Jon stared in the mirror. It has been so long that he had forgotten the last time he did. What it reflected was not as bad as he remembered from that occasion. But it was a hell of a far sight from the last time he had been naked with her.
He picked up the jar of moisturizing cream that the docs at the VA insisted would help soften the scars and stop itching and oversensitivity. Perhaps they were right about that one thing. His reflection certainly would suggest so.
That did not mean he was comfortable with what he saw. He wished for the pressure shirt that he had worn for most of that first couple of years. Including the hood, it covered most of his scars. And it made an excellent excuse for hiding.
He used his good hand to massage the cream into his scalp. He missed his blond hair. Seeing how Chris had allowed his to grow out from the traditional high-and-tight reminded him of just how much.
He added a bit more pressure to his strokes. It was a balancing act. The area was still intensely sensitive. But the more pressure he used, the more it would soften and desensitize the area. He moved down to his neck and then his shoulders.
It was almost impossible to reach certain sections of his back, especially on the right side, because his left hand was virtually unusable. He toyed as he always did with the idea of allowing the damned docs to amputate it. Maybe they were right about that too. But he could not bring himself to that yet.
Because he could not reach that area of his back, it was prone to tears, cracking, and ulcerations. He had ended up with a couple of infections as a result. He tried to check it in the mirror but could not see much.
Not that it mattered. He would not be sleeping naked anymore. He looked over where the boxers and t-shirt lay on top of the closed toilet lid. He was glad that Hope provided the perfect justification for that.
But he had been struggling for the past few hours with how he was going to manage to sleep in the same bed with Alicia without…
Fuck, that was not happening. Well, he was sure it would. She had made it clear that night in the desert. This time there were definitely strings attached. Not that his body wanted to disagree with the woman.
He had not gotten laid since the night that Hope was conceived. First, he was deployed for six more months. Even on his leave, though, he could not bring himself to go to a prostitute or pick up some woman in a bar. That night had plenty of strings attached, even before he realized how he felt about Alicia or knew about Hope. One night in her bed had ruined him for other women.
Of course, after the explosion, that had not mattered. The very idea of being with a woman was off the table. The only women that would look at him, well, he had never been into pity-fucks. Certainly not with her.
He closed his eyes as he began his nightly routine of stretching exercises, which minimized contractures and maximized his range of motion and mobility. Simple exercises that many people used to relieve stress in tight neck, shoulders, back, and face had added significance for him — three times a day or more, depending upon how he was feeling. He was almost religious about them. And except for his left arm, he was doing better than the doctors had expected him to.
But he was not, and never would be, ‘normal.’ In the way he looked or what he was capable of doing. Even simple tasks like dressing himself, tieing his shoes, or brushing his teeth had had to be relearned. While he was past those initial occupational therapies that had taken him almost two years, he was still learning new adaptations.
But how to make love to a woman had not been one of the areas covered in his therapy. It was certainly not a topic he had covered with the shrinks. They were still trying to get him past the survivor’s guilt and occasional suicidal thoughts.
Oddly enough, Hope and Alicia proved to be a more effective treatment for that than anything the VA had to offer. Or even his parents’ private ‘experts.’ He smiled, which was itself a stretching exercise, one he had not done very often until these past few weeks.
But just the thought of his little girl reading that dumb book about the daddy monkey and his little monkey, the way she had thanked god, or whatever was out there, for her ‘new’ Papa, and the sanctity of tucking her in was enough to keep him smiling for days.
Or at least until Alicia got home from the diner and he had to face the reality of a long night in the bed of the woman he loved, the one he longed for physically and emotionally. What was he going to do? How was he going to handle that situation? Was he going to settle for a lifetime of pity fucks?
Did he have many choices? Between her instance that they have a real marriage, his daughter’s pleas for a baby brother or sister, and his god damned cock that he knew was going to betray whatever honor he had left, it was not so much a matter of if as it was when.
He pulled on the boxers without much trouble. The shirt was a bit more of a challenge. Maneuvering that left arm seemed to be getting more painful by the day. He was going to have to face that choice soon. But not before he dealt with this night. And her.
He stared at the man in the mirror. Sometimes he thought he almost saw that other man. The man he had once been. That blond hair that was virtually invisible with the high-and-tight. The patrician nose. That quirky grin. And, of course, the smooth, unmarred olive complexion. But that man was gone, never to return, as dead as the men that had counted on him, the ones he had failed.
That was old ground. The shrinks were right. The only thing he could do about that now was make damned sure that his life counted for something. In some fucked up ways, he was living for them all. And for the first time since the explosion, that was not such a daunting and depressing thought.
Hell, if all he did was raise Hope to live up to that name, he would be content. And those others? The baby brother or sister that she asked you for? What about them, jarhead?
He shrugged, and the pain of the contracture shot through his back, another reminder. “You have some shit to deal with, my friend,” he said to that stranger in the mirror as he opened the door to the bathroom and ran into her.
Alicia was glad not to find Jon on the couch when she walked in the door. But he was not in her room either. Though the duffle bag of his belongings was open on the floor by her bed. He was not in Hope’s room either. Maybe he went for a walk?
She still had no idea how she was going to handle this situation. Oh, why had she opened her big mouth? Why had she let the truth slip out? Though they had not told Hope the complete truth. She knew that one day they would have to do so, but for now, this was enough for a six-year-old. No-strings-attached was more R-rated than PG-13 even.
She went back to her room and grabbed a night-shirt. She chuckled as she brushed past the ‘Book Boyfriends are Best’ one. That was not the right one for this night. It seemed after seven years, she finally had a man back in her bed — the one from the night that had filled her dreams for all those other dark lonely nights.
And what good is it going to do you if he still wants a marriage in name only? She had been mulling that one over and over in her mind all afternoon. The question was: how should she handle this situation? Did she accede to his wishes and keep to her side of the bed? Did she try to seduce him? She was not sure that her fragile ego could manage another rejection like that night in the desert. Not that it was a total rejection; the bulge in his pants meant that the man clearly wanted her.
So, why did he not accept what she offered? Okay, the pity fuck shit. Which brought her back to the question that she had cogitated over all day, how did she convince the man that he was no pity fuck? Could she?
She shook her head and headed down the hall to the bathroom at the end. She always tried to set a good example for Hope, brushing her teeth morning and night. Maybe even a shower? Though usually, she got those in the morning to wake her up. Being at the diner before dawn necessitated strong black coffee and cold showers.
Of course, she could probably use one of those just about now. The idea of that man in her bed had her distinctly sticky in certain places. And it was not like she could use BOB or even masturbate with him in the bed next to her. Hmm, maybe she should get that shower, use the pulsating setting for something other than sore muscles?
Her mind was caught up in those thoughts as the bathroom door opened, and she walked straight into him. Jon. Damn, why did the man have to look so incredibly sexy in plain white boxers and a t-shirt? What had she been thinking? Agreeing to this?
She knew what she had been thinking – about their daughter. Hope needed a father. Jon wanted to be a real father to their daughter. If not a real husband to her. She would need to deal with it. At least for now.
“Sorry, I thought you had gone out for a walk or something…” Had he considered running? Going back to the hotel at night as he had suggested? Was she that undesirable? “I’m sorry…”
“Sorry for what, Alicia?”
“Sorry for getting us into this mess with my big mouth. I don’t know what I was thinking,” she was rambling. “I should brush my teeth. Take a shower, maybe.”
He nodded as he squeezed past her in the tiny hallway. Maybe if she stayed in the shower long enough, he would be asleep when she came to bed? But what would that solve? She would just be delaying the inevitable. Maybe she should take the bull by the horns…or his dick?
She was no closer to deciding after brushing her teeth. She had decided to forego the shower, after all. It was late. She should go to bed and get some sleep. But sleep was not what was on her mind as she walked back down the hall to her bedroom. She had to remind herself that this was not death row, and the executioner was not waiting on the other side of that door — just the man she loved.
Loved? Did she love Jon? She kept vacillating on that one. She knew that she was attracted to him. He had been the star of all her fantasies for seven years. And scars or not, he still was. As cheesy as it sounded, how she felt about him went more than skin-deep. It always had. Whether that was love or not, she did not know. And it was too damned late to think about that now. In more ways than one.
As her Abuelita would say, ‘she had made her bed; now, she had to lie in it.’ Quite literally this time. And standing outside the door in the hall was getting her nowhere. She forced her hand onto the knob. Turned it and commanded one foot in front of the other. She willed a smile onto her lips as well when she saw him sitting up on the side of the bed.
He turned when he heard her enter, “I thought we should talk.”
Alicia’s heart stopped. Her throat tightened, and all she could do was nod her head. This was it. And whether she was ready or not, this night might well decide the Fate of their relationship. She definitely was not prepared.
“I’m exhausted. Could we do it another time?” She chickened out as she took the other side of the bed. She turned off the lamp and hugged the edge of it. Hoping and praying that Jon did not press the issue.
He just sat on the other side of the bed for several long minutes before he turned off the light on his side and slipped beneath the blanket. He turned his back to her and kept to his side as well. Alicia felt the tears running down her cheeks and fought back the sobs that wanted to erupt from her throat. Of all the fantasies she had ever had about having this man back in her bed, this was nothing like them. She felt his rejection to her feminine core.
Jon did not want to be here. He had barely slept last night. Just being in the same room with her, let alone the same bed, less than two feet between them, was some new form of torture. Worse even than some of the physical and occupational therapy that he had undergone.
His dick had spent the whole fucking night at full mast. And nothing he did or said could convince the little traitor that it was best this way. That he did not want a pity fuck. And obviously, she had changed her mind. She could not go through with even that. Without layers of clothes, he was so repulsive that she backed out. Not even for Hope’s sake could she force herself to touch him.
For Hope’s sake. That was what he kept holding onto. She had woken him before dawn. She was heading into the diner. Would he get Hope ready and take her to school? Was this to be their new routine? Strained politeness for the sake of their child. Of course, he had agreed.
After dropping his daughter at school, he had called the VA, scheduled another appointment. Maybe it was time to talk with the doctors about amputating his arm? If a prosthesis could be more functional, that was what mattered, right?
Then he had taken a long walk in the desert. He needed to be alone. To think. And he always did that best in nature. That was why he had used his trust fund and the money he had saved from his decade in the Marines to buy a piece of the Rockies, just north of Las Vegas. He had both the desert and the mountains on his doorstep.
The problem was that today he felt as if his soul and future were as bleak and barren as the land around him. How the hell had he thought that he could sleep in the same bed with her and not want her? Oh, it was not just the wanting. He had known that he would always want her. It was the reality of being so close and not touching her.
Oh, he had touched her alright. She did not realize it, but she had woken him up when she crawled out of bed. How could she not? Their bodies had in sleep entwined tightly about one another. His cock was throbbing against her stomach. Their legs tangled in one another. His good hand was wrapped through her hair, and the damaged one rested on her hip, drawing her closer.
But Jon had not opened his eyes. He had merely moaned and turned back towards his side of the bed, pretending to still be asleep until he heard the shower running down the hall. Even then, he had laid there barely moving, trying to get his confused mind, tense body, and hard cock under some semblance of control. He was not having much luck when she came back in, fully dressed, smelling of sunshine, and woke him up.
The rest of the morning, he had gotten through on autopilot. Making breakfast for Hope, helping her to dress, then walking her to school. If he thought that a walk in the desert would miraculously provide the answers he sought, he was sadly mistaken. He was no closer to a solution to this dilemma than he had been last night or for the past few weeks.
His daughter wanted and needed her father. He wanted to be a real father to her, not some part-time weekend warrior. But how the hell was he going to sleep in the same bed with the woman he loved and keep his distance? Physically or emotionally? And was he willing to settle for that pity fuck? For an obligation from her?
But he needed to put all that aside for now too. He had promised Miss Mandy, Chris, and Hope that he would speak to her class about being different. Though what he was going to say exactly, he was not certain. And what did he do if some of the kids were scared of him? Or made some rude comment as had happened a few times? He just had to man up, his daughter was counting on him, and that was what mattered.
Jon inhaled deeply, pushed open the door to her classroom, and was greeted by smiles from Chris, Miss Mandy, and Hope. He could do this.