11: Finding Balance
Nedra was in her living room, where she’d been for the past three days, curled up on her couch. The TV was on, but she had no idea what was showing. It was just background noise that took the edge off the deafening silence of her phone. She had not heard from Jon since she left his house and it was driving her batshit. She was terrified that she was going to lose him. He was a good man, not without his flaws or faults, but he was good enough that she loved him and wanted to save their relationship.
Did he still feel the same way? The uncertainty of something that was once as solid as granite and stronger than oak was freaking her out. Nedra was not one for tears, but within the past three days, she’d cried an ocean of them. She cried until her head hurt and her nose was clogged. She hadn’t taken a shower in two days and hadn’t bothered to untwist her hair or even remove her headscarf. She’d been drinking and binge-eating: four empty wine bottles were on her coffee table and there were two open boxes of chocolates and a giant bag of Doritos next to the bottles. Three Haagen Dazs quart containers lined one end of the table.
The last time she engaged in such behavior was when she learned that she lost Jon’s baby and would never be able to have another one. The double blow shook her to her core because she lost a child she did not know existed, and she and Jon had talked about having a family. Nedra was sent home to recuperate and get treatment at the VA hospital, and she spent two weeks in a severe depression before getting herself together and sought counseling.
In time, she healed and she decided that when her last tour was up, she would leave the Corps. She literally had nothing left to give, short of her own life. Nedra ended her relationship with Jon in much the same way; she just left. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing him and being reminded of their baby. There was no conversation, no discussion, and no contact. After she was discharged, Nedra simply packed up and moved to California.
Nedra got up and went to the bathroom, ignoring her reflection as she relieved herself. On her way back to the couch, she saw her phone light up with a text. She ran to the couch and grabbed her phone. It was Keria.
Are you all right, Nedra?
She sighed. She hadn’t called in or anything of the sort…better tell Keria something.
I’m sick. Sorry I didn’t inform you earlier. What’s up?
Nothing. Haven’t heard from you. Just checking in. How bad?
Stomach virus. I’ll see you in a few days. All is well in the lab?
Yeah. Sorry to hear that.
It’s ok. I need to get some rest, so text me if you need anything.
Nedra held her phone and stared at the darkening screen, as if trying to will Jon to contact her. Her eyes itched and she lay back down, tossing the phone on the table. She absently fiddled with the TV remote when her phone rang. Nedra grabbed it; it slipped through her fingers and hit the floor. She uttered a curse and reached down to get it.
It wasn’t Jon. It was Victor. Nedra blinked rapidly, as if clearing her eyes and stared. Then she answered.
“What do you want, Victor?”
“I need to see you, Nedra.”
“No,” she said.
“No,” Victor replied, sternly. “I do. Jon came to my house.”
“I’m ten minutes away. I need to talk to you in person.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen you naked; so don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’ll see you soon.” He hung up.
Nedra jumped up and immediately ran into her bathroom. She turned on the shower and undressed as fast as she could. She took the fastest bath possible. When she finished, she didn’t bother to towel-dry, but grabbed her robe and put it on before retying her headscarf. She had to clean up the mess in her living room; she didn’t want Victor seeing evidence of her misery.
Apparently, her shower wasn’t fast enough, or Victor lied about how close he was, as he was ringing her doorbell when she exited her bedroom.
“Shit,” she muttered. Then a moment later, she said, “Fuck it,” and went to the door to let him in.
He walked in and immediately noticed the mess in her living room. Nedra closed the door and pretended not to notice him staring.
“Want something to drink?”
“No,” he said, walking into the living room. “It looks like you’ve drunk enough for both of us. Are you okay?”
“If Jon was at your house, then you know good and damn well I’m not.” She started gathering the trash and Victor helped. “It must have gone well, because you’re one, alive, and two, don’t look like you got your ass whipped by a 240-lb former Marine.”
Victor put wine bottles on the kitchen counter while Nedra got a fresh trash bag. As he went back into the living room to retrieve the half-eaten chocolate boxes and chips, he said, “He wanted to do both, but didn’t. We had a long conversation. I was honest with him, but truthfully, he should be asking you the questions he asked me. It will mean more if you give him the answers he wants.”
Nedra began putting the garbage in the trash bin. “He hasn’t contacted me since I picked him up from the airport.” She couldn’t hide the sadness in her voice. “He may have decided that he doesn’t need to contact me; he’s made his decision…maybe he’ll leave me the way I left him.” Her voice broke and she started crying.
Victor put the candy on the counter and the chips on top of them. He had never ever seen her cry and it was just a bit too much for him to take. He walked over to her and hugged her. He didn’t know what to say, but then realized he didn’t have to say anything. Nedra buried her face in his neck and sobbed in his arms.
All Victor could think about was if she’d ever cry over him. Jon wanted to know if Nedra loved him, and he decided he needed to know it too. He rubbed her back, realizing that her robe was damp and she was naked underneath. A week ago, they were in room 12 of the Motel Spin and he flat-out refused to fuck her. If Nedra made any indication that she felt like having sex, he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
He moved his hands to her ass because he simply couldn’t help it; more than a week had passed since he’d had his hands on it. She was warm and smelled good and he got aroused.
Nedra’s tears soaked his shirt. Her nose was clogged again and she coughed. Then she looked at Victor, face stained, eyes large and bright. “I don’t want him to leave me, Victor…but I don’t want to give you up, either. I’m so fucking selfish. I don’t deserve Jonathan. I have—had a wonderful man who adored me and took care of me and I’m going to lose him because I’m a greedy, horny whore. And you’re not going to behave—that’s perfectly obvious—and I’ll probably lose you too because you’re not about to put up with my bullshit…so maybe it is what I deserve.”
He cupped her cheeks and kissed her forehead. “You’re not a whore, Nedra. Not even close. You just know what you like.”
Nedra closed her eyes. “I haven’t slept since I left him the other day. I’m so tired, Victor. I don’t know what to do.”
“I do,” he said. “You’re going to bed. I’ll stay with you.”
“You can’t. What if Jon decides to come by?”
“Then he’ll come by. I made myself perfectly clear.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I’m not going anywhere.”
Nedra tried to pull away, but Victor was quick. He put his arms around her and wouldn’t let her go. “I told him the truth. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got too much invested in this to walk away, Nedra. What did you think I would say?”
“I didn’t think you’d say anything at all because you’re supposed to be invisible. Unavailable. Ghost. Gone!”
“He came to me. I don’t know how he got my address, but he did and was waiting for me when I came home the day before yesterday. I told you I would step back and I did. Imagine my surprise when I see your big-ass boyfriend outside my door.”
“What did he say?”
“He needs to understand the kind of relationship we have. I explained that it isn’t just sex; that you and I are participants in a lifestyle. I told him that you are in complete control; I do what you allow me to and that I’ve never ever hurt you. I told him to do some research.”
Nedra didn’t know how to respond. Victor leaned forward and grazed her cheek with his beard. Then he whispered in her ear. “He wants to know if you love me.”
Her voice was equally low, with an undercurrent of fear. “Wh-what did you say?”
Victor kissed the skin by her ear. “I told him he had to ask you that.”
“You put all this on me, didn’t you?”
Victor continued to whisper. “Jon’s your business, remember? And you are the only one who can give him the answers he seeks. ”
“I will tell him anything he needs to hear if he contacts me, Victor.”
“But will you lie?” He kissed the skin just underneath her ear. “Will you lie about your feelings for me?”
Nedra closed her eyes. “If I thought lying would make everything right, I would. But Jon and I never lie to each other. It’s one thing to make that promise, quite another to see it through. But I will tell him the truth.”
Victor grabbed her ass. Nedra felt his arousal and took a deep breath before continuing. “I won’t lie, Victor.”
Victor’s kisses went lower and Nedra moaned softly as he continued to squeeze. She loved his beard. It was fabulous.
Another whisper. “Tell me first.”
“Tell me how you feel about me. I should know before he does, don’t you think?”
“Do you feel anything for me?” He moved her collar to one side and began kissing her bare shoulder.
“Yes…yes, Victor. I do, but I don’t know if it’s love. What I feel for you is different from my feelings for Jon. I care about you. You matter to me. I don’t want to lose you.”
His hands moved up her back and he continued to kiss her neck and shoulders. “As it should be, because I’m not him. You don’t want to let me go and I won’t let you go…so what will you tell him?”
Nedra choked back a sob. “I don’t know.”
“You smell so good,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have let you leave last week.”
“You have the right to do as you please, Victor…you didn’t want me to use you. I understood. I was pissed, but I understood. I’m selfish; it would serve me right if you left me too.”
Her nipples were hard. He put a hand on one of her breasts and thumbed one.
“Not ready to do that,” he whispered in her ear. “But you should also know that Jon is trying to make sense of it all to see if he decides that he loves you enough to accept our relationship.”
Nedra put her hands on his cheeks and made him look at her. “What did you say?”
Victor kissed her lips. “He took his failure to satisfy your kinky needs personally.”
A tear slid out of Nedra’s eye. “It isn’t his fault. I can’t let him carry that weight. Had I never met you; if I told Franklin that I had other plans…if I’d just told you to fuck off instead of fucking you, none of this would have happened.”
Victor put a hand on the back of her neck and kissed her lips. “Maybe it was meant to. You need what we have, Nedra. Suppressing your desires only makes them more powerful.”
She yawned suddenly. “I’m exhausted.”
“Then come on,” he said, taking her hand. “Go to bed. I’ll stay with you. And if Jon comes, I’ll wake you up.”
Nedra followed him to the bedroom and waited as he turned back the covers. She got in bed and watched as Victor removed his jacket and shoes and lay next to her, on top of the covers. She turned to face him. “Did he really say that?”
“What? About trying to decide if he loves you enough to accept this?”
“Yeah. Because I can’t imagine it if he does. I wouldn’t even believe it. I mean…how?”
“Jon’s exact words were: ‘I have to understand if it is even remotely possible for me to be okay with this if it makes Nedra happy. I need her to be happy. I owe her that.’”
Nedra scratched Victor’s beard before touching his lips. “How does that make you feel?”
“What? Sharing you with him if he’s cool with it?”
“Well, I’m already doing that…he just didn’t know it. I’m fine with it, Nedra. I don’t want to give you up. I’ll take you any way I can get you.”
Nedra closed her eyes, warm from the inside out. Victor took one of her hands and rubbed it against his moustache while kissing her palm. “He told me about what happened in Afghanistan. About the baby.”
She sat up quickly, stunned. “HE DID?”
“Did you not want him to?”
“Why would he tell you about that???”
“Honestly, it felt like he was talking to a therapist and not to a rival. I just let him unload. He blames himself for what happened to you and his way of compensating for your loss is to give you whatever you want. And if what you want is another man who can do what he can’t, he has to find a way to accept that because he feels he owes you.”
Nedra sighed. “I forgave him years ago. I can’t believe he is still holding on to it. It was his baby too, and it wasn’t like what happened was his fault. He got shot. We don’t leave our people behind. Yeah, I was hurt and angry, but I never truly blamed him. I left Jon because I couldn’t bear to look at him without thinking about the child we lost. Had I not left, I would have ended up hating him. Jon didn’t deserve my hatred. By the time he found me in Pasadena, I was in a better state of mind and I could love him once again.”
“You really need to tell him that.”
“I already did, ten years ago.”
“Tell him again. I want him to be okay with this, Nedra. I’m serious.”
“You told me the night we met that I’d have a place in the Promised Land that was all my own and he wouldn’t have access to it. You’d be my bad girl and proud to be so. Seems to me like you already knew which way you swung; Jon and I just have to get on board. I’m on. So the question is, do you really have room for both of us?” Did she inadvertently reveal a subconscious truth that night?
The words slipped out. “You asked me that night if there was…oh no! No! I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to—damn it!”
“Apology accepted. I don’t require a verbal reply to that question. The outcome of this situation will be all the answer I need. Don’t mention it again.”
She nodded and lay back down. Her eyes were red from crying and there were dark circles underneath. Victor knew she was too tired to do anything more than kiss, and he wasn’t 100% sure she could handle that. He pulled the covers up and kissed her lips again. “Go to sleep.”
“Are you sure?”
“You’re the one who said you were exhausted.”
“What will you do?”
“Don’t worry. I know how to occupy my time. I’m concerned about you. I’ve never seen you like this before.”
“It’s rare indeed for me to lose control, but my heart is at stake. I will do whatever Jon wants if it makes him happy.”
“Would you do the same for me?”
Nedra imagined a Venn diagram and focused on the overlap while yawning. “Yes.”
Victor nodded. “Go to sleep.”
He got up and went to the kitchen to finish cleaning up the mess she left in the living room. Afterwards, he sat down and turned on the TV while using his phone. Victor was content with how things were progressing. Jon and Nedra knew where he stood and the rest was up to them. If Jon did come by while he was there, he would leave so they could have some privacy. He then made the decision to have the cameras removed from Jon’s house as soon as possible. Victor destroyed his copy of Nedra’s phone several weeks ago. There was no more need to spy. He had what he wanted.
It was early the next morning when Jon knocked on Nedra’s door. He spent the past three days on his Harley, riding upstate, thinking about everything. He stopped at a motel twice to get a few hours’ sleep, do a little research, and take a shower, but other than that, he rode. Instead of going back home when he returned to the city, he went to Nedra’s apartment. He didn’t call ahead because he knew she would be there, and he had a strong suspicion she wasn’t alone. Victor von Doom was a first-class asshole and Jon really wanted to knock the guy into next month, but he was brutally honest. The man was in love with Nedra. Jon knew that, even if Victor didn’t recognize it as such.
Jon respected the fact that Victor refused to share intimate details of their relationship. That meant he cared about—and would protect—Nedra’s reputation. He didn’t try to speak for her, but he made it clear that he was going to remain in Nedra’s life whether Jon did or not. So it was up to Jon to determine how things would play out.
But did Nedra love Victor? If she did, Jon was not sure where that put him. Nedra told him before she left that she loved him, but did she really have the capacity to love both men the same? Could she be equally loyal to both? How could she maintain and compartmentalize her feelings for each man? Was such a thing possible?
He was exhausted, but couldn’t rest until he talked to her. Jon knocked twice, and to his non-surprise, Victor opened the door.
“What are you doing here?” It was pointless to ask, but he couldn’t help it.
“Taking care of Nedra.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Victor moved so that Jon could enter. “After our chat, I came over here. She’d been drinking and binge eating, and she hadn’t slept since she left your house that night. I made her go to bed.”
Jon decided he didn’t want to know if Nedra went to bed by herself, but apparently Victor saw the question on his face. “She went to bed alone. I didn’t like seeing her the way she was.”
Jon removed his jacket. “Well, as I’m sure you understand, I didn’t like seeing those bruises on her arms and neck.”
Victor elected not to respond to the latter. Instead he said, “She’s in the bedroom. She may still be asleep.”
“I’ll wait for her to wake up.” Jon walked into the living room and sat down.
Victor nodded. “Then I’ll leave you two alone.”
Jon didn’t look at him. “Thanks.”
Victor went in the direction of Nedra’s bedroom and carefully opened the door. Nedra was sitting on the side of the bed, rubbing her neck. She turned and looked.
“Hi,” she said, sleepily.
“You’re still here?”
“I wasn’t going to leave you, Nedra. Not until I was sure you were okay. But now you have another visitor, and I should really get going.” He grabbed his shoes and jacket. “You call me when the time is right.”
“Who is it?”
Nedra stood up, tying her robe. Her eyes lit up. “He’s here?”
“He just got here. You need to talk, and I don’t need to be here for that.” He put on his jacket. “Do you want me to send him back here?”
Nedra rubbed her face with her fingers. “Yeah.”
Victor walked over to her and kissed her lips. “I’ll see you later.”
She nodded. He gave her a quick smile and walked out. A few moments later, Jon filled her doorway. Nedra wanted to run to him and bury herself in his arms, but all she could do was take one step towards him. Another moment passed and they heard the front door open and close.
Nedra didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath. Upon hearing her nickname, she exhaled loudly. “Jon, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean to, and if you’ve made up your mind about being with me—”
“I haven’t yet.” He entered the room and walked over to her. There might have been two feet of space between them. “I have to understand some things, but I haven’t decided anything. But I love you, Roxy. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. What we have is good—was good—and I don’t know if I want to throw it away. So we have to talk. Don’t worry about trying to spare my feelings; just say what you need to say. I will do the same.”
Her eyes were shiny with tears she wouldn’t let fall. She hugged herself. “Okay.”
Another moment passed and Jon opened his arms. Nedra walked into his embrace and cried when he put his arms around her. She closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat while sliding her arms around him. They were like that for a long time. Jon let her cry and rubbed her back. It felt good to have her in his arms.
“Did you get enough sleep?”
“I think so.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Come on, let’s lie on the bed.” Jon took her hand and led her to the bed. Nedra lay down and Jon lay beside her. He was tired but he wasn’t going to sleep until this conversation took place. So he jumped right on in.
“Tell me…what do you and Victor do outside of sex? I know what we do, but is it the same with him?”
“No,” she said. “Victor’s an introvert. We don’t go out. He mostly comes here. We’re both nerds; he talks about his work and I talk about mine. We have interesting theoretical discussions. He likes to take baths with me, and he enjoys it when I wash his hair. We order food from Sherpa’s because neither of us can cook, and sometimes we watch TV. We don’t do the things I do with you. You and I are extroverted exhibitionists. Victor’s not a fan of people.”
“Do you love him?”
“Not like I love you.”
“How is it different?”
“Because you’re different. Jon, you are my rock, my heart. You take care of me. You protect me and keep me safe. I want for nothing. We have a history; one I cherish. With Victor, it’s more about filling in blanks, about completion. I have always been interested in the bdsm lifestyle; I experimented with it before I met you and discovered that it is something I really like. But it isn’t something that you pop out with on a first date. It’s a relationship built on trust, and that is not to say I don’t trust you. I do. I desired it with you. Victor recognized it and asked if it was something I wanted, and suddenly I was presented with an opportunity that I simply couldn’t turn down. I crave submission, Jon. My need to do so—having been suppressed for so long—became overwhelming. Victor does exactly what I need him to do, and he doesn’t go beyond the boundaries I set. He takes care of me after our encounters, like a good Dom is supposed to do. You know what that means, right?”
Jon said, “I do now.” For those three days, he spent time doing research right before going to sleep. There was so much to learn, but he had a basic understanding of what she was talking about. He hadn’t yet made up his mind if it scared him.
“I know you don’t understand it all, Jon, but believe me when I say that Victor has never, ever hurt me. It may sound crazy to you to know that he tied me up hard enough to leave bruises, but it was something that I wanted and something he needed.”
“Why do you have a need to be tied up? Why do you have a need to do those things you do at the motel? Can you make me understand that, Roxy? What is it about you that you can let him…desecrate you?”
“It's not desecration, Jon. Please understand that. In every other aspect of my life, I’m always in control. It’s been like that since I was a teenager. You allow me to control things, and it’s instinctive for me to lead. When we have an encounter, I hand control over to Victor. I make no decisions and am in charge of nothing. I don’t speak unless he wants me to. He does everything that needs to be done, and in doing so, does exactly what I need him to do.”
“So you’re saying that you need balance.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“What about…the motel stuff?”
“Well, we talked about that, Jon. Sometimes I just want to be treated a certain kind of way. Sometimes I feel sleazy and want to be treated as such. It turns me on. It gets me hot. It’s like a dirty little secret. I can’t help it.”
“When did that manifest in you, Roxy? You were twenty when we met.” In Jon’s mind, twenty was too young to have any real idea of one’s base nature. It appeared he didn’t know his girlfriend as well as he thought.
“I’m not sure, because it’s always been there but unformed, like pieces strewn about that make no sense on their own but once assembled, the message is perfectly clear. And it was years before I revealed it to you, after we became a couple.”
“I didn’t understand,” he said, taking her hand. “I really didn’t understand, baby. I thought I did, but I had no clue. I hate that I don’t know you as well as I thought.” He scratched his head. “When we have sex; it’s good, right? You’re satisfied…right?” Jon had always been about pleasing her first.
“Yes. It’s excellent because you’ve embraced some of my kinks and I’ve embraced yours, and we enjoy each other. Don’t you dare sell yourself short, Jonathan. If you were bad in bed, you would have known immediately and you would have never touched me again. You owned up that my drive is stronger than yours, but yours isn’t weak by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Roxy, I simply can’t say the things you want me to say, or put my hands on you out of anything other than love. You want me to treat you like a cheap slut, but you aren’t and I can’t. I just can’t.” It pained him to know that she got off on being treated that way.
She kissed his fingers. “I wish you could. I really do. I know I’m not a slut; I’m just a woman who knows exactly what she likes and I own every bit of my sexuality.”
“I can’t,” he said. “It wouldn’t feel right to me, and besides, if I hit you, I’ll hurt you.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Jon, is it remotely possible that you could accept this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s assume that you could…what would have to happen in order for you to be okay with Victor?”
“Is he a good man? What kind of man is he? Does he have the ability to take care of you in the ways I can’t? What do you feel when you’re with him?”
“Victor has shown some instability in the past, but it had everything to do with his research. He is good to me. He’s a snarky asshole, but I find that one of his more endearing characteristics. I’m as sarcastic as he is, which makes for interesting conversation. He’s an introvert; he prefers solitude when he’s not engaged in his research. But what he hasn’t experienced is intimacy; the kind that comes so easy to us. When I went to recruit him, he looked a mess. I couldn’t let him go back to work like that, so I cut his hair and trimmed his beard. He liked it.”
“Are you intimate with him? I mean outside of sex.”
“He likes taking baths with me. Showers too. I wash his hair and give him massages. Victor went three years without any physical contact, and my understanding of him prior to that was that he was such an asshole that it kept him from forming any real connections. So he formed one with me because I gave him something he needed. Contact. He likes to touch me and be touched by me. Full disclosure: I encouraged him to find a girlfriend, because there are plenty of women at Baxter he could choose from, but he doesn’t want them. He wants me.”
“Roxy, I can’t fault him for that.”
“My relationship with Victor is in contrast to our relationship; like squares on a chess board. He doesn’t have the concerns you have, and I’m not trying to shame you, Jon. I’m just telling you straight, as you asked.”
Jon nodded once. Nedra kept talking. “You take good care of me, Jon. I told Victor that you pay the rent and the note on my car. You cover the insurance, and you take care of maintenance when you come home. My financial needs are more than met, and he’s aware of it. But Victor’s a millionaire, Jon. He’s got several patents from stuff he’s invented, and he inherited money from his father. You know that doesn’t impress me. If you were wondering if he could do what you do financially, the answer is yes. However, I don’t want that from him. I don’t need it from him, unless you up and decide you don’t want to pay my way anymore—” She’d gotten quite used to Jon paying her bills and wasn’t about to give that up if she didn’t have to.
“Nonsense,” he said. “You’re my lady and that is my job. Glad to hear he’s not broke and looking at you as a meal ticket. What do you feel when you’re with him?”
“Satisfied. Content. Like my rough edges have been smoothed out. He makes me laugh, but in a different way than you. It’s comforting. When he spends the night, he holds on to me. I understand his need and I understand why he doesn’t want to let this go. It’s like me not wanting to let you go because of what you do for me; how you make me feel.”
“How would you balance your time between us?”
“Well, Victor knows that he has to stay away when you come home. Now if you decide to alter your schedule so that you can be home more, then it will get a little tricky, but I can do it. I won’t speak of it when I’m with you and same with him.”
“I appreciate his refusal to tell me anything about you or what the two of you do. He respects your privacy. I like that. He won’t start any rumors or do anything to tarnish your reputation.”
“Victor isn’t petty like that, Jon. Nobody knows about us. We keep it private.”
“I need that to continue,” he said. “I can’t be made a fool of, Roxy.”
“I would never make a fool of you, Jon. How could I do that?” The very idea of it caused her physical pain.
“Dumb shit happens sometimes. Just tell me if it does. I have one more thing to address.”
“I never came right out and asked, but I have to know. Before Afghanistan, we talked about getting married and having a family. After Afghanistan, you didn’t want to get married anymore. I think I know why, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Jon? I thought we went through this.”
“After Afghanistan, you said that you were content with our relationship as is was, and that marriage can ruin relationships…but you didn’t feel that way before. We talked about having five or six kids—”
“You talked about having five or six kids, Jon.” She smiled. The number she’d offered was three.
“But afterwards, the idea of marriage repulsed you. Is it because we lost our baby?”
Nedra grabbed his hand and held it, closing her eyes. She never allowed herself to entertain those memories; they were too painful and she believed that she would never get over the loss. Prior to Afghanistan, Nedra took for granted that she would become a mother whenever she wanted to. After Afghanistan…the reality check hurt like hell.
“I wouldn’t have been able to give you what you wanted, Jon. A family. Children. I know how much you wanted to have kids. I knew it was an expectation of your family that you have children. I thought that if I left you, you would be able to meet a good woman, settle down and have some babies…”
Jon pulled her into his arms and rolled on his back. Nedra straddled him and caressed his cheeks. “…because I was damaged goods.”
“You actually think that?”
“I thought it back then. Not anymore. It took some time, though.”
“Nedra, I was heartsick when you left. I tried to move on, but I couldn’t. You are all I’ve ever wanted. Yes, I wanted children, but only if you were their mother. I didn’t see anyone else in that position. I tried to but you’re a hard act to follow.” He opened her robe and fingered her scar. “Yes, Afghanistan changed a lot of things, but all it made me do was love you more. My father told me that I was a fool if I didn’t go after you, and there was nothing wrong with being a kickass uncle.”
Nedra thought of Jon’s father and smiled. Rich Holland was a no-nonsense retired naval officer.
“Jon, will you leave me? Do you want to? Is this too much for you to take?”
“No,” he said, pulling her down and hugging her. “No. Never. I love you, Roxy. So you have a side dude to scratch certain itches, but you are mine. I was miserable without you before; I can’t imagine how much I’d hurt if I lost you again, especially over something like this.” In the grand scheme of things, Nedra’s desire to be sexually fulfilled wasn’t something worth losing her over. Jon could deal. He would deal.
Nedra didn’t realize she was holding her breath. Jon was a remarkable man and she adored him. “So…so you’ll accept my relationship with Victor? You’ll be okay with it?”
“Will you marry me?”
“Will you marry me, Nedra Roxanne Nix? Now that I have clarity of your state of mind, I still want to marry you. We don’t have to have children, but I have always dreamed that you would be my wife. Does Victor want to get married and have a family?”
She thought briefly of Sue, whom Victor never mentioned anymore. “I don’t think so. We don’t have those kinds of conversations or objectives.”
“Marry me, Roxy. It shouldn’t get in the way of your relationship with Victor, and I doubt if our relationship will change much. If anything, it will evolve.”
She kissed his lips, thinking about Victor saying the same thing. “So I can have Victor as long as I’m your wife?”
“You can have Victor even if you don’t want to be my wife. But I want you to be. I’ve thought about it for the past year. We can have a small, private ceremony and honeymoon somewhere fun. Bali, Maldives, Hong Kong…”
“Are you going to alter your work schedule?”
“I’d like to. I do want to be home more, Roxy. I do miss you. As far as I’m concerned, I’m discussing things that relate to us. You and Victor will figure out where he fits in.”
She nodded. Her heart was so full she thought it would burst. She loved him so much. “Yes. Jonathan Samuel Holland, I will marry you.”
Jon cupped her cheeks and kissed her. After several minutes of kissing and canoodling, Jon said, “I guess you’d better call Victor.”
“Criminal” –Fiona Apple
“Cry For You” -Jodeci
“I’d Rather Be With You” –Bootsy Collins
“If I Was Your Girlfriend” –Prince
“Alone” –Colin Newman
“Blue” –Nina Simone