She looked angrily at the ceiling and then back at him. “That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then I have no idea what I’m supposed to be sorry for.”
Her face crumpled and in resignation she said, “You’re right. I don’t know what I want. Maybe there is nothing you can say.”
Except those three words you need to hear.
He wanted more than anything to say them, but when he tried to they hung unsaid on his lips. He wasn’t a player and Jeisa wasn’t just some woman. His feelings were still too fresh to trust. He didn’t want to say anything until he knew he could offer her forever.
He left the bed and took her into his arms. She stood rigid within his naked embrace. “Come back to bed, Jeisa.”
She looked up into his eyes and whispered, “I thought I could do this, but now I don’t know.”
His heart thudded in his chest. He put her back a step, maintaining contact by holding her hands, and took a calming breath. There was no way to conceal how his body was responding to being so close to her, and he didn’t try. She was risking everything to be with him; he wouldn’t hide his own vulnerability. “So, what do you want to do?”
Her big brown eyes searched his and she shrugged a shoulder helplessly.
Jeremy turned, slid into his boxers and then trousers. He wanted her badly, but more than that, he wanted to comfort her. He kissed her softly on the lips and took her hand, leading her out of the bedroom and into the main area of the jet. “Let’s go see what Dominic has for a movie selection.”
Jeisa joined him on a couch, and he tucked her into his side as he navigated the high-tech television remote. His penis was still half-cocked and pulsing merely from her nearness, but Jeremy didn’t mind. Jeisa laid her head on his shoulder and he kissed the top of her head. He would have her again, of that he was sure. For now, it was pure heaven just to hold her.
It didn’t really matter what they chose to watch—Jeremy doubted either of them would be able to concentrate on it. He ran a hand lightly up her bare arm and felt her shiver against him. He was just starting to reconsider his decision to bring her out of the bedroom when she asked, “Were you really homeschooled your entire life so you could take care of your father?”
His hand stilled. “Yes.”
As she sensed his mood darkening, she quickly said, “I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.”
He hugged her tighter and surprised himself by wanting to share another first experience with her. He never talked about his past, but this was Jeisa, and he wanted her to know him. “You can ask me anything.”
“Tell me what Alethea did to help you during that time. Tell me why you spent so many years loving her.”
Her request punched the air straight out of his lungs. He closed his eyes and chose his words with care. “She was my escape.”
Jeisa leaned back a bit so she could see his face and gently prodded, “Tell me.”
Suddenly he wanted to. He looked her in the eyes as he said, “When I was very young and my father could still get around a bit, I loved being with him. He was a good man, but his body slowly betrayed him. At first all I had to do was be around in case he had a bad day, but as he grew weaker, he needed more extensive care. His mind was still there even when he could no longer speak or control his bodily functions. I don’t think there is a better definition of hell on earth than being trapped within yourself. I did what I could to make it easier for him. He was ashamed of his weakness in front of nurses, but not with me, so I did what needed to be done most of the time.”
“You were so young,” Jeisa said softly.
Jeremy shrugged. “Responsibility doesn’t wait until you’re old enough to handle it. My mother’s friends said we should put him in a care facility, but by the time he was at his worst I was already in my teens, and Mom and I decided to let him have the dignity of dying at home.”
Jeisa wiped away tears that started streaming down her cheeks.
Once Jeremy started talking, the story came out of him like water over a dam that had held back too much for too long. “He passed away during what would have been my last year of high school.”
“And I discovered that high school wasn’t all I’d dreamed it would be. I attended for about a week before it was painfully obvious that I didn’t fit in.”
“Oh, Jeremy,” Jeisa said, her voice thick with emotion.
He didn’t look away. He didn’t have to. This was Jeisa, his best friend. “We are what we know. I had weird little habits I wasn’t even aware of at the time. Some of them I’ve eradicated, some still crop up now and then. Hoarding food is one of them. My mother worked two jobs to pay for the nurses and medication my father needed. Sometimes we didn’t have money for groceries. I used to steal food from anywhere we visited. Sometimes I still catch myself filling my pockets if I’m somewhere I don’t feel comfortable.”
Jeisa nodded with understanding. “That’s very common in children who were neglected.”
Jeremy’s head whipped back and hot anger surfaced. “I was not neglected. My mother is one of the strongest women I know. She could have left him when things got hard, but she didn’t.”
The touch of Jeisa’s hand on Jeremy’s cheek calmed him. He hadn’t realized until just then how raw his emotions still were on some topics.
She said, “No, but you paid a hefty price for that decision.”
He didn’t agree, or was it that he had never allowed himself to consider it? “When you love someone, you do what you have to do, not what’s easy. We made it work. Who knows who I would be today had she chosen another path? I used that time at home to learn about computers and to hone a skill that is more marketable than any college degree would have been.”