Nah, that's not London. It's Lucca, Italy, but it could have been. It's too hot here to take photos. You just want a Frappucino a bit of shade and your Kindle to chill. It's almost like being on holiday, all this sun and heat and basic breeze. Almost. The problem is finding a moment to get some wordage down. On the other hand, it's so much easier to conjure ideas after an ice cold gin and tonic and some fresh strawberries and cream. I'm still wavering between three stories, and it really is a race to the finish for all of them. Whichever one gets there, I'll have a celebration on here and everywhere for actually getting something done whilst in the most challenging job I've ever had. Loving it, but it's not leaving a lot of room for a tap on the laptop.
Have a peek at story 3 (Beppe's bard and Carole's compilation are both well ahead) and have a punt for yourself as to which one will be done first!
“Hot tubs?” Tae queried. “In this country?”
Norah shrugged. “Not my party. Just... maybe deal with your Kent Forest.”
“Your overgrowth down south.”
“You’re such a cow!” Taemar raged. “No one’s seen my down south area for months.”
Her sister made a face, muttering, “Maybe that’s why you should do something about it and get it seen.”
“What was that?”
“I said I’m going to get myself clean. Have a shower. But I’ve laid out a bikini for you and a nice sheer cover up and some huge heels and we can do this birthday thing.”
“I’m not up to people seeing me in a bikini.”
Norah paused, her glib sister for once unable to console her. In the six months since the accident, Taemar felt herself curling up like a dying spider but couldn’t stop herself. No one needed to see her scarred and torn skin, as stretched as strands of burnt toffee. She still danced, but covered head to toe, long sleeves and maxi skirts. No flesh on show and it really annoyed her considering before her tumble in her silly car, she was all for freedom of exposure, letting one’s skin breathe. But the thought of being stared at, pointed to, laughed at, by those who were perfect frightened her, which caused her even more irritation. How she missed her old body. The one that was only scarred by stupid accidents with curling tongs and a tussle with a coral reef in the Seychelles. That body never shamed her, made her feel afraid of judgement from pointless females.
She missed the Taemar she used to be, before she bounced around in a car. Before she had to give a statement to the police who arrested those idiots who caused the crash; the Taemar before the one who had to reassure the truck driver that the accident wasn’t his fault at all and not only give him tissues to dry his eyes but a nip of whisky as well. From her hip flask. Which she really needed to find. She hoped the trucker hadn’t stolen it, that hip flask was her pride and joy.
Being sociable also hadn’t been her thing. If it involved cars or generally being around people, she didn’t fancy it. Moreover, she really couldn’t take the pain of hoping she’d run into Jack and then being so bitterly disappointed, she’d go home and listen to Boyz II Men. Those dudes felt her pain. No one else knew like Boyz II Men knew.
“You won’t be in a bikini straight away,” Norah argued after a thought. “We get changed there. And you can wear my Heidi Klein. Everyone that’s going knows you and loves you and won’t care.”
Famous last words. “Alright. But if I want to leave, you get me the fuck out of there.”
Norah then proceeded to strip her sister’s lower half and hot waxed the hell, heaven and purgatory out of her bikini line. In tears, Taemar sat up. Norah snapped off her gloves. “You’ll thank me later. Do you want false eyelashes on?”
“No. I like having vision. I did like being able to walk, but now you’ve done your best to mess that up...”
Norah wrinkled her nose. “All this complaining and no thanking.”
Over the plain black bikini, Taemar pulled on a sheer, bright green shirt and jeggings. The heels were higher than normal, but those Mulberrys were the only thing giving her confidence to leave the house at this time of the night on her sister’s say so. Norah shoved her cover up inside a large beach bag with towels and bottles of champagne and edged Taemar into a waiting taxi. “Couldn’t you drive?” Taemar hissed.
“Nope. I want to party. And so shall you sayeth the Lord.”
Closing her eyes, Taemar tried to ignore the motion of the car, and didn’t open them until they arrived in posho land. “Why are we here?”
“What’s wrong with Parsons Green?”
“Not my type of people.”
“Because shaking your belly isn’t what they’d consider work? Fuck ‘em,” Norah dismissed.
“Wait, I don’t know anyone who lives here.”
Her sister ignored her, marching her into a period building that had been savagely cut into for money making flats. “All the way up.”
Four flights of stairs and they were rooftop, the moon painting a tiki inspired party an eerie silver. Above the fake hut that was marauding as a bar hung the sign Happy Birthday Soren.
Taemar turned to her sister. “You bitch.”
“Tae’s here everyone!”
Her Hitchcock blond surgeon swept towards her, wearing only swimming trunks. “I told her to tell you,” he murmured in her ear, giving her a squeezing hug. Maybe it was the amount of time she hadn’t had a piece of man sausage near her, but that hug sent all the right tingles to her thighs. He felt warm and smelled deliciously of a peppery cologne.
“Have you two...?” She trailed off or was rather cut off by Soren’s withering glance.
“I don’t pick up patients.”
“Norah’s not a patient.” Taemar argued.
“She is for someone somewhere and that’s enough reason for me to stay well away.”
Okay then. “Happy birthday,” she said weakly.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, lifting a lock of her hair to examine the scar on her temple. Lots of argan oil later, it was finally beginning to fade.
“You stitched me up good,” Taemar offered, pulling his hand away and making sure he was well out of reach of stripping her to examine her other scars. “I only brought booze with me, since I didn’t bother to ask whose birthday it was.”
“Always appreciated. The hot tubs are ready, we’re waiting for everyone else then we can watch a film and play some music. Nothing too heavy.”
It sounded great, but if Soren was here, it meant Jack was nearby. Or at least on the way. Soren curled a hand around her arm and tugged her gently to the tiki bar. In a few minutes she was handed a coconut filled with some lethal concoction and introduced to the swimwear clad friends. No Jack. What an anticlimax! Stupid, selfish man. Getting all her hopes up and then... Oh. He’s here.
Jack’s strange eyed gaze found her, even as she hid beside Soren. He handed his friend a badly wrapped gift, with a distracted, “Happy birthday.”
“What did you get him?” she asked, a grin fighting its way onto her face. She’d never been so pleased to see anyone.
“A shirt,” Jack picked up her teasing tone immediately. “I’m hoping he’ll put it on any time today.”
“I don’t know why I even invited you,” Soren’s nostrils flared in disapproval. “You don’t look good in a bikini.”
“Not what you said last time. Tae, come with me to get a drink.”
“I’ve got one,” she lifted her coconut in his general direction. Jack plucked it from her hand to press into Soren’s chest.
“Come with me to get another.”
Before she could find another excuse not to, he hooked an arm around her shoulders and led her away, past the tiki bar to the other side of the roof. The general noise of the party drifted in the other direction. “He’s lucky it’s not raining,” Jack offered. “Be a fire hazard otherwise.”
She had to just say it, get it over with so she’d know and could if not belatedly save herself from the hurt, but at least scupper the worst of the damage. “No Beatrice with you?”
Taemar looked down at her heels, blue suede with a fearsome arch. “Why not?”
“I broke up with her.”
Her stomach imploded with joy. “Really? When?”
“If you hadn’t been so eager to rush off to the ward and not talk to me, I’d have told you. We broke up after your accident.”
Her mouth parted. As if anyone would do that for her. Why? “What?”
“I didn’t want to be that guy. So I broke up with her. May not have been the most sensitive thing to do, but... You’re you. Not seeing you or talking to you all these months has pretty much defeated me. And still here you are, upright.” She laughed. “Looking like I imagined you all over again. How are you?”
On fire, she wanted to say. “Better. Like you said, I’m upright. On my own two feet. Surviving.”
Jack rested his arms on the roof wall, looking down onto the green. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“Okay so you remember me from school and from two days when I was on a morphine drip. How do you know?”
“Guaranteed, what everyone from school remembers about you, is your positivity. Never met anyone like you. You don’t survive. You live. What’s holding you back?”
“It’s a bit of PTSD. Bit of self doubt. A lot of self doubt.”
He leaned up from the wall, his hand brushing warmly over her chiffon covered side. The burn of his palm seared her through the material right to her bones. “Come here a minute,” he said gently, taking one of her hands and slipping it under his shirt. “Just feel the back there.”
Under her fingertips, she felt rough, skewered skin. “What the hell?”
“Third degree burn. Had graphs and all sorts. Chemical fire went straight through my uniform and melted the material to my body.” He released her hand, but Taemar continued to stroke the area in languid motions. “Can’t really deal with hot tubs. Or displaying my horribly scarred body to the world. I am completely on your side with that. Enforced nudity is wrong and abusive. So if you’re worried about getting into a bikini, don’t be. Stay with me.”
As awful as the patch of skin must look, having hands on Jack was doing nothing to put her off him. It definitely distracted her from her own disfigurement. He looked down at her, lashes veiling his irises. “You enjoying yourself there?”
“It’s like holding a stress ball. I can’t stop myself.” Truthfully, she wanted to skim her palm lower, under the waistband of his jeans, have a proper feel. “While I’m molesting you, tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself. I haven’t seen you in so long.”
“Been on strike.” He answered, lifting a hand to trace her eyebrow with a finger. Strange how he skimmed past her temple scar and she didn’t even flinch. “Campaigning a bit. Went to see my sister who’s had her baby in Australia. Tried to not pine over you every day, but I did. Don’t laugh, woman, it was truly pathetic.”
She hid her grin behind a free hand. “You could have called me.”
He nodded, glancing away. “I could have. If you’d given me your number. And as half naked as Soren is today, he has a thing about giving his friends patient information. I begged him. I promise you, I did. I tried all sorts of bribery and corruption and wild women for him to give up the information. Nada.”
With her hand still underneath his shirt, she pressed herself against him and closed her eyes. “Don’t go away again,” she told him, her voice muffled against his shirt. Lifting her head, she slowly became aware that Jack’s hands weren’t still. One cradled her elbow and the other palmed the small of her back. Underneath her shirt. Ooh, sly! She hadn’t even felt him do that. His thumb stroked over the base of her spine in languid circles and not for a second did his eyes leave hers.
Desperately trying to control the overwhelming need to rub herself against him, to bring relief to her burning body, Taemar thought about stepping away, going back to the party. Millimetre by millimetre, Jack closed the gap between them. The sound of her heart drowned out everything else. Her shallow breathing, the trickling of water in the pipes and even the low bass from the speakers. Jack’s hands tightened on her waist before he touched lush lips to hers. A jolt shot through her, heat splitting her chest to groin in a huge wave of desire. Expectation had never met with reality before. All her previous experiences with being patient and waiting had always fizzled, like a wet firework. But this? Maybe this is what Erica Jong had been banging on about all these years...