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So here we go, retirement #2.

Same cabin, same creaky deck, same fucking pond with no fucking fish.

I used to love it up here. I now loathe it in equal measure.

I used to dream of what retirement would be like: living a comfortable little life, holed up in the heart of Minnesota. Just enjoying the peace and quiet, honing my fishing skills, repairing the O’Neill family heirloom that is this cramped log cabin lost in the middle of nowhere – basically, getting a kick out of doing next to nothing.

It took me about a month to go stir crazy with boredom and depression the first time I retired.

It may take even less this time around, 'cause I’m fast losing patience with myself. I’ve tried every single one of those activities supposed to be the be-all and end-all of retirement. Fucked if I know what the hoopla is about. I’m bored stiff and itching to do something.

Or someone.

That’s an issue I didn’t have to face last time – I was too busy fighting the urge to eat a bullet, I guess.

It’s taken me a little over two weeks to realize I’m in deeper shit than I ever imagined. The irritation, the jittery boredom, the headaches – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these are withdrawal symptoms.

I’m addicted.

Addicted to my most infuriating, most troublesome, most bewitching client.

That’s an occupational hazard I don’t remember being told about. Retrospectively, going cold turkey might not have been the wisest move. I was doing ok for the first four or five days, then I started to get antsy and short-tempered, not to mention horny. When I think about it, this is probably the longest period I’ve gone without sex since I became an escort – I was in demand, sue me.

The worst thing is I’ve well and truly shot myself in the foot by retiring now. I don’t want to masturbate to thoughts of him because that would just ruin the effort I’m making to get rid of my infatuation, and I don’t dare go out cruising for some anonymous piece of ass because I just can’t stand the idea of laying my hands on anyone but him.

A brilliant case of fucked if I do and fucked if I don’t.

My gonads hate me. That’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to reach. So I sit tight and feverishly spank the monkey to thoughts of some totally random, gorgeous, flexible hunk of a guy with steel blue eyes and soft lips. My theory is that if I can wait it out quietly here and see myself through the withdrawal, I’ll be able to get back a semblance of control over my body and ease back into normal life again without losing what’s left of my mind.

Ambitious, I know.

The problem with this theory is that there’s still a hurdle in my path. And it’s pretty big. Ever the dedicated professional, I dutifully called all my clients before leaving town – explained, reassured, referenced some colleagues along the way. I did everything that duty and decency required in orderly fashion.

Except where he’s concerned… I kinda bailed out without a word.

So I’m waiting for his phone call. The one where I finally get to tell him I’m not available anymore. The one where I finally get to deny him what he’s probably come to take for granted – me. It’s a phone call I’m looking forward to and dreading at the same time. The final test of my resolve to forget about him and move on.

The call comes three weeks after our last encounter. It’s a little sooner than I was expecting, but I’m ready for it.

“Hello, Daniel.”

“Hello, Jack, sorry to bother you. Are you available next week?” he rambles a bit too fast.

“Fine, thanks. And how are you?” I drawl, clearly a man without a care in this world.

There’s a jarring pause.

“I’m fine, thank you,” he replies more stiffly, more cautiously. “Um… sorry, I can be a little … uh, oblivious sometimes.” My, he actually sounds chastised.

“You don’t say.” Oblivious, rude, arrogant, self-centered.

“So… um, how are you?” he tries again.

“Fine and unavailable.”

“Oh,” he comments. “Unavailable. You mean this week?”

“This week, next week, the one after that and pretty much all the other weeks for the rest of my life.”

“What… what do you mean?” His voice goes very quiet.

“I’ve retired, Daniel. I’m not an escort anymore.”

There’s a long pause during which I hear him fidget with something and switch ear.

“I don’t understand,” he says blankly, like the very notion of him not understanding something should bring the planet to a screeching halt. “What do you mean you’ve retired?”

“Means I’m not for hire anymore. You’ll have to find yourself someone else.” And he’ll have to find him without my help: I may be a good sport, but I’m not recommending a piece of dick to the love of my life.

“Well, this is… sudden,” he comments carefully. I can almost hear the cogs and wheels turning from here.

“Been thinking about it for some time.”

“But… I mean… why didn’t you tell me?” he stumbles along.

“I’m telling you now.”

“No, I mean… why didn’t you tell me last time?”

“I forgot,” I lie. Like a shameless rug.

I hear something fall noisily in the background on his side of the line.

“Shit. Sorry, Anna,” he apologizes to someone. “No, please, leave it. It’s my fault: I’ll do it.”

The idiot is actually calling me when someone’s in the room with him. How stupid can he get?

“Jack, can we talk about this?” he asks, a bite of irritation creeping into his educated voice.

“We are talking about it.”

“But I’d like to speak to you in person."

“And I’d like to win the Stanley Cup.”

“Jack, I think we should discuss this and I want to talk to you face to face,” he announces, simmering with an audible effort at keeping a lid on his rising temper.

“Yeah, well you can’t always get what you want, Daniel.”

“What the FUCK is wrong with you?!” he suddenly erupts – probably because whoever was in the room has finally left. “I just want to see you: is it too much to ask? I think I deserve some sort of explanation.”

“I gave you the explanation: I’m retiring. Do you feel the need to discuss the career plans of all the people whose services you hire? Are you going to harass your plumber and your dentist, next?”

“Where are you?” he grinds out.

“I’m out of town.”

“WHERE are you?” he repeats, an edge of powerlessness in his threatening tone.

In a bout of spitefulness, I rattle off an obscure series of digits that are in fact the coordinates of my little cabin – at top speed, just to get a rise of out him.

“Care to run that by me again?’ he requests acidly.

“Nope.”

I hear a raspy noise – he’s covered the microphone and is presumably cursing the air a new shade of blue. It’s a nice feeling, being able to get to him like that.

“Jack, we’ve been… ” he resumes, but leaves his sentence unfinished. What – fucking? Banging? Screwing each other blind? His highness can’t even get the words through his gritted teeth. “We’ve been seeing each other for over a year now.”

“Seven appointments,” I correct him, using the appropriate term. “That’s about average as the business goes.”

“And you feel it’s okay to just quit and run away without a word like you did?” He sounds rightfully stumped.

And he does have a point, the little shit – but I’ll be fucked if I ever admit that.

“Look, I needed to catch a break, okay? You said it yourself: mine’s a tiring job. Besides, retirement’s fun. Believe it or not, I’m lounging by the water, crossword in my hand, and as we speak, a lovely lady is walking up to me from her morning swim, all wet and happy.” The pretty bitch trots up the steps, all laughing eyes and toothy grin. “Hey, sweetheart, I was just talking about you,” I tell her.

The line goes dead.

Just as I hoped, the term of endearment worked its magic. I plop the phone onto the table with a flourish.

The bitch shakes herself dry, spraying me with cold, dirty pond water.

“Jesus, warn a guy, will you?” I grouch.

She just barks happily and wags her tail. No idea whose dog she is, but she’s been sticking to me like glue since I got here – the dog tag merely says “Lady”. And yeah, it was a shitty thing to do because his highness obviously got the wrong idea. Can’t say I’m too cut up about it.

At least, now he’ll leave me alone. Or not.

The next day I receive another call from him.

“Hello, Daniel. How’re you?”

“Hi, Jack. I’m fine and there’s a car waiting for you at the end of your drive.”

Say what?

“I don’t have a drive.”

“You’re right, it’s more like a forest path. The car’s waiting for you.” His voice is low and calm and laced with iron control.

A nasty mix of fear, anger and excitement twists and coils in my guts.

It can’t be.

“How did you find me?” I try to keep the dark threat out of my voice as much as possible.

“You gave me the coordinates. Very accurately, I have to say,” he observes.

You betcha I was accurate; I’m Air Force through and through, fucking moron that I am. Can’t believe I actually did that. I gave him the exact fucking coordinates. What is wrong with me?! I should’ve known the freak would be recording his phone calls, for fuck’s sake!

“You can call your driver back because I’m not coming,” I inform him crisply.

“Go tell him yourself,” he mutters meanly, then disconnects.

“Asshole,” I growl at the dead line, then resist the urge to send the phone flying across the room.

I’m gonna kill him.

No, I’m gonna fuck him and then I’m gonna kill him.

I kick the stool by the counter and watch it stumble and clatter loudly across the room. It hardly gives me the destructive pleasure it should. God, a thirty-second exchange with him and I’m wound up so tight I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my throat and throbbing in my fast-swelling cock.

I grab my jacket and head out. It's a ten-minute walk and it’s the end of the afternoon so we’re fast losing daylight; an ice cold drizzle is draping everything outside in a wet and bleak mess. If there’s indeed a poor bastard waiting in a car at the end of the dirt track to my cabin, I might as well put him out of his misery now before he has to find his way back to civilization in the pitch dark.

And I have to admit there may also be an ulterior motive to my so-called altruistic impulse. I’m thinking I can use this to my advantage. Make the guy spill some beans about his boss, give me some inside knowledge I can work with – I’ve just been declared war on, after all.

And if I’m lucky… I might even get lucky. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Can’t help thinking that banging the Ice King’s driver could be strangely satisfying.

A horny guy can hope, right?

And sure enough, when I get to the clearing there is a black Range Rover parked to the side of the track, already backed up and ready to leave. Someone was sensible enough to pick a car up to the task of negotiating the land of the ten thousand lakes – and here was me, uncharitably hoping for some inadequate limo or sedan.

The drizzle has upgraded to a light, unpleasant rain mixed with melted snow and I walk up to the driver’s side and knock on the window. The door opens.

His eyes are ice blue – his expression dead serious.

The cold damp air freezes in my lungs.

I feel sucker punched.

“Son of a bitch!”

“Hello, Jack.”

“Fuck off!” I spit out with feeling. I turn around to head back home.

“Jack. Jack!” he calls, getting out of the car to chase after me. Seriously? Someone’s been watching too many chick flicks.

A hand lands on my shoulder and that’s the clichéd mistake I was waiting for. I grab him by the wrist, spin him around and flatten him on his front against the side of the SUV – I have to say I relish the pained grunt that's forced out of him.

“Jack, will you stop acting like a fucking diva?” he wheezes as I crush his cheek against the slick edge of the roof. “I just want to talk!”

“This diva can break your arm,” I point out, adding a little twist to the armlock.

“And for some disturbing reason, I’m sure you’d get off on that,” he rasps tensely.

“Maybe.”

He contorts and writhes a little under my grasp, trying to determine how much leeway I’m giving him – which is not much. Then he sighs and finally settles, stops fighting it, going lax against the black bodywork.

“God, your customer care sucks,” he huffs.

“Just as well I’ve retired, then.”

“Yeah, about that: a word of warning would’ve been nice.”

“Oh sure, let’s give the stalker a word of warning.”

“Will you get over yourself, already? I am not stalking you. You GAVE me the damn coordinates, you asshat. You just didn’t expect me to remember them.”

“You memorized them?” That’s impressive. Far less devious and sinister than I’d imagined, but impressive nonetheless.

“I have a good memory,” he mumbles defensively. “Look, not that I don’t like being manhandled by you, but could we just get inside the car? It’s raining out here.”

I really wish he wasn’t so sexy when he’s challenging me. I have a raging hard-on and given the state I’m in, this could all too rapidly descend into cheap, sleazy pornoland. Doing him against his car is appealing in a way I’d rather not look into right now.

“If you’re not happy with the weather conditions, you’re more than welcome to fuck off.” I release him slowly and he rolls his shoulders gingerly before turning to face me, his eyes a deadly shade of arctic blue.

“I will fuck off, don’t you worry. But not before we’ve had a serious grown-up talk,” he promises darkly, waving me to the passenger side.

And with that, he gets in the car, apparently secure in the knowledge that I will follow suit, the little shit.

I wish I could turn on my heels and leave him there. I really do. But unfortunately, there’s not even the shadow of a hint of hesitation in my mind: I open the passenger door and climb in. Slam it shut a little harder than necessary.

“Happy?” I prompt pettily.

“Ecstatic,” he bites off. “Care to explain to me what this is all about?” He twirls his finger at Minnesota.

“I already explained yesterday. And anyway, why would I need to explain myself to you?”

“Because I’m… we’re…” he flounders angrily over the words for a second, then pauses and takes a deep calming breath. “A word of notice would’ve been nice.”

“Right. Okay. I apologize,” I concede easily. “I thought I could retire without consulting you, my mistake.”

He closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose and heaves a long-suffering sigh – I do tend to have that effect on people sometimes.

It gives me an opportunity to check him out.

He looks good. Different, but good. I know this is a strange thing to say, but he looks almost normal. Unexpectedly so.

I mean, he looks like a regular guy in a car. An expensive rental, by the way. Leather seats, all the features. This SUV is probably worth four or five times what I paid for my Ford 150. And yet, he looks absolutely like your average Joe. Except for the gorgeousness of course. No amount of normality could camouflage his good looks. He’s wearing black jeans, a beige sweater and it’s all working for him in a big way.

It’s also working for me in a big way.

Still, I’ve never met him in a normal, non-work-related context. More hotel rooms than I care to count and a shindig at the museum: that’s all I know. And here I am, just sitting in the passenger seat beside him. I didn’t even know he could drive. I guess I assumed the rich boy had a driver to take him wherever took his fancy.

It only serves to drive home the fact that I don’t understand anything about him. I assume a lot but I know dick all.

He turns his serious blue gaze on me and I get the sense that I’m gonna lose this game. Whatever game this is.

“What brought this on?” he asks quietly.

I don’t know why he feels entitled to pick my brains over my life decisions. I don’t understand what I am to him and I don’t know what he thinks he is to me, but the fact is that, going from the lease papers on the dashboard, he drove almost 250 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul airport to get here and have this talk. And I just don’t get why.

Is it because he’s upset his sex toy made a bid for freedom? Because he’s angry that someone took his fantasy away?

“Not that this is any business of yours, Daniel, but there comes a time in a whore’s life when his body starts to betray him. And that’s when he should retire.” Let him infer whatever he wants from that – I’m past caring.

“You mean…”

“Performance issues,” I elaborate flatly.

“Oh,” he breathes oh-so-eloquently.

The night is on us now and rain is turning into the white mess that passes for snow at this time of the year. The sloppy snowflakes melting lazily as they land on the wet windshield.

“But… with me, there never was any…”

“You got lucky,” I mutter.

I see him look outside at the darkening surroundings, his elbow propped on the door and the back of his fingers pressed thoughtfully over his lips.

“It’s still no reason to run away like that,” he says slowly. “You could’ve just told me.”

“I wasn’t exactly in a sharing mood.” My tone is a tad more bitter than I’d like, but it’s just as well.

“I thought that sex wasn’t all that you did as an escort,” he says as an afterthought.

“It’s still part of the service most clients expect to receive,” I point out dryly, “as you may recall.”

He looks my way – a brief flash of self-consciousness in his eyes – then resumes his staring ahead into nothingness. It dawns on me that the man sitting next to me isn’t the Ice King. It isn’t the rich boy who has more control issues than you can shake a stick at. It’s Daniel.

Just Daniel.

Smart, mouthy, beautiful Daniel. Uncertain of his appeal, conflicted about his desires.

“So what happens now?” he asks, a strange breathlessness stealing into his voice.

“Now I go back to my cabin and you find someone else to play out your fantasies,” I tell him simply.

He seems to think it over, his eyes searching into the deepening gloom for an alternative.

“Can we…?” he hesitates, then forges on. “Can we stay in touch?” he says, training an unintelligible gaze on me.

He sees me wince, and it makes him shift in his seat – the sound of brand new expensive upholstery creaking indecently loudly in the cockpit.

“I think we could be friends, Jack,” he promises me awkwardly.

And it’s my turn to glance outside now. Not that there’s much left to see.

His is an enticing offer – one I’d probably want to accept. But I don’t know if I can do that. If I can be that. A friend. I don’t know what the word entails for him.

And it’s too early. I’m still a junkie fighting a crippling addiction. A junkie who made the rookie mistake of going cold turkey, and I’m aware it’s too early to lower my guard, too early to expose myself to temptation. I barely have a handle on all this.

“I like you,” he tells me with an odd mix of reserve and candidness, watching his own fingertips absently tracing the rich, grainy leather of the steering wheel. “I know I don’t really know you. The real you, that is,” he hastens to add, “but what little I know, I like. And that’s not something that happens to me very often.”

I feel my insides cave in. Really. Feels like someone detonated a bomb in there, leaving me utterly annihilated.

He looks my way again, attempting to read my total lack of reaction. I see him frown, purse his lips and tap his fingers on the wheel. He then heaves a big uneasy sigh.

“I guess what I’m pathetically trying to say is that I’d like to be your friend, Jack,” he tells me, his pale blue eyes blinking self-consciously.

He can’t be doing this to me. It’s wildly unfair. It’s savagely cruel.

I don’t want him as a friend. I can only want him as a client, no more. A client is easy to deal with, easy to keep at arms’ length. Even easier to label and file away in a box. That’s how I want this to be. I want it to be easy. Simple.

Having a friend, much less being in love with said friend is anything but that. Hell, just being in love with a man is pretty much the contrary of simple. As far as I was concerned, up until a few months ago, being in love with a man wasn’t even something possible.

Because, frankly, I’m appalled to be feeling all this stuff at my age. I thought I'd never have to go through this shit ever again: especially not with a guy. At no point in time did gay sex equate with love in my book. I never considered male partners as potential love interests. Love is for adolescents, for women, for wedding planners and the film industry. I was pretty certain I’d be safe from all that crap after I jumped teams and started my new career as a sex worker.

“Could you please say something?” He sounds both amused and desperate.

“Sure.”

Then there’s a long pause that he apparently expects me to fill with something.

“Okay, that’s a start,” he huffs, his knuckles tightening around the wheel in impatience.

“I meant: sure, we can do that. Be friends. Why not.” I try to sound like it’s no biggie, like I’m doing him a small favor. But I’m dooming myself here. Dooming myself to a life sentence of misery, and he’s too innocent or too self-absorbed to see it.

“Oh,” he says. “Good.” A small hint of a smile curves his lips, then a sudden realization clouds his features. “I’m not trying to fish for something more, if it’s any concern of yours,” he clarifies, faint worry knitting his brow. “I didn’t mean friends with benefits.”

“I know.” God forbid.

“Okay,” he nods. Then he licks his lips and thinks some more. “Not that I don’t find you attractive, of course. You know I do, obviously. I just meant it’s not…”

“Shut up, Daniel,” I interrupt him, as kindly as I can.

“Yeah, okay,” he agrees with a half-smile.

Can’t help responding with a quirk of my lips.

“This is cool. Now I get to shut you up, seeing as I’m your friend and all,” I muse.

“That’s right. And I get to dump your ass in the snow and let you walk back home.”

“That would be rude.”

“That would be amply deserved.”

“Still. You’re not going to let a retired old man trudge back home through the blizzard.”

“No, I’m not, regardless of the fact that it’s barely a handful of melted snowflakes. I happen to have manners,” he declares loftily, turning on the ignition.

The drive back to my cabin is comfortably silent. He drives well and is mindful of not deteriorating the track anymore than it already is – which is something I appreciate since I’m usually the one shoveling to maintain it in its passable state.

He stops beside my truck and shifts the car into park, leaving the headlights on.

“Nice hut,” he says; a smile in his voice.

“Aaand you’ve just lost yourself a standing invitation at la casa de O’Neill.”

“Shucks,” he puts on a pout for effect.

Christ, is he even aware that he’s flirting?

My hands ball into fists over my thighs.

Is this what this friendship is going to be like? Him being cute and irresistible while I have to eat my heart out and fight the urge to bend him over and fuck him into the middle of next year?

I give him my best please-don’t-fuck-with-me look to let him know he’s playing with fire, here. If he keeps being so sweet and relaxed, he has to know that I’m going to do something dishonorable. There’s nothing I want more than to invite him inside for the proverbial coffee and let things follow their course until I bang his brains out all over my hearth rug – I know he’d look amazing in the firelight.

And yet I can’t.

Friends.

That’s what we agreed.

Fucking friends.

But friends that don’t fuck.

He meets my gaze with thoughtful eyes.

“You know, I wish I’d known last time was… our last time,” he says, his voice low and soft and a little wistful. “There are things… things I would have done differently.”

“Last time was a great send off,” I promise him, fighting to keep my voice steady. “I’m sorry if it left you with a taste of unfinished business, though.”

He looks down at his hands in his lap and smiles inwardly. A little smile that scrunches his nose and makes him seem impossibly young. He seems about to say something but reconsiders at the last second.

This is a slippery slope, so I turn the conversation to something safer.

“Make sure you stop for the night on the way back to Minneapolis, okay? Don’t try to drive in this slush tonight.”

The smile washes off his face and he looks at me searchingly for a couple of seconds, his pale eyes intense and colorless in the reflected headlights.

“Don’t worry, I’ll stop at the first motel on the way,” he tells me. He checks his watch absently to cover for an unease I don’t understand. Then he glances at my house again and I catch a flicker of something in his eyes that sends a shiver down my spine and makes my heart race out of control.

I open the door and get out of the car as quickly as politeness warrants.

We exchange our goodnights.

He backs up and maneuvers the purring SUV back onto the track, and I watch him leave until his taillights are nothing but two red dots in the darkness.

Then I stagger inside and lean back against the door, weak-kneed.

God, that look. That look. Damning hope and exposed need and naked hunger.

I can feel them all whirling in my guts as I slide down the door until my ass hits the cold, hard floor.

He wanted to be invited in for the clichéd coffee.

Wanted to be asked to spend the night.

Probably looked forward to being fucked senseless on the hearth rug.

Such great fantasy material for him: the snow, a log cabin in the forest, a rug by the fireplace and me – his favorite sex toy.

I bury my head in my hands and let out a loud growl of frustration.

And the worst thing is I know I made the right call. I may be a lovesick idiot, but I know not to do it on my own doorstep. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter: you never ever do it on your doorstep.

And yet…

Yet, all I can think right now is, fuck my sanity; I could’ve had him one more time. Just one more time. Could’ve tasted his lips and buried my fingers in his hair as I buried my cock in his body. Just one more time.

A sharp bark of bitter laughter escapes me.

Just one more time.

Exactly what an addict would say.

I’m not even fighting it anymore.

****************************************************

An hour and a useless cold shower later, I’m grabbing my keys and heading out again.

Turns out he didn’t stop at the first motel, nor at the second; the third one was the charm, though. The Range Rover stands out in the parking lot and I park my truck three spaces down.

I kill the engine and wait.

Haven’t exactly thought this through.

That’s the problem with junkies: they just can’t think properly anymore. Addiction clouds their logic and skews their priorities. Makes them drive miles and miles in crappy weather to get their fix.

I have no reason to be here. No right to be here. I accused him several times of being a stalker, but look who’s stalking now?

Yet, I feel like I should be here. Feel like I owe it to him.

He’s right. I should’ve told him. I should’ve given him the opportunity to say goodbye the way he wanted to. I took that away from him. And this is me making it right. Settling my debt.

Nothing else.

Just being an honest, dedicated pro.

Not talking out of my ass, or finding pitiful excuses, or devising laughable alibis. Not being the oh-so-willing sex slave of the Ice King.

The fact that I do want to be his bitch until the end of time has nothing to do with it.

This is me being professional.

Practical.

Pathetic.

I climb out of the truck and go to the door of what I suspect is his room. It’s 10.30 pm and the curtains are drawn but the lights are on.

I knock with my heart in my throat. This has to be the most awkward appointment ever. Mostly because it’s not an appointment, strictly speaking.

I hear him ask, “Yes?”

To which I reply: “Room service.” Which has to be the lamest line ever.

“Jack?”

“Yep.”

The door opens on an intrigued Daniel. His hair is sticking out in odd tufts, probably because he didn’t bother to dry it properly after his shower. He’s the very picture of perplexity as he lets me in.

“Did I…?”

“Ah. Let me do the talking, please,” I interrupt him with a raised finger.

He frowns but remains silent.

“Right. I acknowledge that I may have been slightly unprofessional in my way of dealing with you, Daniel. And you have the right to feel a little cheated, here. So I suggest a deal,” I offer. “We’re going to put our budding friendship on pause for a couple of hours and consider this our eighth appointment. What do you say?”

He blinks slowly. Once. Twice. Then the chevrons on his brow deepen and he looks behind him at the bed he apparently just left.

“Am I still asleep?” he asks me, like I would know that sort of thing. I don’t think I have the patience to wait for his drowsy brain to catch up with what I’m saying, so I sigh and grab him by the back of the neck and kiss him.

His lips are soft and pliant and he vaguely tastes of chocolate. A wave of warm pleasure ripples through me. After three weeks of total abstinence I’m finally getting my fix, stupid junkie that I am.

“I suppose eight is good,” he breathes when I slowly release him. “Nice, even number. I was born on an eighth.” He rambles and licks his lips a little bemusedly.

I nod, though I couldn’t care less. We’re back in business, that’s all that counts.

I take my jacket off and throw it over the back of a chair, belatedly realizing that I’m not exactly dressed to kill here – ratty old blue jeans, tired long-sleeved grey t-shirt. I really should have thought this through.

When I turn to face him again, his expression has changed. He’s had time to compose himself, and the cold interested gaze that sweeps over me cranks up the heat instantly.

“Strip,” he orders in that low tone of his. The one that melts my spine and hardens my cock.

I dutifully get rid of my t-shirt, kick off my boots, then wait for the next order.

“I said strip,” he insists, with a steel edge of displeasure to his words. “Entirely.”

Fuck.

My guts do this sudden, acrobatic backflip I’ve come to associate with his more unlikely, filthy orders.

So today’s the day, is it? Is that what he meant when he said he would’ve liked to ‘do things differently’?

My slightly numb fingers open my jeans, then push the rough material over my ass, down my hips, down my thighs, past my knees, and I’m still not looking at him, because I’m scared of what I’ll see. Scared I’ll be able to read some measure of disappointment on his features.

And it’s ridiculous because I’ve always been rather satisfied with my looks, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my cock and balls. I won’t win any prize for length or girth or sheer prettiness, but it’s all functional and eager to prove it.

And I do have to look up at him at some point.

His pale blue eyes delve into mine as I straighten up and discard my jeans. They hold my gaze for long seconds – then slowly rake down my body with excruciating slowness. I can almost feel them burn their way over my skin. Down my throat, down my chest, down my arms, over my abs, then…

His eyes attach themselves appreciatively to my junk for a couple of endless seconds, then continue their journey down my thighs, right down to my toes presumably.

I’m about to say something when he beats me to it.

“Shut up, Jack,” he orders politely as he crowds my space.

A cool hand wraps gently around my erection.

“Consider it your standing order for the night,” he informs me in a low purr. “I don’t want to hear a single sound coming out of you.” The knowing hand lightly slides down my cock until it reaches the base and two fingers sneak down to stroke my balls. “Neither a word… nor a moan… nor so much as a sigh,” he continues in a hushed caressing voice.

Christ, I should’ve thought this through.

He softly brushes a kiss at the corner of my mouth, then nuzzles the side of my face. My cock is prompt to express appreciation, and he tightens his fist around it. It’s only the faintest of moans that vibrates at the back of my throat, but it’s enough to make his smile feral.

“Shhhh,” he warns. “Don’t make me punish you.”

Fuck and fuck.

And with that, he kisses me.

Light and teasing, the tip of his tongue flirts with mine as his hand jerks me off with thorough dedication. And all I can do is try to breathe once in a while. He’s still dressed but I reach under his shirt and caress every inch of him available to my touch. I’m apparently allowed to do that much.

With expert cruelty, his thumb presses and turns sinfully over the head of my cock, lighting sparks at the end of every single nerve in my body. I break the kiss and hold my breath to keep silent.

“You’re doing good,” he husks approvingly.

The thumb relents and his hand leaves my cock; he’s now focusing his caresses on my waist, then my ass. He pulls and drags me against him, and his hands are warm and inquisitive on my ass cheeks.

“I’m going to have to fuck you one of these days,” he purrs darkly into my ear, the filthy words raising a storm of shivers over my skin. My heart skips a violent beat.

I have never ever let anyone do this to me. Never wanted to – never trusted anyone enough to even consider wanting it.

Many have asked – demanded, begged, wheedled, bribed, threatened – but no one has ever even come close to making me give it a passing thought.

And yet, a few dirty words from him and I’m... imagining it. Imagining what it would be like to have him take me, own me. Open me up and just… fuck me.

I can’t want these things. I don’t want these things. I may be in love but I’m not that far off my rocker.

He continues touching me with long avid strokes until all the air is sucked out of the room as he abruptly kneels in front of me, holding my hips between his strong hands. He smiles indulgently at the way my erection twitches at his proximity. His eyes roam over my cock and my pubes and my balls unashamedly, seemingly drinking in the sight.

“You’re beautiful, Jack,” he tells me softly. “I want you to know that. You’re beautiful.” His mouth presses shy kisses over my groin, then tentative licks along my shaft. “So damn beautiful.”

My guts ache at the tender words – it’s so unfair.

Those were my lines.

It’s unfair that I never got to tell him those things. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. He’s the beautiful one and I never got the chance to tell him; I was never at liberty to say something like that. I was his toy, his plaything. I still am his toy and his plaything. And now he’s beaten me to it, he’s tied my tongue and I can’t answer, can’t contradict, can’t vindicate myself.

Can’t tell him he’s the most beautiful and the most precious thing I’ve ever seen in this world.

My fingers slide into his hair and stroke his head. It’s all I can do and it’s pathetically inadequate, but he purrs in contentment.

“You must’ve wondered why I didn’t want to see you naked,” he murmurs, his lips brushing my shaft. “It wasn’t because I was freaked out or repulsed or anything of the sort.” His lithe tongue comes out to slide over too sensitive skin. “It was because I suspected that I would like what I’d see.” A more daring lick brings his tongue to trace the crown of my cock and sends a rush of tingles through my balls. “That I would like it very much. Too much in fact.” A barely-there, almost innocent suck on the head of my cock makes me shudder helplessly, and my fingers twist in his short strands as I valiantly quash a groan. “And I wasn’t wrong. Every inch of you is beautiful,” he whispers, then engulfs my cock in the wet burning heat of his mouth, while I grit my teeth and try not to die.

But I’m drowning. Suffocating. Ending.

I rock back on my heels, on the verge of losing my balance, but his hands on my hips anchor me, and he starts sucking me off like a fucking pro and I’m fucking dying.

God, please, make it end.

Make it last.

A disbelieving gasp is wrenched out of me when he lets go of my cock and suddenly gets to his feet. I have to scrunch my eyes shut and bite the back of my hand not to yell in outrage at the loss. But while I’m silently agonizing, he takes his clothes off in record time and soon steps back into my arms.

He fists my cock unceremoniously and resumes the jerking off and I can’t hold a pathetic, needy whimper.

“Shhh, you were doing so well, sweetheart,” he murmurs evilly, then kisses me. A filthy, filthy kiss, as he jerks me off with one hand.

A hot silky sensation and a telltale hitch of his breath make me break the kiss to look down between our bodies – and what I see is nearly enough to make me come on the spot.

He’s got our cocks aligned side by side and while he’s jerking me off with his right hand, he’s also jerking himself off with his left. The sight is too hot, the sensations too overwhelming: something in me snaps.

I grab his face and drive a pornographic tongue into his mouth as I push him up against the nearest wall – he never said I had to be passive. He chuckles into the kiss but the maddening rhythm of his hands never falters. Now that I have him pinned to the wall, he can concentrate on masturbating us into oblivion and I can concentrate on kissing the living daylights out of him.

I know I’m not supposed to moan or sigh or make any fucking sound at all, but I’m also aware it’s a lost cause. So when I feel the wave of my orgasm approaching I break the kiss and latch onto his neck, hoping to stifle any errant squeak in the tender column of his throat. What I don’t expect is the sheer force of the climax that roars through me. His hand works me to perfection and I’m swept away by the sound of his velvet voice grunting my name in encouragement.

I swear I don’t make a single noise, but my teeth sink deep where his neck meets his shoulder and he cries out in pain as I come over his wrist and his hand and his groin and his thighs and God knows what else. Ribbon after ribbon of come spurting out of me endlessly and embarrassingly. I’m shooting my load all over him and I can’t fucking stop coming because I’ve waited so long and he’s so damn good.

“Oh fuck, yesss,” he groans, his hand now slick with my abundant release.

I watch between us in breathless silence as he uses my come and voluptuously coats his cock with it, before fucking his fist with sublime abandon. He’s getting close and his other sticky hand clutches the nape of my neck urgently, the fingers grabbing and clawing at my skin, so I kiss his neck, lick his shoulder. Try to soothe the angry red marks I’ve bitten into his perfect flesh.

“Jack,” he moans, and if I had anything left in me I’d be coming again – he sounds so undone, so raw it turns me inside out.

He finally comes with a keening sound filled with pain and pleasure, his abused cock spurting hard, and I press my hips forward to get all of his come on me. I want it on me, I’ve deserved it – it’s mine.

He’s mine.

I kiss him, through the panting, the sweating and the shaking, I kiss him. And it’s a good thing he’s ordered me to shut up: if it wasn’t for that command, I’d be telling him stupid things, dangerous things.

Impossible things.

Things that would make me happy for a second and miserable for a lifetime.

Things that would make him get a restraining order against me.

When we regain a semblance of composure, he smiles at me, a smug twinkle in his amazing blue eyes.

“You did keep quiet, but God you bit me, you animal,” he laughs indulgently, rubbing a curious hand over the bite marks.

And I understand now why clients in the past have done it to me. I get it now. On an intellectual level I knew what it meant, but now that I see my teeth marks on his skin, I get it.

The selfish, brutal, claiming urge. The all-consuming possessiveness.

I wish I could apologize, but I’m still confined to radio silence, so I simply wrap my arms tight around him and kiss his shoulder.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he whispers gently, kissing my hair. “It didn’t hurt that bad.”

Oh but it did.

It still does.

Loving him hurts.

Like a torturous knife to the guts – a slow painful death.

And yet, it’s so peaceful and comfortable in his arms: I could stay here for the rest of my life and never need anything else.

I raise my head, and my lips find his and we kiss. But it’s a kiss that’s sweet and fragile, and it has nothing to do with lust and heat – we’re too spent and tired for that. It has to do with everything else.

“We need a shower, don’t you think?” he eventually breathes against my lips.

I nod in agreement; he takes me by the hand and drags me towards the bathroom. He stops on the way there to rummage shamelessly in my jacket’s ample pockets: he hits paydirt and retrieves the bottle of lube I’d stashed in there, the little minx.

“You’re a real boy scout,” he smirks, throwing the bottle playfully in the air.

And of course it’s a given that I fuck him in the shower – his body finally mine to fill once more. I take my time building up the need, preparing him, pleasuring him, and then I take him, slow and good – until he begs for hard and fast.

I’m still not allowed to make any noise but the water covers most of my gasps and grunts, and I honestly think Daniel’s too far gone and too noisy himself to notice my numerous slips.

He’s nothing but rough moans and breathy growls – no more taunting orders and binding commands as I pound into him and steal his articulateness. My thrusts turn him into a lustful, incoherent beast and it’s the sweetest revenge I could hope for.

He comes with a roar as I mouth the nape of his neck.

His body clenches and closes around me, all but telling me the show’s over – I come deep inside him. Deep enough that I hope a part of me will stay with him long after I’m gone.

We stumble out of the bathroom and fall directly into bed. We’re barely dry but we can’t be bothered because we’re utterly wiped out. We fall asleep in an unattractive but comfortable tangle of limbs in a matter of seconds.

This was our eighth and last encounter.

Tomorrow morning we will wake up and move on.

As friends.

****************************************************

It’s soft and warm in here.

Soft and warm and indecently comfortable.

And something smells good. Musky, with a hint of cedar. A scent that makes my belly tingle pleasantly. I know that smell.

Love that smell.

My inner clock tells me it’s probably somewhere around 8 a.m. I sluggishly wonder why I’ve slept so long. But then everything is so comfortable and warm…

I take a deeper breath and bury into the perfect cocoon.

The cocoon grunts softly.

My eyes open in a flash, and it takes every ounce of self control I have to fight the military reflex to lash out and beat the shit out of whoever is here with me.

Shitshitshit. Shit!

One of the reasons I never spend the night with customers.

And where the fuck am I?

Bed, obviously.

Motel, apparently.

Motel?

Oh. Daniel.

Fuck!

My brain yells at me to jump out of bed and fuck the hell out of here ASAP.

Talk about a rude awakening.

And under ordinary circumstances, I would already be at the door, no doubt.

But these aren’t ordinary circumstances, and despite the clamoring in my head, all I really want to do is hang on to all of this. Hang on to the man in my arms; hang on to the peacefulness and the warmth he seems to be able to create for me.

I curse my well-trained brain, though, because the peace is already disturbed, the warmth is already slipping away. I very gingerly unwind myself from him – he snuffles and frowns in his sleep.

I take a second to look at him, so serene and young-looking. Nothing like the sultry beast who growled filthy orders in my ear last night. Don’t know which aspect of him I love most. I don’t want to have to choose, really: I want both.

And can have neither.

I settle back down behind him for a moment, my hand lingering on his hip – he’s still asleep, so there’s no rush. As soon as he wakes up, it’ll be a whole other kettle of fish. Everything is bound to turn awkward.

He’s going to be: “Okay, that was fun. How much do I owe you?” Oh and by the way, let’s not do it ever again.

Let’s give this friendship thing a try.

Let’s hang out together. Let’s meet up and see if we have any shared interest in anything. Let’s go out and grab a bite somewhere ridiculously hip and try to make conversation about pointless crap.

And when all of that fails, let’s finally realize we have nothing whatsoever in common.

Let’s just drift apart and tone down the friendship to a couple of phonecalls per month. Per year. Let’s forget about it, and never mention each other’s existence to anyone. Let’s become each other’s shameful secret, each other’s skeleton in the closet.

I’ll simply be his exotic foray into paid gay sexual intercourse, tagged and filed under “early mid-life crisis”.

He’ll simply be my epic fall from grace.

He sighs in his sleep and shifts in my arms, leaning back into me, effectively trapping my left side beneath him – and everything else melts away. Before I realize it, my free hand has drifted up over his chest and settled over his heart and my lips are grazing his shoulder.

He makes me weak in a way I can’t even begin to comprehend.

He’s waking up, his heart gradually beating stronger and faster under my hand. A last moment of quiet intimacy. Any minute now, he’s going to…

…gasp in fear, startle out of my embrace and crawl so far away from me that I have to catch him by the arm to prevent him from falling out of bed. What the Hell?!

“Hey, you okay?” I inquire cautiously – I’m used to my own unfortunate Special Ops reflexes, but seeing guys totally freak out at the idea of being in bed with me isn’t exactly a common occurrence.

But when he finally gets a good look at me, the deer-in-the-headlights expression drains from his tense features.

“Oh thank GOD, it’s you,” he gushes in relief, blinking hard and falling back onto his pillow.

Uh…

“Yep.”

“God, I thought…” he pants, shaky hands covering his face for a second. “Christ.”

I give him time to finish his thought, but when he doesn’t elaborate, I have to prompt, “You thought?”

He heaves a deep sigh, as much to express his relief as to get his breath back.

“For a second there, I don’t know… I thought I’d dreamt your visit last night,” he admits in a bleached voice. “I was… I felt… a little lonely, and… well… when I felt arms around me just now, I kinda panicked… thought maybe I’d made a huge mistake instead,” he rambles on, throwing a self-conscious sidelong glance my way.

“Get it,” I promise.

“It’s pathetic, isn’t it?” Daniel mumbles, closing his eyes in self-disgust.

“No.” Pot, meet kettle. I could see the bare need in his eyes when he left my cabin. I’m just glad I followed him and was there to catch him in his fall, so to speak. I don’t want to imagine what I’d have done if I’d found him in bed with some random guy last night. Probably would’ve killed the fucker with my bare hands.

“I’m sorry,” he says, mournfully eyeing the expanse of bed now between us. He really made a run for it: definitely nothing wrong with his flight instinct. “I shouldn’t have acted so spooked, I…”

“S’okay.” I get that he’s not really used to waking up in bed with someone. Can’t blame him.

Ruined a perfectly good moment, though.

“Can we, um…?” he tries, rolling onto his side and vaguely waving his hand between us.

“Sure.” I reach out for him, meet him half way and wrap an arm around his waist. This is all very weird.

He apologizes again, then licks his lips nervously. His eyes are a soft shade of blue and I will drown in them if I’m not more careful.

Unsure fingertips slide and sink into my hair at the back of my head

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs again gently.

“Nothing to be sorry about.”

“Good morning,” he whispers and I’m irresistibly drawn down into a kiss.

A kiss that is wary and prudent to begin with, but slowly turns into something more familiar and more heated as recognition kicks in. We do know each other, I realize. Or our bodies know each other at least.

And everything seems to click back into place as we kiss and meld. It’s slow and hot and right, and I’ll never get enough of this.

“Are we still in business?” he rasps against my mouth as an indecent hand drifts down my chest and over my abs to finally close around my erection.

God, I wanna tell him we are anything he wants as long as he promises to keep his strong, knowing hand on my dick.

“What about the friendship thing?” I ask, my voice a little too hoarse to convey the proper amount of sarcasm.

“In my pre-caffeinated state, a blowjob beats friendship hands down,” he purrs unexpectedly – filthily.

And right now, as his hand starts squeezing and pumping just right, that’s a reasoning I can’t find fault with. I think I grunt something to that effect.

“Besides, there’s something I’ve always wanted to try with you,” he breathes with a teasing grin that reaches his velvet eyes.

With that he rolls us over until I’m on my back, pinned under his weight, and then proceeds to straddle me and suck on my tongue like it’s the best lollypop in the candy store. Fuck but he’s good at this. So good that I even consider letting him know, but he abruptly disappears. One second he’s there, the next he’s gone – until I get a fabulously unexpected, mind-blowing view of his ass as he straddles me again but facing away from me this time.

Yep, it’s official: I’m going to die.

The only consolation is that I’ll be going with a bang, sixty-nining the hell out of Dr Daniel Jackson.

Warm hands wrap under my thighs and spread them apart, exposing my cock and balls to what must be the burning gaze of my client… or my friend – I don’t even know what he’s supposed to be anymore.

He settles more comfortably over me as I guide his knees either side of my head, his heavy cock dragging over my breastbone as his balls come into contact with the stubble on my chin. I flick my tongue out and he moans and chuckles all at the same time, the rush of hot air enveloping my cock while his mirth sends ripples of vibrating pleasure deep into my abs and chest.

I can just reach around his muscular thighs to cup and palm his balls. I hear a breathy “ahhhgoddd” as I give them both a drawn-out, wet tonguing. He retaliates by licking a slow, fat stripe down my cock – he laughs when he sees my cock swell and twitch needily.

But the laugh dies in his throat, replaced with a gasp of pleasure, as soon as I wrap my lips around his cock. He relishes the attention for a few seconds, then follows suit – with much dedication and no finesse. The game is on.

Sixty-nining is an art form of its own. And a difficult one at that. It requires an inordinate amount of concentration to be able to give a good blowjob while someone is diligently sucking your brains out through your dick.

I have the advantage here since I’m way more experienced than him, but he’s definitely holding his own, giving as good as he’s getting. Every time my expertise wrenches a gravelly moan out of him, the vibrations zing through my cock and send a flurry of sparks to my balls, which makes me grunt in appreciation – it’s a deliciously obscene feedback loop. And of course, what with the competitive streak in us, this sixty-nine is swiftly turning into a race to be the first to make the other one lose it.

But it’s a race I know I’ll win. First, because given our position, I can take him so deep in my throat that he’ll be seeing stars for the next couple of weeks. And second, because I happen to have lube and fingers with a backstage VIP access to his already winking hole.

He arches and groans loudly when my slick fingertips circle his opening – a temptation and a warning all wrapped in one gentle caress. He goes impossibly rigid against my tongue and lets my cock slip out of his mouth to give me a heartfelt, “Oh, you bastard…”

My fingers sink inside him and he moans, utterly undone, his voice filled with resigned anticipation. He’s not giving up, though. He engulfs my cock in wet heat as his talented hands grasp my inner thighs, stroking the sensitive skin just around my balls and sliding down the crease where thigh meets groin.

Fuck, how did he figure that one out? I love being touched there – the sensation is amazing. Fries my brain. So much so that I’m suddenly thrusting into his mouth with a helpless whimper.

I have to up the ante and screw my fingers deeper into him, insistently rubbing his sweet spot with deadly accuracy. That’s when he finally surrenders and comes hard and fast, filling my mouth and throat with his thick release. I lick and suck and swallow as he gives a desperate closed-mouth shout that vibrates around my cock and right down into my balls, triggering my orgasm out of nowhere and leaving me winded and blindsided.

I didn’t even know I was close.

Meanwhile, he purrs his contentment and licks me clean, while I float in a confused daze.

“I win,” I tell him, as soon as my brain finally connects to my vocal cords again.

“Close thing,” I hear him slur.

Not gonna argue, there.

He rolls off me tiredly, landing on his back with a soft grunt.

The sound of our ragged breathing is the only thing that breaks the comparative silence inside the room. Muffled noises from outside are filtering through. Engines starting in the parking lot, cars maneuvering, people scraping ice and snow off their windshields, griping about the weather conditions. And we’re together in our comfortable little bubble. Detached from everything else and still drifting.

“Don’t you have a plane to catch?” I ask him, lightly stroking his thigh.

“Yeah, probably.”

He doesn’t move. Neither do I.

His phone rings.

End of game.

Back to reality.

I hear him sigh, and he slowly sits up and reaches for his jeans, riffling through various pockets for the damn device.

“Yes?” he answers shortly. “Hello, Val.”

He gets up and rubs a hand through his hair.

“Yes, I know, I haven’t forgotten,” he sighs. “No, I missed my plane.”

A long, loud, high-pitched outburst from the phone. Val’s a woman.

“No, I’m fine. I just overslept. I’m allowed to oversleep once in a while, aren’t I?”

He turns to me self-consciously and shrugs. I’m not sure he realizes he’s naked.

“I’m… uh, I celebrated a friend’s retirement,” he half-fibs cleverly. “Kind of lost track of time.”

He starts pacing the room, pinching the bridge of his nose. Can’t take my eyes off the way his soft, lazy cock moves and bounces as he walks.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be there,” he reassures the woman. “I know how important that meeting is. If you’d just stop pestering me I might have a chance to actually hit the road sometime before noon, you know?”

He startles when I come behind him to take him in my arms, then he reaches blindly for my hair with his free hand. He leans back into the embrace as I drop a lingering kiss on his shoulder.

“Listen, I’ll call you when I get to the airport, okay?” he announces firmly, the sound of his voice vibrating low against my chest. And with that he disconnects.

One last nibble at his sweet skin.

“Hard to believe I’m this woman’s boss, isn’t it?” he observes self-deprecatingly.

“You should get into the shower,” I tell him.

He sighs, “I know.” And there’s already something different in his voice. He’s already switching back to real life mode. A real life where I don’t exist.

I let him leave my arms.

He turns to me just as he enters the bathroom.

“Don’t go anywhere, okay?” he admonishes softly.

So I don’t go anywhere. I get dressed in my ratty old jeans and my tired t-shirt, and just sit on the bed – the epilogue to this final appointment is utterly underwhelming.

We have chemistry, there's no denying it, but that’s about all we have. We don’t belong together.

Oh I’m sure he likes me – he’s actually said so repeatedly – but that’s about the size of it. He likes me. I’m probably his favorite whore. I don’t know how many he’s tried before me or how many he’ll go through after me, and all things considered, I don’t want to know.

But the point is: I have no existence in his world. I’m a shadow. I’m no one.

And it hurts.

I’m an old fool and the realization has never stared me so hard in the face, because I’m an old fool who is pathetic enough to need to have a place in his life.

God, I’m so weak I turn my own stomach.

It has to stop somewhere.

And I can feel it, the squishy, longing feeling in my heart, crystallizing and hardening into something cold, bitter and dead.

When he comes out of the bathroom, I’m ready to leave, but he walks up to me and right into my arms. He kisses me precisely on the lips.

“Since this appointment was a little impromptu, is it okay if I pay you later?” he asks awkwardly – the soulless words only serving to comfort me in my decision.

I nod stiffly and he kisses me again.

“No performance issues of any kind, by the way,” he then whispers with a teasing half-grin.

“Lucky you.”

“So, can we get together sometime? As friends?”

“Sure,” I agree easily. “You’ve got my number.”

A vague sense of unease flickers over his features. He blinks.

“Of course, we can keep our previous arrangement if you prefer,” he hazards. A puzzled frown is beginning to mar his pretty face but I don’t give him the time to dwell on any of this.

“You’re going to be late,” I tell him as I disengage from his embrace to retreat to the door.

He sees me out.

“Thank you, Jack,” he says, his pale blue eyes grateful. “For… you know, everything.” His smile is fleeting and a little embarrassed.

“My pleasure,” I tell him with a lopsided quirk of the lips. Don’t want to ruin his fond memories of this –whatever this is. I cup his cheek for a second. After all those months of pining after him, I can’t leave without telling him something.

I love you.

I’d give my life for you.

You own my soul.

I can’t do this.

“You’re hot, Dr Jackson,” is what comes out of my mouth.

“You’re sweet, Colonel O’Neill,” he smiles.

Sweet.

That’s me.

I drive out of the parking lot without a backward glance.

 

****End of Chapter 8***