. I can't believe my mum told Laurelyn to put it on me. Whose mum does that kind of thing? Oh, wait—that would be mine. "She told me about her visit. As I recall, you took her advice because I stayed between your legs those last two weeks. I practically pitched a tent and camped out there."
She slaps her hand down against my chest and it makes a loud popping sound. "And a lot of good it did me since it didn't work."
I reach up and put my hand on top of hers. "It worked. You just didn't stick around long enough to let me ask."
"We'd know everything about each other by now." She sounds sad and I don't want her to be.
"We can catch up," I reassure her. "What do you want to know?"
Apparently, that gets her attention because she shoots up in the bed, legs crossed. It's a little distracting to have her sitting like that with her love canal staring me in my face. "We've never talked about why you are the way you are."
Why I'm the way I am? That's a loaded question that could be interpreted in a number of different ways. "Scientists all agree that genetics make me the way I am. Half of my DNA comes from my mother—and we both know what a pistol she can be—and the other half comes from my father."
She reaches over and pinches my nipple. It's playful but painful. "You know that's not what I mean, smart-ass. Margaret and Henry didn't do this to you."
I grab her hand to pull it away but she tightens her grip. "Oww…oww…Okay, which part of how I am are you referring to?"
She releases my nipple and I reach up to rub it. "I'm talking about the reason you choose to make arrangements with women."
"I don't have arrangements with women," I clarify. "I have a normal, loving relationship with one very extraordinary woman." I cover both of my nipples with my hands to protect them since I'm certain that isn't the answer she's looking for.
"But our normal, loving relationship began with a perverse arrangement," she insists. "I want to know why."
Damn! I really don't want to go there, but I gave her the opening and she went for it. I should've known better. "Dating wasn't for me. It hasn't been for years."
Of course she isn't going to accept that as an answer, and I doubt she'll accept this one, either. "Because none of them were you."
"As sweet as that is, it doesn't answer why you chose your lifestyle." Wow. She thinks I have a lifestyle. Isn't that what you say about choices you consider to be wrong?
This is the first time I've ever felt like I need to defend myself to her. "I was twenty-three when I made my first million. I tripled that at twenty-four and quadrupled it by the next year. I was shoved into the limelight by the media and my wealth attracted the vultures. The women circling me were all after the same thing and it was blatantly apparent. But there was one who took it to a level so extreme, I thought I could never trust a woman again. I guess I considered her my girlfriend because she was the only woman I was having sex with." The past is the past, but telling Laurelyn about fucking another woman doesn't feel right. "Are you sure you want to know this?"
"Positive. I want to know everything about you and I want you to trust me enough to be comfortable telling me."
I trust her and that's the only reason I'm going to tell her what I've never told another person. "I thought I didn't want marriage and kids because Lana was the wrong woman for me, but as time went by, I realized I never wanted to be married or have kids at all. Lana didn't want to accept that, so she was trying to get pregnant because she thought I'd marry her."
"How did you figure out what she was doing?"
I look up at the ceiling because I don't like talking about this stuff with her. It's uncomfortable as fuck. "We were using condoms and she was on the pill because I was so adamant about not wanting kids. All of a sudden, every condom we used would bust. They were fine when I put them on but they would tear after we got started." I hate telling her this shit. "She was always the one to take it out of the package and I got suspicious, so I grabbed a few for inspection. I didn't have to open them to see what was going on; there were tiny pinpricks through the packaging. When I found that, I knew she probably wasn't taking her pills, either, so I went through her stuff until I found them. I was right."
Laurelyn looks angry. "That's messed up."
"After Lana, I was done with dating. I threw myself into my work and I didn't socialize publicly at all for a year until I had to travel to one of the vineyards for a few weeks. While I was there, I met a woman in a hotel restaurant while having dinner. All we did was talk and it was nice because she had no idea who I was. I liked it. I ran into her accidentally on purpose again the next night and we had another nice evening. For the first time in a year, a woman didn't want anything from me, but I knew that would change if she ever found out who I was. That's when I made the decision to propose the idea of being my companion for a few weeks without sharing identities. She wasn't twenty-something with dreams about marriage and babies, so she agreed. We had a few weeks of fun and I never saw her again."
"I don't understand how the women didn't know who you were."
I can see where that might perplex her. "Being rich makes you interesting, but it doesn't make you a celebrity like an actor or musician. It wasn't that difficult to pull off. If they didn't keep up with the social pages or the business section of the newspaper, then it was easy for me to fly under the radar."
"But the media was all over you the night we went to the Opera House," she points out.
"When I'm out, the media will photograph me, especially if I'm with a woman, but they don't track me down when I don't make appearances. Taking a companion out in public wouldn't have been very smart on my part if I wanted to keep my identity hidden, so I didn't. I haven't been spotted in public with a woman in years for that reason. Now you understand why the photographer at the Opera House was so zealous with you."
"Why did I get to be seen in public with you?"
I'm not sure she'll ever understand the difference between her and the former twelve. "I knew you weren't like the others from the moment I laid eyes on you. I chose to treat you as such."
She crawls over and straddles me. She puts her hands on each side of my head and leans closer. Her hair falls forward and makes a veil, closing us together inside it. "I may not be like the women who came before me, but there are some things that are the same. I want a husband and babies—plural—and if you don't, that's a problem for me."
I want to ask her to be my wife and the mother of my children, but now isn't the right time. I don't have a ring or the right words. I want my proposal to be special—something she looks back on and remembers as one of the most precious moments in her life. And it's probably a good idea for us to be back together for more than a couple of days, but I still want to put her mind to rest about the decisions I've made since we last discussed them.
"You're everything I never knew I wanted. Every time I picture my future, it's always your face I see…with some little people who look like us."
That sounded like a total chick thing to say but fuck it! I need her to know how much I love her and that I want her forever—not just for those three short months in Australia or for the next month we're going to spend together. I want her for-fucking-ever.