“I think Daddy has a new lover.”
Sheridan stopped moving; the coffeepot she held frozen in midair.
Only then did Sheridan feel the heat of the coffee spilling over, onto her hand. “Ouch.” She snatched her hand away and grabbed a paper towel. But as she patted the spillage spreading over the counter, her thoughts were on her daughter. “What did you say?”
Tori shrugged. “I think Daddy has a new lover. Don’t worry, Mom,” she admonished. “He hasn’t introduced me to him. It’s just that Dad’s been a bit different. Kinda happy.”
The world had certainly changed. Here she was talking to her thirteen-year-old daughter about her father’s male lovers. It had been more than three years since Quentin had declared his love for a man. Still, Sheridan couldn’t find a way to call that part of her life normal.
Sheridan could feel her daughter’s eyes, waiting for her reaction. The silence was interrupted by a car horn.
“They’re here.” Tori jumped up from the dining table and Sheridan exhaled. This talk had ended—at least for the next forty-eight hours.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Sheridan said, as she handed her daughter the suitcase that waited by the front door. “Call when you get to Palm Springs.”
“And don’t forget to get your reading done since you’re missing school today.”
“Okay,” Tori agreed, although Sheridan doubted that she would look at any textbook.
“Have a good time.” She kissed her daughter’s cheek, then opened the door and waved at the three Nelsons—her daughter’s best friend, Lara, and Lara’s parents.
Leaning against the door frame as Joseph Nelson tossed Tori’s suitcase into the trunk, she already wished the weekend was over. She wasn’t looking forward to these days alone. That thought and the chill of the lionlike March morning made her shiver.
“’Bye, Mom,” Tori yelled before she stepped into the car. “Tell Brock I said hello.” Then she added, “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Tori slammed the car’s door on her words, leaving Sheridan standing with her mouth open, long after the Jaguar pulled away.
Tori was growing up—too much, too fast. Quentin’s stepping out had changed them all.
In the kitchen, Sheridan settled at the table with her coffee. Three days alone, too much time to ponder. Too many hours to think about all she’d lost. In the last three years, she’d lost all the men she’d loved: her husband, Quentin, to a man. Her son, Christopher, to college. And then, worst of all, just three months before, her father, Cameron, to God.
Thoughts of her father were the ones that made her heart swell. And then came the ache. And then, the tears. Emotions that were overwhelming, never ending.
The ringing phone paused her tears and she gripped the receiver, grateful for the reprieve from her growing sorrow.
His voice alone made her smile, although it didn’t stop her pain. Why had Brock chosen this weekend to be away too?
She said, “I’m glad to hear from you.”
“What were you doing?”
Sheridan wiped her eyes. “Nothing.”
“I was hoping you were thinking about me.”
“Tori just left, so I was sitting here….” She stopped.
“It’s going to be tough without her, huh?”
She nodded. “Tough without her, tough without you. With Mom in San Francisco…I wish…”
“What do you wish?”
“I wish you were here.” She sighed when the bell rang. “Hold a sec.”
She scurried to the front door, eager to shoo away the intruder so that she could get back to Brock. She swung the door open and for the second time in minutes, she stood standing, unable to speak.
Brock grinned, flipped his cell phone closed, then lifted her into his arms. “I’d forgotten that Tori was going away until you mentioned it last night.”
“But what about D.C.? What about your mom?” she asked.
“I told her I’d be there on Monday.” He leaned back. “I couldn’t leave you alone.”
He was the man who made her heart sing, but now, she cried and he held her close.
“That’s not the reaction I expected. Maybe I should go.” He turned, but she grabbed his hand before he could take a step.
“You’re not going anywhere.” With her foot, she slammed the door shut.
He brushed his lips against hers, but when he tried to pull back, she wouldn’t let go. Minutes later, when they broke apart, his eyes searched hers. “Sheridan…”
“Yes.” She kissed his neck and when he moaned, she pressed into him even more.
“No,” he said.
“Please,” she said.
Pushing him against the wall, she gave herself pleasure with the feel of him. “I want you,” the words slipped through her lips before they again joined together.
He carried her up the stairs and she drowned herself in his shoulder-long locks, sinking into his scent. Within minutes, they were one, their melodic moans filling the room.
Sheridan was an emotional knot—lust and loss—tied together. Brock was the release that freed her from her pain. His arms, his lips, his hands—her comfort. But an hour later when he rolled over, still panting, her pain rushed back. Sheridan turned away, folding her knees into her chest.
She could feel it before she heard it—his sigh.
“Please don’t do this, Sheridan.”
She could hear all that he felt. He asked, “Why do you do this?”
She turned over and rested her head against his chest. “I needed you.”
“And I wanted you.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I hate this. I hate the guilt that wraps itself around you every time.”
“Because we shouldn’t be doing this.”
“I know.” She squirmed inside his embrace. “I just needed…” She felt the tears and wondered for how many more days, weeks, months would she cry?
She sobbed, a blend of grief and guilt. He tightened his arms, and she wept more.
Time passed; her tears stopped. Brock leaned onto his side and, with his lips, wiped away the teary residue on her cheeks. “We don’t have to go through this anymore.”
Now she sighed.
He continued, “It doesn’t make sense that we’re not married.”
“I can’t think about that right now.”
“We wouldn’t have these guilt fests if we were married.”
She bounced up in the bed. “You want to marry me so we can have guilt-free sex?”
He held up his hands. “You know it’s not like that.”
“I don’t want to get married just for sex.” She glared at him.
He matched her stare before he leaped from the bed. Without a word, he snatched his pants. As he dressed, her heart cried for him. But her lips wouldn’t move.
He slipped into his jacket and marched to the door. Only then did he look at her. “All I want is to love you always. But we can’t stay this way, Sheridan.” He stood, waiting for words from her.
But she had nothing to give him.
With a shake of his head, he disappeared into the hall.
The front door had already closed before her first tear came. “What is wrong with me?”
She’d wanted Brock to stay. Wanted to hold him again and tell him every word he needed to hear. But it was as if sorrow didn’t allow her to understand anymore. She felt like a speeding bullet aimed toward a place she didn’t want to go. But if she didn’t stop herself, she was sure that soon, Brock would be added to her list of loss too.
She reached for the telephone, punched in the first three numbers to his cell. But then she returned the phone to the cradle. She lay down. And thought about her father. And cried more. And wished that Brock had kept his promise and not left her alone.