PART ONE ~ Priorities
Jane was glad today was finally winding down. Things at the police station had been hectic and crazy earlier, and left her feeling more than a little overwhelmed. The idea of cashing in her unused vacation time was appealing more and more to her lately. She could use a little down-time after what she'd been through the past couple of months. Especially the kind of down-time that included lounging on a white sand beach in a bikini, with a icy strawberry daiquiri as her sole companion.
But then, Kathleen Clayton was on the phone, asking a personal favor of her which would force Jane to put her plans of bikinis and daiquiris on hold.
"I know John can take care of himself," Kathleen was saying. "He gets along just fine living here. I'm not worried about the house. As it is, he's hardly here, anyway. But things are still tense between Richard and me, and I just don't trust my brother right now. I have that restraining order in effect which gives us some assurance. In the end, that's just a technicality though. Richard hasn't given up, you know, and I wouldn't put anything past him at this point."
"How long are you going to be gone?" Jane went on.
"Seven days," Kathleen replied. "Despite everything that's happened, I still have a business to attend to. I've been putting this meeting off for months now because of this thing with John, but I can't put it off any longer." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "I told John he was welcome to come with me, but he didn't want to go. He didn't want to leave you."
Jane frowned. She didn't like the idea of Kathleen being away so soon after the hearing. As far as Richard was concerned, Jane didn't trust the man either, and knew he may take advantage of Kathleen's absence to sic his hired muscle on John.
"So, exactly what is it you want me to do?" Jane pressed.
There was a moment of silence on the line. "Well, could you just look in on him for me from time to time?" Kathleen asked.
"Yeah, I suppose I could do that," Jane replied. So she'd cash in her vacation time later on in the year.
She massaged her eyes, feeling the onset of nasty headache just around the corner. John had a penchant for seeking out trouble if it didn't come to him. Keeping him on the straight and narrow for a few days would require more than just looking in on him from time to time and Jane knew it.
"Well, let's face it. John hasn't been...left unsupervised since he's been in New York," Kathleen Clayton continued as if still trying to persuade Jane. "I don't want to have to be worrying about him when I'm trying to deal with my investors. You'd really be helping me out, and I appreciate it. I'm going to go talk to John now, then head out to the airport. I'll try to call you tomorrow night."
"That's fine," Jane agreed. "I'll go see him tonight after I get done here. I think it might be a good idea to let him know what's expected of him while you're away."
Kathleen chuckled lightly. "I'll tell him."
For all the good it will do, was left unsaid, but Jane could easily interpret that much from Kathleen's snickering laugh.
"Good-bye, Kathleen. Have a safe trip," Jane said tunelessly.
Kathleen sighed. "Good-bye, Jane. Thanks again." With that, she hung up the phone.
Kathleen was already gone by the time Jane got to the mansion. The maid answered the door and ushered Jane inside, offering to make her some fresh coffee to chase away the night's chill. Jane declined, reluctantly handing over her jacket, and rubbing her hands over her arms a few times instead.
She started up the stairs at an easy jog, shaking the snowflakes from her long hair as she did. Climbing all the way to the top floor, Jane was a little out of breath by the time she reached the greenhouse where John stayed, but the exercise had warmed her up at least and the atrium was full of summer-like heat having soaked up an ample amount of the afternoon's sunshine earlier.
"John?" Jane pushed aside a low hanging branch, looking up. "John, are you still here?"
Jane glanced around, and was just about to step forward when John abruptly dropped down in front of her from some unseen height, startling her. She squeezed her eyes shut and fought a smile, chiding herself for letting him still catch her off guard like that.
"You enjoy doing that, don't you?" she teased, opening her eyes and fixing them on his unusually mischievous-looking face.
"Do what?" he asked her, in a flash becoming all solemn innocence.
Jane shook her head. "Never mind." She forced herself to back up a little. John was standing so close to her, she was suddenly having trouble remembering what she'd come here to say. "I promised Kathleen I'd look in on you from time to time--to see if there was anything you needed while she's away."
"I don't need anything," John stated flatly.
Jane was surprised by his choice of words. "Okay. I thought you might appreciate the company too. Your aunt will be gone for a week. You'll be all alone otherwise."
John stepped towards Jane, closing the short distance she had carefully put between them. He frowned, lowering his head so his face was mere inches from hers. Jane fought not to look into his eyes.
"Not if you take me home with you," John said quietly and turned his head slightly.
Jane could feel his warm breath on her cheek. She blinked several times and tried to inconspicuously turn her face away from him.
"I think it would be better if you just stay here," she countered with a forced, false enthusiasm, trying to make it sound like an obvious benefit. "I'll come by every night, how's that sound?"
Clearly, John wasn't buying any of Jane's geniality. He knew she was merely sugar-coating her rejection of him. His vivid blue eyes sparked indignantly and he spun away from her, pulling himself up into the sprawling, overgrown limbs above them, and all but disappearing into the thick, unkempt foliage.
Jane sighed heavily and threw up her hands in frustration. This was what she had put off her vacation for.
"Fine. Go sulk. I'll see you later." She turned around and marched back towards the atrium's exit.
"Jane," John called, his voice disembodied and falling on her from somewhere up above.
Jane stopped, but didn't turn around.
"I don't want to be alone," he continued, his voice growing softer.
Looking back into the trees, Jane spied John nestled in the crook of one of the larger limbs just off to her right. She moved to stand directly below him, and peered up, placing her hands on her hips.
"John, you can't stay with me and that's that."
"Because...I just don't think it's a good idea."
"You said yourself, it will only be for a few days."
Jane paused and took a deep breath. "Look, even if you did stay at my place you'll wind up being alone most of the time, because I still have to work."
John shifted slightly and for a moment, Jane thought he might be coming back down, but he stayed where he was.
"But I would be there when you come home," he said softly. "I would wait for you."
His forlorn, child-like tone tugged at Jane's heart. She wouldn't have thought being alone would particularly bother him. After all, John had been living a solitary existence for most of his life. Granted, circumstances had forced him to be alone then, but even now, he seemed to prefer solitude to socializing. Maybe circumstances still forced him to spend most of his time alone, Jane pondered. It didn't necessarily mean he preferred it. He had told her on more than one occasion he wanted to stay with her. Maybe he had been trying to tell her he didn't want to be alone anymore.
Jane suddenly remembered what he had told her about his life in the jungle. Dark, was how he had described it. He had been lonely. For years and years. There had been no one else there like him.
What harm could come of letting him stay with her for a few days? Jane silently mulled it over, despite the fact her stomach was fitfully knotting itself at the very thought of committing to such a thing.
"I have to go," she said suddenly, and rushed towards the French doors leading back into the mansion.
"Jane, wait!" John called after her.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she answered, not looking back.
Nikki was at her computer putting the finishing touches on her term paper when she heard a muffled thump, as if something had fallen on the floor in the room next to hers. She paused and looked in that general direction momentarily, before deciding she was imagining things, and focused her attention back on her monitor.
She had to get this paper done before she left on her ski trip tomorrow morning. It was due in a week and after today, the only thing Nikki wanted to have to concentrate on was snow pack and cute sophomores in cable knit sweaters.
Out of the corner of her eye, Nikki noticed something moving past her door. She stood up, and swiftly turned around, her mind seizing with the possibility that somebody was in the apartment.
"Hello? Is anybody there?" Nikki called, more or less announcing her presence. She crept out of her room, down the short hall and into the kitchen. She looked around the living room and paused to listen, but didn't hear anything. Maybe she was imagining things. Her recent abduction had left her somewhat paranoid about 'things that go bump' even in the middle of the day. Ever wary, she slipped back into her room, and went to close the door behind her for some added sense of security.
"Nikki, it's me."
Whirling around again, Nikki abruptly found herself face to face with John Clayton. She gasped in surprise and pressed her palms over her thundering heart.
"Oh....Hi John," she mumbled, slowly recovering her normal pulse rate.
"Did I scare you?" he asked earnestly, studying her slightly peeved expression closely.
Nikki glanced up at him. "Did you mean to?"
John shook his head.
Dragging her hand through her long hair, Nikki sighed. "Then no, you didn't scare me. But just don't do that again, all right?"
"All right," John readily agreed.
Half-staggering back to her desk, Nikki dropped heavily into the chair and tried to calm down. She should have guessed it was John in the apartment, but he normally made a point not to come around if Jane wasn't home. Nikki believed it was because of the way Jane had let him have it the time he'd nearly beaten that Gary guy to a greasy pulp. Even though Jane had later backed down, since then, John avoided being alone with Nikki if he could help it.
Nikki noticed John had not moved a muscle, and was standing beside her rather rigidly. She peered up at him, and offered him a reassuring smile.
"Um, Jane's not here right now," she pointed out.
John looked around the room as if to confirm the obvious. "I know," he announced. "I wanted to talk to you."
Nikki raised her brow. "To me? About what?"
Looking even more uncomfortable, John lowered his eyes before answering.
"I want to do something for Jane...to make up for last night," he told Nikki in a barely audible tone.
"Like what?" Nikki questioned, wondering what had happened between them last night to make John Clayton feel as though he needed to make amends to Jane.
John looked up at her with a frustrated expression. "I don't know. I wanted you to tell me."
"Well, I don't know either...what did you do to her?" Nikki folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair.
John stared back at her silently. Finally, Nikki sighed and tossed up her arms in resignation.
"Look, don't worry about it," she soothed. "Whatever it is, Jane'll get over it. She's probably already forgotten about it." Nikki forced herself to stare at her monitor. "Now. If you don't mind, I really, really have to get this paper done before I leave tomorrow, so...." She paused and awkwardly gestured at the window, then resolutely typed a few words, then stopped, and looked at John again. He hadn't moved. "John, please. If you want to hang out here until Jane gets home, that's fine, but just go watch TV or something. I can't do this with you hovering over me."
As if to compensate for his 'hovering', John knelt down beside Nikki's chair and gave her computer a careful scrutiny.
"This is a paper?" he questioned.
Nikki couldn't help but smile. "Well, it's not really on paper. It's on the hard drive. Then I'm going to put it on a disk to hand it in. It's for school."
John reached out and tentatively touched the monitor screen. Nikki could tell from his expression he hadn't understood a word she'd said.
"It's glass," he noted. His intense blue eyes flickered from the screen to the half-full glass of milk Nikki had been drinking that was sitting on her desk beside the mouse.
Nikki nodded in affirmation and got an idea. "John, I know what you could do for Jane."
John straightened somewhat, fixing his gaze back on Nikki's face. "What?"
Pushing aside the tinge of guilt she felt for possibly taking advantage of his good nature, Nikki picked up the glass of milk from her desk and handed it to him. He really was sweet, she thought to herself, and this was kind of mean of her, but she had to get rid of him somehow.
"There's a whole sink load of dishes that needs to be washed and dried before Jane gets home. If you wouldn't mind, it would really help out. And Jane would be so happy to not have to do them when she gets home. Okay?"
John rose to his feet, cradling the glass of milk in his large hands. He glanced towards the door uncertainly.
"Wash the dishes?"
Nikki nodded. "There's soap under the sink. If you need anything else, just holler." Determinedly, she faced her computer and placed her hands on the keyboard. "Let me know when you're finished and I'll find something else for you to do." At least he'd have something useful to do and he would stay out of her way for a half hour or so. That would be more than enough time to finish her homework.
John edged out of Nikki's bedroom and disappeared down the hall. A few minutes later, Nikki heard the sound of water running and with a self-satisfied grin, she resumed pecking away at her keyboard.
All seemed to be going well. Nikki hadn't heard a peep out of John since she'd banished him into the kitchen It was so quiet in fact, Nikki had practically forgotten John was even there. She finished her term paper and was in the process of transferring the file when there was a tremendous crash in the kitchen. It was so loud and so unexpected, Nikki nearly toppled her chair. Realizing what must have happened, she shot to her feet and bolted out of the room, her heart in her throat.
At first, the sight which greeted her eyes wouldn't register in her brain. She couldn't make sense of anything. There were suds everywhere. Seeing the empty detergent bottle next to the sink told Nikki why. Soft tufts of bubbles even floated around her head in the air. Soaked and disheveled, John was kneeling on the floor amidst a veritable sea of broken glass and soapy water. He peered up at Nikki apologetically and clutched his hand tightly in his lap.
"I think I stacked them too high," he mumbled and glanced down at his hand. He hissed through his teeth and made a face. "I'm sorry, Nikki."
Nikki's heart sunk as she absorbed the devastation around her. It wasn't John Jane was going to let have it this time. She had to get this mess cleaned up and fast.
"If I were you," she began, inching towards him. "I'd get out of here before Jane gets home and sees this. Somehow, I don't think it will contribute to your cause any."
"What are you going to do?" John asked, climbing rather gracelessly to his feet, still clutching his hand.
Suspecting John had cut himself from the odd way he held his hand, Nikki stepped forward to examine it. She was startled by the amount of blood she saw.
"Oh my god!" she exclaimed. "You're hurt!" Jane was really going to kill her now.
John pulled his hand away from her. "Wet glass is slippery," he duly pointed out.
Nikki grabbed John by the wrist and hauled him over to the sink. "With that much soap on it, I bet it is," she grumbled.
She jerked on the faucets and shoved John's bloody palm under the stream of water. He hissed again and growled at her, but Nikki wasn't about to be intimidated now.
"Hold still!" she screeched. Tightening her grip on his wrist, Nikki fought to keep John's hand in the sink.
"It stings," John hesitantly explained.
Nikki looked up at him sympathetically. "I know and I'm sorry, but we have to wash it out." She sighed heavily. "I should have known better. Rich people don't do dishes. Look, you keep your hand under the water. I'm going to go get the broom and a mop."
John turned slightly and looked towards the front door. "Jane's home," he announced with a strange mix of happiness and dread in his voice.
Just then, Nikki heard the front door open, and the sound of Jane's voice rang out in the hall.
"Nik? I'm home! Are you here? I've got take-out for supper!"
Nikki visibly paled. "Yeah....I'm in the kitchen. Hang on." She faced John. "Now's your chance to escape. I'll go try to keep her out of here until you can get away."
John stared at Nikki gratefully, but shook his head. "No. I want to stay."
Nikki frowned, turning off the water. She grabbed a dish towel and wrapped it tightly around John's hand. "Don't say I didn't warn you. I think you're about to see a side of Jane you've never seen before."
A loud gasp drew John and Nikki's attention to the kitchen entryway. Holding a large bag of Chinese take-out, Jane stood just inside the room surveying the damage with wide, saucer-like eyes. She looked at John, then looked at Nikki, and then closed her eyes as if she could not bear the sight of her kitchen anymore.
"Nikki, what happened here?"
"Jane," John greeted her, smiling slightly. "Hello." Apparently, he was just pleased to see her, regardless of her brewing mood.
"Hi," Jane responded, then pressed her lips tightly together as if to keep herself from saying what she really wanted to say. She faced her sister again and raised her brow expectantly.
"I had to finish my term paper," Nikki began, stepping forward. "I asked John if he wouldn't mind doing the dishes from last night and it seems he had a little accident. Look. Don't be mad at him. He was only trying to help." She cringed at how lame that had sounded, and braced herself.
To Nikki's surprise, Jane simply turned away from her and placed the bags of Chinese food on the counter-top. She paused and took a deep breath before turning around to face her sister once more.
"Mad? I'm not mad. Accidents happen," she said through gritted teeth, fixing her attention back on John. "Would you excuse us? I need to speak with Nikki in private about--" Her forced smile wavered as she noticed the blood soaked towel wrapped around John's hand. "John, are you hurt?"
"It's just a cut," John told her, following the direction of her gaze.
Jane took another deep breath. "That's more than just a cut," she said to him softly. "Come on. Let's get that taken care of." She held out her hand and John automatically drifted towards her. Jane steered him towards the bathroom, peering over her shoulder at her sister as she did. "Don't worry about the kitchen. Nikki will clean it up."
"Yeah. No problem. I'll clean it up," Nikki said and swallowed hard.
"I'm not even going to ask how you got this wet," Jane mumbled, wiping away a tuft of suds stuck to John's hair, then turned to search the medicine cabinet for some hydrogen peroxide and gauze for dressing.
John sat on the edge of the bathtub, watching her.
"I'm sorry," he told her.
Jane glanced over at him. "What are you doing here anyway, John?"
Jane grimaced. "I mean...what prompted you to come here? I told you I'd stop by tonight."
John looked away from her, staying stubbornly silent. Jane wondered if he believed divulging the truth to her would somehow 'incriminate' him.
"Taking the fifth?" she teased.
John looked up at her blankly. Jane grinned.
Reaching for his injured hand, Jane knelt in front of John and carefully peeled back the bloody towel to examine the wounds. Some of the cuts were still oozing blood. Jane frowned, unscrewing the cap on the hydrogen peroxide.
"This might hurt," she warned him. "But it will keep you from getting an infection, okay?"
John nodded bravely, his gaze fastened to Jane's face. "I wanted to surprise you today," he admitted finally.
Raising her brow, Jane offered John a lopsided grin. "I was surprised all right."
She drizzled the disinfectant over John's palm, tightening her grip on his wrist as she did to keep him from pulling his hand away. Apparently John was too transfixed by her proximity to give her ministrations much mind. If it hurt him, he didn't show it in the least.
He was, however, leaning closer to her, lifting a lock of her hair with his free hand and twisting his fingers around it. Jane quickly finished with the peroxide and set it aside, leaning back slightly and turning to reach for the roll of gauze she'd placed beside the sink. John had leaned forward as if following her, and when she turned back around, Jane found herself flush against his chest, his face so close to hers, she couldn't see anything beyond his eyes. It unnerved her; but he smiled, and reached up to stroke her cheek.
"It's better now," John told her earnestly.
Jane eased herself back on her heels and tried to remember what it was she had been doing. She tore her gaze from his face and looked down at the roll of gauze in her hand.
"Here...almost done," she muttered, breathing steadily through her nose. She lifted his hand and pressed the gauze pad into his palm, then started rolling it out.
Keeping her attention on her task helped clear Jane's mind, and slow her racing heart some, but she couldn't help thinking she'd made the right decision when it came to having John stay with her. Sometimes when he looked at her a certain way, she couldn't even speak. And when he touched her, even without suggestion, her body reacted in ways beyond her control. Having someone around 24/7 who affected her that way, wasn't exactly what she would call smart.
Wondering if he was even aware of the havoc he wrought upon her psyche, Jane's mind flashed back to the time he had appeared before her completely naked and dripping wet, having just emerged from a fountain waterfall he apparently bathed in. Once he became aware of her presence, he went to her, and hadn't taken the time to get dressed--even though he had clothing with him. John probably would have been perfectly content to conduct their ensuing conversation in the nude. How much of that was innocence and how much of that was self-awareness, Jane would never know.
As if coming out of a trance, Jane jerked involuntarily at the sound of John's voice, and faced him, blinking several times.
John peered at her curiously and leaned away from her. "Is something wrong?"
Jane chewed her lower lip momentarily, re-organizing her thoughts. She turned her attention back to dressing John's hand.
"I think you should go now," she began, snipping the gauze with tiny scissors and tying it tightly in a knot. She released him and rose to her feet, gathering up her nursing supplies as she did.
"Come out with me tonight," John whispered, standing slowly.
Jane forced a smile and shook her head. "No thanks. I'm tired and I'm hungry and I just want to kick back and unwind a little. Besides, Nikki's leaving tomorrow morning for her ski trip. I can't go out tonight."
"When she leaves, you'll be alone too," John stated, peering over his shoulder as Jane guided him out of the bathroom and down the hall.
"Yeah. After she goes. I suppose I will be," Jane admitted with a shrug.
"I can stay with you then."
"I'm alone. We can be alone together."
Jane steered John into her bedroom and walked over to her window, and pulled it open. "John, we've been through this before," she said through her teeth. "I'll try to come by the mansion tomorrow when I get off work, all right? But right now, I need to go help Nikki in the kitchen so we can eat before midnight. I don't mean to push you out, but if you don't mind." She gestured at the open window.
John walked over to it and hopped onto the sill. After one last lingering look, he turned and pulled himself out, then disappeared over the ledge.
Jane snapped the window close after him, and turned away, heading back towards the disaster area formerly known as her kitchen.
The following night, Jane returned to the Clayton mansion to check up on John. She wondered if she had upset him yesterday, casting him out of her apartment the way she had.
During supper last night, Nikki had told her over the egg rolls that John had come to her asking what he could do to make things up to Jane for the night before. Now John probably believed Jane was even more angry with him. She wanted to reassure him she wasn't, and also see if there was anything he might need since she probably wouldn't be stopping by for the next couple of days.
Kathleen's maid, Mary answered the door--in her bathrobe, reminding Jane how late it actually was. Jane apologized and asked if John was in.
Mary narrowed her eyes. "The food was gone. I just went up to check. That is all I know. I don't go around him much."
Jane nodded, and started up the stairs to the atrium on the top floor. Stepping through the doors into the moonlit darkness, Jane could almost imagine herself in the middle of the jungle somewhere deep in Africa that was filled with sounds of roaring predators, howling monkeys, and screeching insects. There were no sounds in this 'jungle' however. Not even a wind rustling the tops of the trees. In a way, Jane found the stillness peaceful, but then in another way, the unnatural quiet was almost eerie.
A moment later, the strange quiet errupted in a loud clattering crash as Jane stepped on the tray that must have carried the food Mary had mentioned. A china plate went flying and crashed against a moss-covered pillar, exploding into half a dozen jagged pieces.
"Great," Jane mumbled and stooped down to pick up the broken glass. "Well, Kathleen, consider this quid pro quo, since one of your plates probably cost the same as my entire set of dishes." Smiling to herself, Jane tossed the china back onto the tray. She made a mental note to tell John not to leave plates on the ground where people can step on them. Jane stretched out her hand towards a large chunk of broken glass sitting beside an exposed tree root.
John suddenly appeared beside her and seized hold of her wrist, stopping her. Jane looked up at him, somewhat startled.
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "You could cut yourself."
Jane sat back on her haunches, easing her wrist out of his grasp. "Well, I can't just leave it here like this."
John intercepted her hand once more and shot her a look of warning. He crouched lower to the ground and gathered up the remaining pieces of china, tossing them indiscriminately with the other pieces on the tray.
"Why use these? All they do is break," he growled, leaving Jane to wonder if that was meant to be a rhetorical question or not.
She smiled at him. "Well, they don't break if you treat them right." She folded her legs underneath her and made herself more comfortable, watching John.
He glanced over at her, flashed a somewhat self-conscious smile, then resumed his self-appointed task with new determination.
Once he had finished, he settled himself onto the ground beside Jane and peered intensely into her eyes.
Jane let her gaze drift over him, noting the pallor of his skin and how the moonlight turned his long hair into a silvery-gray. His eyes looked like steel and his mouth was a soft, pale shade of red--the color of diluted wine in candlelight, Jane mused.
The urge to reach out and touch him was nearly overwhelming her. Determinedly, Jane crossed her arms over her chest, and buried her hands deeply beneath her elbows, prying her eyes from his lovely face as she did.
"So, how are things going? Is there anything you need?"
John shook his head.
"What did you do today?" Jane went on for the sake of conversation.
John's expression shifted slightly. He leaned towards Jane and sighed. "I was here."
He nodded. "I waited for you."
Jane winced visibly. "John, why--" Then Jane remembered she had probably been a little too vague last night about when she'd come by, and not wanting to miss her, John had simply stayed put all day. "John, I don't want you waiting for me. There's bound to be some nights I can't get here. I almost didn't make it tonight."
John leaned away from Jane, narrowing his eyes. "Will I see you tomorrow?"
Gnawing her lower lip, Jane looked down at her hands in her lap. "I'll try. But don't...wait for me, okay? I've been trying to update some files at work, and it is taking me longer than I first thought it would. I have to get it finished by next week."
John opened his mouth as if to say something else, then snapped it shut again and climbed to his feet.
"What?" Jane questioned, glancing up at him. "What were you going to say?" She lowered her head into her hand and massaged her forehead.
John bent towards her. "It's not important," he stated. "Not to you."
With that, John left her and disappeared into the darkness of the dense foliage. Jane rose stiffly to her feet and started after him, but the soft, chilly breeze suddenly brushing against her face told her he was gone.
So much for that, Jane thought and turned to leave the atrium. She couldn't help feeling a little guilty though. More and more often, she pushed John aside in a feeble attempt to reclaim her once perfectly structured life. But John was clearly starting to feel slighted, and maybe even a little impatient. Jane knew she needed to get her priorities straight, and soon. She needed to decide if having John in her life meant more to her than having structure, because one would never allow the presence of the other.
Jane had hardly been able to tolerate working the next day. She couldn't seem to concentrate on anything and wondered if she was missing obvious clues in the case she was working on. Luckily, Sam had been on the ball and had made the necessary ties of information which enabled them to wrap the case up and make their arrest. All that was left was the ever-present paperwork now.
As it was, Jane hadn't slept well the night before, and tonight she wasn't fairing any better. In her bed, Jane punched her pillow again and shifted positions for the tenth time. As tired as she was, she should have been asleep before her head hit the pillow, but two hours later, her mind was still full of thoughts and her body just wouldn't relax.
Having already reasoned through the cause of her insomnia, Jane ruled out her case, the impending paperwork, or up-coming court dates. She couldn't blame it on Nikki being out late--Nikki was in the mountains skiing. The only thing left was John Clayton.
By the time she'd gotten off work tonight, she believed it was too late to go see him. She kept seeing poor Mary in her robe and pajamas ready for bed from the night before, and couldn't bring herself to go out there again so late. She knew John would probably be disappointed, if not a little angry, but hopefully he hadn't spent the entire day all alone waiting for her to come by again.
Thinking he might be out and about tonight, only added another degree to Jane's wakeful state. She couldn't help but listen for any sounds of him stirring on her window ledge.
Jane finally kicked off the covers and sat up. Trying to sleep right now was pointless. She was too wide awake. She thought about going to the kitchen to brew some tea. Something herbal and minty maybe.
Climbing out of bed, Jane tugged on her robe and first padded barefoot to her window. It seemed strange that John hadn't tried to see her here. Maybe he was still upset with her and was giving her a taste of her own medicine, so to speak. Anxiously, Jane pulled the window open, bracing herself for the bitter chill in the air, and leaned over the sill to look out. For a moment, she couldn't decipher anything in the pitch darkness surrounding her. Then she heard it. Faint and distant, but still discernible. Gunshots. That distinctive pop, pop, pop.
A knowing fear seized her, draining the color from her face, and chilling her to the core more than the winter air ever could. Without a second thought, Jane spun around on her heel and darted back into her room, snatching up the clothes she had laid out for the morning. She yanked on the sweater and pulled on her jeans with numbed fingers, struggling to fasten the button snap.
Her cell phone rang just as she was pulling on her coat. Jane snatched it up, holding her breath.
"Hey Jane, it's Sam."
Jane forced herself to exhale and sound nonchalant.
"Sam. I thought you called it a night hours ago. It's..." she paused and glanced at her clock, "...two fifteen in the morning. What's up?"
"Oh, you know, same old, same old," her partner muttered. "But this time, I happened to be at the right place at the right time for a change."
"Sam," Jane urged. "I was just on my way out. Could you cut to the chase?"
"On your way out? No kidding? Damn! It must be that womanly intuition thing I keep hearing about. I thought you sounded pretty wide awake for two-fifteen in the morning."
Jane heard muffled voices in the background and the sharp whoop of a siren. She remembered the gunfire earlier. This had to do with John somehow and she knew it. Sam wouldn't be calling her like this otherwise. Jane took a deep steadying breath.
"I heard gunfire. Start from the beginning."
"The beginning, of course," Detective Malone announced.
He sounded strangely jovial for someone delivering bad news, Jane thought. Maybe it wasn't bad news. Maybe Jane had just assumed the worse. Surely, John Clayton wasn't involved in anything. Ten to one, he was back in his atrium, high in one of the trees, fast asleep.
"There I was, minding my own business, driving home after a hard day of serving the public, when I see some of our fellow officers down the block in need of a little assistance breaking up a fight."
"Oh god," Jane moaned. She'd been right to begin with. "John?"
"Ah-ha! Now how'd you possibly guess that?" Sam teased. "There was our friendly neighborhood wild-man, beating the snot out of some guy he claimed was attacking a woman back on 46th."
"Claimed?" Jane half-gasped. She had grabbed her car keys and was heading out the door still talking. "Sam, come on! What do you mean?"
Jane heard her partner sigh heavily. "Well, cops say they can't find the woman or the gun used," he went on. "Right now, they've got both John and the supposed perp in cuffs ready to take 'em downtown on assault and battery charges, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. And that's just for starters." He sighed again. "Remember me saying I was at the right place at the right time? Well, I came along just as our boys in blue were about to resort to drastic measures to get the situation under control. I stepped in and was able to keep John from doing anything stupid, but I don't know how long my influence will last. Right now he's sitting in the back of an ambulance, but he's giving the paramedics a hard time."
"Ambulance?" Jane repeated in alarm. "Is he hurt?"
Sam sighed. "He got grazed by a bullet, and he's a little banged up, nothing serious. Still. You need to come out here. And I mean now."
"Where are you?"
Sam relayed an address to Jane. Luckily, it was just a few blocks away. Apparently, John had been in the neighborhood. Maybe he had been on his way to see her after all.
"Hurry, okay?" Sam went on. "I don't know how much longer I can keep things under control here."
Jane nodded wholeheartedly, even though she knew Sam could not see her. "I'm on my way. Hey! Do me a favor!"
"You mean, another favor."
"Yeah. Another favor. Look, let me talk to John. Bring him the phone."
Sam mumbled something to someone. Then: "Hold on." Jane heard Sam speaking again, but obviously not to her. "Here. Take this. It's Jane. She wants to talk to you, but only if you let this nice paramedic fix you up." There was a short pause then John's voice came over the line.
"John! Listen to me--"
"They don't believe me!"
Jane sighed. "John, they've got no proof! You've got to understand, all they know for sure is that you and another guy were fighting. They're taking every precaution."
"He was hurting her. Why would I lie about that?"
"I know it seems obvious to you, but considering the kind of people those officers deal with everyday, they can't just take someone's word for something. It doesn't matter who they are." Jane paused and took a deep, steadying breath as she climbed into her car. "What I need you to do now is just calm down and cooperate with everyone until I can get there. Please, John. I'm begging you."
"Jane," John moaned despondently. "I don't understand why they think I did something wrong."
"Just hang on," Jane told him, quickening her pace. "I'm on my way."
Holding up her badge, Jane pushed her way through the milling uniformed officers and over to Sam. At first she didn't see John, then she noticed Sam was standing by his car and one of the back doors was open. John was sitting half-way inside, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, his head resting in both hands. A conspicuous white gauze bandage was taped just below his hairline, above his left temple. He sat up when he saw Jane.
Jane went straight to John, sparing a grateful glance at Sam on the way. John rose to his feet and smiled crookedly at her. Along with the bandaged gunshot wound, Jane noticed the left corner of John's mouth was cut, his knuckles were split, and he had the beginnings of a nasty bruise under his right eye.
"Are you all right?" she asked him, looking him up and down.
John nodded, but then winced and grasped his head in pain. "Yes," he whispered, looking a little embarrassed.
Jane pried her eyes off of John to look expectantly at her partner.
"They found the gun AND the woman," Detective Malone began, sipping steaming coffee from a Styrofoam cup and watching Jane fuss over John Clayton with an amused expression on his face. "She confirmed John's story of the assault. Then they ran a check on the other guy, and seems he had a rap sheet as long as your arm."
"Is John free to go then?" Jane looked back at the few remaining officers on the scene. None of them were paying any attention to them. The ambulance had since gone, and only two marked units were left. One contained a very battered and unhappy-looking perpetrator.
Sam nodded and handed her a ticket and glanced over at John. "They dropped the other charges, but they wrote him a citation for disturbing the peace."
Jane took the neatly folded paper Sam was giving her and quickly skimmed the contents.
"Maybe I can talk to the District Attorney," she mumbled. She knew Richard Clayton was always able to get John's various misdemeanors dismissed through him. Maybe it would work for her if she explained the situation to him. She gave John an admonishing look, but he grinned back at her and reached up to stroke her hair.
Now that her fear for John's well-being was subsiding, anger was moving in. Jane closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then turned towards John, jerking away from his caressing touch.
"When are you going to realize things are never as cut and dry as they seem?" she started, placing her hands on her hips. "One of these days, you're going to learn that there are rules, and laws, and technicalities....You can't just do as you please, even if you feel it's what's right."
John seemed taken aback by Jane's sudden anger. He looked over at Sam questioningly, but Sam held up his hands and shook his head.
"Sorry," he told John. "I can't help you out of this one. I stood up for you against New York's finest, but when it comes to Jane Porter, you're on your own, pal."
Jane backed away from John momentarily and focused on her retreating partner.
"I owe you one, Sam," she mumbled. "Things could have gone really wrong tonight."
"But they didn't," Sam replied and lowered his voice. He gestured at John. "I can't believe I'm actually gonna say this, but go easy on the guy. I can see where he's coming from, and given the same circumstances, who's to say I wouldn't have done the same thing." He finished his coffee and chucked the dregs into the street before crushing the cup in his hand and tossing it into his car. "Hey, I'm out of here. Have a good night, Detective Porter. What's left of it anyway."
Jane nodded, her throat too tight with emotion to reply. She watched Sam climb into his car and ease it away from the curb. Then she turned to John, who was standing next to her, his hands held rigidly at his sides. His head was bowed so low, his long hair had spilled forward and covered half his face.
Jane motioned for him to follow her, and started off towards her own vehicle, which was parked a little ways down the block.
"You did this on purpose, didn't you?" she grumbled, glancing over at him. She wondered fleetingly if he had done this for attention the way a young child acts up for his parent's eye.
However, John stared back at her with a confused expression, making Jane realize how preposterous an accusation that was. She frowned and sighed heavily.
"All right, I know you didn't get into trouble on purpose--you never do," she clarified. "But you do get into trouble, and I'm just telling you, maybe the next time, Sam won't be driving by, and I won't be able to talk to the D.A. on your behalf." She increased her pace, trying to walk off her residual anger. "All I'm saying, is you're an adult now. And you're going to have to start taking responsibility for your own actions. You're going to have to think of the consequences of what you do."
"You could have been killed tonight, John," Jane continued, too keyed up to notice John was no longer walking with her. Her mind was too busy imagining the worse. "You just don't know when to stop, do you? You don't even think about things like getting your head blown off do you?" Finally Jane realized she was more or less talking to herself. She half-skidded to a halt and turned around to face John.
"I want to go now," he stated simply.
Jane furrowed her brow. "Go?"
John nodded curtly, then turned and walked briskly away. Jane skipped after him, grabbing his arm and hauling him around to face her again.
"Oh no you don't!" Jane snapped. "I don't want you roaming the streets anymore tonight. What's to say, not two minutes later, you'll get yourself in even deeper trouble? I need some reprieve, John, so I'm driving you straight to your aunt's house and I want you to stay there. I feel like...I can't trust you anymore, and it's getting to the point, I don't want to let you out of my sight!"
"Stop treating me like a child, Jane!" John snarled back at her. "I didn't do anything wrong!" He dragged his hands roughly through his hair, glowering down at Jane angrily. "I stopped him from hurting her. And I don't care what your laws say. It was the right thing to do."
With that, John stormed off. He pulled himself up on the first fire escape he came across, and deftly climbed to the top of the building, then disappeared over the roof without a backward glance.
Jane could only stare blankly after him, shaken by his anger, and drained by the conflicting emotions churning inside her. Finally, she turned and stalked slowly away, her thoughts too tangled to try to reason out at the moment. As she slid into her car, it hit her how tired she was, and when she turned on the ignition, she started to cry.
Sunlight was blazing through Jane's bedroom window. It had to be past ten, she figured, and tossed off her blankets in frustration. She managed an hour or two of sleep, but that was all and now it was time for her to get up. She was past due at the station. To confirm what time it was, Jane leaned forward and squinted at her bedside clock.
"It's time for a vacation, that's what time it is," Jane mumbled to herself as she stumbled into the bathroom, pulled off her nightshirt, and stepped into the shower.
She had vacation time coming. Maybe she couldn't go to Hawaii now, but she could still indulge in a little 'R & R'. She could get some of those old household projects done, catch up on her reading, and answer her mail. She could spend more time with Nikki. They could go out to the movies or even catch a Broadway show. There was lots of things she could do around here. And she could also spend more time with John.
Maybe John wouldn't be off chasing criminals and getting shot at if Jane could keep him better occupied with more mundane things like watching sunsets with her and climbing trees in the park. Jane knew she needed to spend more time with John, not only to keep him out of trouble, but to let him know he really did matter to her, despite the fact she had been treating him more like an inconvenience than anything lately. If she was going to have a bonafide relationship with this man, she needed to start looking at it in that way. It would never develop at the rate they were going now. In fact, things were clearly showing signs of strain.
But Jane was only sure of one thing, and that was her uncertainty. She couldn't imagine not having John in her life now. The thought of losing him was unbearable, though the idea of living with him was almost as daunting.
Nothing had really changed between them since the hearing. Jane had believed things would be different since they didn't have to hide anymore--since SHE didn't have to hide anymore, but she still harbored a sense of inhibition which kept her from pursuing that real relationship and even though John had been cleared of all charges, he was still something of a pariah.
Jane's inhibition stemmed from the unknown, and John Clayton Jr. personified the unknown. He was unlike anyone she had ever known before, and his underlying complexity both thrilled and frightened her. She knew she had feelings for him which ran deep, but she wasn't about to let her feelings blind her to the harsh realities of their very different lives either. There was an undeniable chemistry between them, and John had definitely struck a chord in Jane, but as for truly being in love with him, Jane simply could not say.
When you loved someone, you wanted to spend every waking moment--and then some, with that person. You didn't keep them at arms length all the time, and go out of your way to avoid them. You weren't afraid of losing control around them--you wanted to lose control. Love made you happy. Love wasn't bad.
Closing her eyes and letting the hot water beat against her face, Jane soaped up her hair and rinsed it, moaning audibly over the sorry state of her affairs as she worked in the conditioner she always followed the shampoo with.
But this can't be love, she mused. It wasn't even lust. Lust would have been easier. It would have just been physical with no depth beyond passion. This was 'feelings'. These feelings were the reason she longed to be with him whenever they were apart. They still made her catch her breath each time she looked into his eyes. They made her heart pound whenever he touched her. They made her want to know him completely on the deepest emotional level--to learn everything she could about his incredible life. There was still so much to do, so much to say--to experience and share.
Hadn't she contemplated all this before?
Jane's mind flashed back to the horrific sight of the flat-lining ECG tape in the ambulance that very cold, confusing afternoon in November. She'd thought she had lost John then, and she had lamented all the could have's and should have's left unsettled between them. So what was she waiting for?
Her mind made up, Jane rinsed off the last of the soap and turned off the shower faucets. She pushed aside the sliding glass door, simultaneously wiping water from her eyes.
At first, Jane thought her senses were deceiving her. There was simply no way John Clayton was standing in her bathroom. Two seconds later, her mind kicked into gear and Jane shrieked at the top of her lungs, ducking back behind the shower door, and grabbing blindly for a towel. She knew her face was probably flaming red, but forced herself to step out of the shower to confront him.
"John! What are you doing here?" she yelled, knotting the towel tightly around her body.
For his part, John seemed surprisingly undeterred by Jane's hysterics, and made no move to leave. Which made Jane wonder if he had even caught a glimpse of anything. However, his eyes trailed appreciatively down the length of her body, then shot back up to her face. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat a couple of times before speaking.
"I...um...I came to see you," he stated quietly as if struggling to find his voice, and shifting his position against the bathroom's door frame slightly.
Jane pulled her robe on over her towel and belted it. "Well you got to see me all right!" she shot back.
He peered back at her and made an appropriately remorseful face.
"...Sorry," he whispered, lowering his eyes to the floor. "I wanted to talk to you."
Jane closed her eyes tightly and tried to shake off her embarrassment. "It's...all right. I suppose we're even now." She opened her eyes and summoned a reassuring smile.
John hesitantly smiled back. "Are you still mad at me?"
Reaching for another towel to dry her hair with, Jane furrowed her brow and shook her head.
"I'm not mad, really. I just...wish you would have waited in the bedroom for me."
"I mean about last night," John explained.
Jane leaned against the edge of the sink. "Well, I got scared. I lashed out. I admit it."
"You were supposed to be on my side. You weren't. You made me feel bad for doing something good." He paused and ran his hand through his hair, pushing it behind his ears, exposing the gunshot wound above his temple. "I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking about what you said, but I still don't understand. I don't know what I did wrong."
Jane took John's hand and led him out of the bathroom and into the living room. She sat him on the sofa and sat across from him on one of the straight-backed chairs. Leaning forward, Jane clasped her hands together and took a deep breath.
"Saving that woman was right," she began. "But taking your anger out on the man who attacked her was wrong...and dangerous. You could have been killed, John. Or at the very least, taken into custody. The police could have put you in jail. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
John nodded slowly, his eyes locked on Jane's. "I only did what I needed to. Why does that make you angry?"
Jane frowned. "Because. You're not a cop. And the risks you take sometimes, are unacceptable to me."
"You take risks too."
Sighing in frustration, Jane quickly decided this conversation was best left for another time. Shifting gears, she forced a smile and reached out to touch John's knee.
"You know, I've been doing a lot of thinking myself. I couldn't sleep last night either. And I've changed my mind about having you stay with me while your aunt is gone. I think it's a good idea now. I'm even going to put in for some time off work so we can spend the days together. How's that sound?"
Surprisingly, John's expression tightened and his eyes narrowed. "You don't trust me now," he stated warily, leaning away from her. "You want me here so you can watch me."
"...Partly," Jane admitted. "What happened last night got me to reconsider the idea, but that wasn't what changed my mind."
John looked away from her and stood up. He paced a tight circle in front of the sofa, gnawing brutally on his lower lip.
"You didn't want me here before. Now you do."
"John, I'm not going to be keeping you prisoner here," Jane told him soothingly, half-expecting him to bolt out of the room any minute. He was that tense now. "Would you just sit down for a minute and relax. Please."
John stopped pacing and looked over at her. Jane knew if there was one thing John abjectly rebelled against, it was confinement. It didn't matter who or what confined him, he simply would not tolerate it in any form. John slowly sank back down to the sofa, perching on the edge of the cushions.
"Okay. Look. I realized that, if you come stay with me, we'll have the opportunity to learn a little more about each other. We need to do this if we are ever going to find out whether our relationship is going to work or not. We hardly see each other anymore, John. And lately, when we do, we argue. It's as if we are always struggling to understand each other. Do you remember what I said that night in Sam's cabin? I need to know you, before I can make any decisions. This will help. This could bring us closer."
"Closer?" John asked hopefully, his tension fading somewhat.
Nodding, Jane seized the opportunity given to press forward. "I thought you wanted to stay with me."
"Then, what's the problem?"
John's voice softened. He looked back at Jane somewhat timidly.
"Do you have to learn everything about me before we can be closer?"
Jane knew what he meant. Maybe he believed, in his case, ignorance was bliss. There were probably things in his past which he didn't want her to know. Things he had been forced to do in order to survive which she might find savage or vile.
Jane looked John squarely in the eye. "Not everything, but more. I know enough about you already to invite you into my home, but there's still a lot I want to learn."
John blinked back at her. "And this is why you want me to stay?"
Now he needed to know he was truly welcomed by her--that this wasn't just a ploy to better supervise him or restrict him.
She cleared her throat. "Yes, John. It is."
Just how much she wanted him to stay now, surprised her. If he said no to her, Jane knew it would change things between them. They would lose something that might take a long time to recover. He had trusted her before. He couldn't possibly believe she'd betray him now.
"Yes," John said finally. "I will stay with you."
Jane couldn't help but smile ear to ear. She got to her feet and went to him. He stood up to meet her and she hugged him tightly, letting him wrap his arms around her and hold her for a moment before pulling away.
"Okay, now that we have that settled," Jane said, her voice somewhat hoarse with emotion. "You have to leave, because I have to get to work. I'm already late. But I'm going to put in for my time off and I'll meet you back at Kathleen's tonight. We'll pick up some things to help you get settled in. You can sleep in Nikki's room while she's gone, all right?"
In reply, John reached up and traced the open neckline of Jane's robe with his fingers, his gaze sliding down her throat to her exposed cleavage.
"I want to sleep with you."
Suddenly very self-conscious, Jane lifted John's hand from her collar and fought hard not to smile at his inadvertent double entendre. At least, she hoped it was inadvertent, but his eyes had taken on such a smoky, seductive cast, it made her wonder.
"Ah...no." She leaned away from him as he bent forward to nuzzle her hair. "You know, now might be a good time to lay down some basic rules of conduct for you to follow while you're here."
"Rules?" John fairly growled, straightening. "What kind of rules?"
"Well, first of all, no more domestic chores without supervision."
John considered this, then nodded. He apparently agreed with that one.
Jane steeled herself. If she was going to do this, she might as well do it right.
"Secondly, I'd appreciate it if you would show respect for my personal things. I know you're going to be tempted, but don't fidget with anything you don't understand. Don't try to figure out the microwave or the coffee maker. Try hard not to break anything."
John immediately opened his mouth to protest, but Jane held up her hands to quiet him.
"I know what happened with the dishes was an accident, but you've got to realize, John, I'm not your aunt, or your uncle for that matter, and if you blow up my microwave or shatter my windows, I'm going to have to take money out of my bank account to get them fixed."
"I understand," John replied, looking miserable and embarrassed now.
Jane sighed, but pushed onward. "You can help yourself to anything in the refrigerator or cupboards, but don't try to cook anything. I'd rather you just stay away from the stove. Clean up after yourself in the bathroom and hang up your towels." Jane paused for a breath, then continued. "Like I said, you can come and go as you please, but if you're going to go out, remember to close everything behind you so the heat doesn't get out, and lock the apartment up if I'm not here for some reason. Also, if you go out at night, I'd like to know where it is you're going."
"Jane, these are a lot of rules," John noted, furrowing his brow in agitation.
Jane put her hands on her hips. "I know this is a lot to remember, but it's really important that you do, John. This is going to be an adjustment for both of us. Guidelines will help cut back on the guessing." Jane waited for more protests, but John did not reply. He simply stared past her out the window as if envisioning a way to escape her oppression. Determinedly, Jane pressed on. "I have to insist you respect my need for privacy. I don't want you invading my personal spaces. My bedroom is off-limits at all times, understand? I don't want you coming into rooms when the doors are closed, without getting permission first."
John glanced back at the bathroom. "The door was open," he pointed out.
Jane sighed. "This is for future reference, okay? I don't want you walking in on me like that anymore. And I know you feel...comfortable with your body...but I don't want you getting undressed in front of me. In fact, I need you to remain fully clothed when I'm around."
Jane felt her cheeks blushing at this request. She knew the sight of John lounging around her apartment half-naked would pose too formidable a temptation for her. She was a mature, healthy, heterosexual female after all, and well-aware of the ever-weakening boundaries of her resolve.
"Except of course when you're taking a shower," Jane quickly added, just in case he took her words literally.
John shouldered his way past Jane into the hall. "Are these real rules?" he questioned, raising his brow in a dubious expression.
His doubt made Jane's hackles rise, but then she had given him reason to doubt the rules she made, but she didn't like being called on it.
"John, you know, if you ever think I'm being unfair, you can always go back to your aunt's house," she responded, skipping after him. "You'd be completely on your own again. No rules. You can just do whatever you want."
John turned around to face Jane, his expression shifting slightly, his body tensing.
Jane crossed her arms over her chest, striking an unyielding pose.
"I know having to follow rules is an adjustment for you," she went on. "You grew up in a jungle without any supervision. No parents, no teachers, no clergy, or bosses. You were just free to do whatever you pleased. But if you want to be with other people, John, you're going to have to learn the rules and follow them. As a courtesy."
Drawing himself up to his full height, John stared piercingly back at Jane, his jaw working through his building tension. Finally he shook his head, and grimaced at her.
"You're wrong," he countered, unexpectedly. "The jungle had rules. If you didn't learn them, you died. I can follow rules. Your rules. I want to stay with you."
Hearing him put it that way made Jane's heart skip a beat. Strangely, she actually felt relieved. Nodding, she uncrossed her arms and sighed.
"All right then," she said quietly. "I just don't want you to make any mistakes while you're here."
John bowed his head. "Everyone makes mistakes, Jane," he whispered, then turned away from her again, heading towards her bedroom window. He paused just before opening it and faced Jane again, his eyes dimming with a hint of sadness. "But that's how they learn."
Staring up at him, Jane's expression softened with remorse. She hadn't meant to hurt him, but clearly she had. Maybe she had insulted him by stating the obvious. She knew John had manners for what really mattered. He wasn't as uncouth as she had insinuated by spelling out her rules to him the way she had.
In a token gesture, Jane reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind John's ear, then brushed her knuckles against his warm cheek and down his bristly jawline. Her caress seemed to have an immediate soothing affect on him. He closed his eyes momentarily, the tension in his brow easing, and his handsome face smoothing beneath her hand.
"Go on. I'll see you tonight," she told him.
John opened the window and pulled himself up on the sill. Just before Jane drew her hand away, he caught it, brushing her fingertips with his soft, full lips. Then he turned quickly and slid over the side out of sight.
Work was unbearable. Jane found herself teetering on the edge of full-blown panic more than once throughout the course of the day. She'd have to stop what she was doing and take slow, deep breaths. Repeatedly, she'd reassure herself everything would work out all right, and that she had everything under control, and then she would become practically giddy with excitement.
Back and forth, from one polar opposite to the other, Jane skidded. Finally, she just gave up. She tidied up her paperwork, said her good-byes, and called it a day by mid-afternoon.
Jane toyed with the idea of collecting John early, but decided to use her last remaining hours of solitude to clean the apartment top to bottom, and go to the grocery store for some 'Tarzan-friendly' food. She just couldn't picture John eating quiche or tuna casseroles.
Once satisfied with the state of her apartment and the contents of her refrigerator, Jane pulled on her coat, and grabbed her car keys.
Jane was surprised to see John on the other side of the door instead of Kathleen Clayton's maid. He grinned back at her like the Cheshire Cat, and motioned her inside.
Jane quickly swept inside the foyer, shaking off the snow on the doormat as she did. John turned and half-jogged, half-jumped up the numerous stairs leading to the upper floor of the spacious mansion. Jane more sedately trudged up after him, marveling at his seemingly limitless energy.
By the time she had made it up the stairs, John had all but disappeared. Jane ambled into the garden through the open double-doors and looked around.
"John, where'd you go?" she called, turning around a few times and looking upwards into the overgrown trees. It made her immediately dizzy, but it was fun too. Impulsively, Jane spun around a few more times, smiling as the greenery around her kept whirling by long after she had stopped spinning. She tottered drunkenly towards a mossy path, closing her eyes to quell her vertigo, and promptly crashed into a bush.
Two strong hands suddenly seized hold of her arms, steadying her. Jane practically collapsed against John, feeling light-headed and giddy. Laughing, she opened her eyes and shook her head.
"I'm all right," she told him. "Whew! I haven't done that since I was a kid."
"You'll fall down," John warned, but grinned at her antics.
Jane squinted up at him. "Don't tell me you've never done that."
John smiled wider. "I do it," he confessed. "But I fall down when I do." His hands shifted, gathering her closer. "Come with me. I want to show you something."
John guided her through a denser part of the atrium and down a little stone path which lead to another glass door. Beyond that was a large balcony overlooking the city below. John leaned Jane up against the stone railing and hopped up. He held out his hand towards Jane, but she shied away from it.
"No thanks," she told him, edging away from him. "I like it right where I am."
John crouched down and extended his hand to her again. "It will be all right. Trust me."
Every bone in Jane's body locked with fear, but his words gave her pause. Hadn't she asked the very same thing of him when every instinct he had told him to turn away from her and run instead? If she didn't respond in kind, Jane had a feeling John would probably never surrender himself over to her like that again.
Trying not to visibly shake with terror, Jane approached John and grasped his hand tightly. He pulled her up beside him effortlessly and wrapped his arm around her back, pressing her body firmly against his.
At the moment, that was fine with Jane. She couldn't seem to pry her face off his shoulder long enough to look where he was pointing, and clung to him as if he was the only solid thing left in the universe keeping her from certain death--which at the moment happened to be more truthful than Jane like to consider.
His voice was soft and soothing as he comforted her however, and Jane felt his warm lips brush across her flushed temple. His long hair fell across her cheek like strands of golden silk as he moved his head, and she fought with her fear long enough to satisfy the sudden urge she had to peer up at him.
When Jane looked up, John smiled down at her, his mesmerizing eyes glittering with an evident adoration. In that moment, Jane forgot her fear, and everything else, as she stared back at him, feeling only the pull of his gaze. Almost unconsciously, her hand trailed up his throat, to the side of his face, drawing him closer.
John blinked back at her, tentatively covering her hand with his and turning his head, lowering his supple mouth to meet hers.
A siren suddenly whooped on the street below them, stealing their attention away from each other for only a second, but long enough to let the intimacy of the moment before pass. Jane turned her face away, letting her hand fall to John's shoulder, and self-consciously cleared her throat.
"Um...what was it you wanted to show me?"
John tightened his grip on her, angling his body slightly, and faced the sparkling city beyond them.
"Look out through there," John urged. "That's your building."
Jane turned her gaze in the direction John was indicating and settled back against his chest. "You can see it from here?" she asked, amazed.
Jane couldn't really see anything except shapes and lights, but she didn't doubt John's ability, however. His senses were exceptional.
The city tonight was beautiful. This high up, the lightly falling snow was still clean and fresh, and the snowflakes' patterns landed intact on Jane's dark jacket, dotting it with tiny intricately-shaped crystals. Window lights now competed with the city's usual neons and street-lamps and the spectrum of colors they cast were reflected in the wetness of the snow. It gave everything below a hazy dream-like facade, making Jane sigh in spite of herself.
John shivered slightly, and wrapped his arms more securely around her as if trying to keep warm. Jane suddenly realized John wasn't wearing a coat, only a tee-shirt and a pair of light cotton pants.
Knowing he'd freeze solid before taking the initiative to release her and go inside, Jane took pity on him and pretended she was cold too.
"John, this is nice, but I'm freezing. I'm ready to get down now."
Peering at her, John nodded, and eased her off the railing onto the balcony floor. He turned, and gave the city one more passing glance before hopping down beside her.
"I'm ready too," he stated and rubbed his bare arms briskly. "It is cold out here."
"Come on," Jane said, clearing her throat. "I'll help you get packed."
She led the way through the apartments and into the hall, then belatedly realized she didn't know her way around the mansion well enough to be leading the way. John came up behind her and gestured left down the hall.
"This way," he informed Jane and slipped past her to show her the way.
Jane eagerly followed him. She wasn't even aware John had actual rooms here. She had never been in this part of the mansion before, and the fact she was going to get to see John's rooms made the prospect even more intriguing.
French doors opened to reveal a spacious and luxuriously furnished suite. There was at least five separate rooms set from this main room that Jane could see. Everything inside them was pristinely clean and at first appeared unused, but on closer inspection, the style of the furnishings was actually old-fashioned and showing signs of age, if not use. It occurred to Jane, this suite was John's when he was a boy. This was where he lived with his family before they were killed in the plane crash which had left him stranded in the jungle for eighteen years.
Jane found it somewhat sad that John no longer felt entirely at home here anymore and didn't really use it. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his voice which seemed to echo throughout the lifeless rooms.
"Jane. Over here."
Jane turned and followed John's summons into one of the bedrooms. Looking around, she could tell, unlike the other rooms in the apartment, he occasionally made use of this one. It was clean and tidy--probably thanks to Mary, but it still spoke of John's presence. His mother's locket hung from a faded framed portrait of John's parents on the dresser. A torn and familiar pair of pants were draped over the back of a rocking chair. A small stuffed bear was propped up on the pillows with the name "John" stitched into its tiny bed and an old hat capped one of the bedposts. There was a small bookcase filled with children's books that had cracked and fraying spines. Next to that, on the night stand was a small music box that played a tune from the musical, "Cats" guarded by a yellow plastic lion.
Jane found herself mesmerized by each item in the room. Drifting from one side of the room to the other, she was aware of John's eyes on her the entire time she spent inspecting everything, but that didn't deter her. Each item was like a treasure chest of insight into John's past life. And the way it all had been so lovingly preserved over the years, bolstered her fondness for Kathleen Clayton by considerable degrees.
Staring into the family portrait which sat on the dresser beneath a yellowed doily, Jane wondered how much John remembered of his parents. As if conjured by her thoughts, John drew up behind her. He lifted the locket from the frame and slipped it over his head.
Abruptly becoming aware of just what she had been doing, Jane frowned deeply and turned around to face John.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, feeling suddenly ashamed. "It must seem to you like I'm intruding."
John quickly shook his head. "I invited you here."
Jane lowered her eyes. "I know, but, I don't have any right going through your personal things."
Reaching out to grasp her arms, John turned Jane around to face him. "You like them?" He indicated the contents of the room with his eyes, dispassionately.
Hesitantly, Jane looked up. "Yeah. I do. It shows me a different side of you. A side of you I really haven't seen before." She paused and took a deep, steadying breath. "It's a way for me to learn about you, John."
"I want to learn about you too," John whispered. "Will you show me things you have?"
Moved by his sincerity, Jane regretted her earlier decree forbidding him to touch anything of hers. He had been so willing to share what meager possessions he had with her, but she had steadfastly refused to share her possessions with him.
"I...don't have many things left from my childhood, but I can think of a few items I could show you that you might be interested in."
John's expression brightened considerably. "Like what?"
Jane smiled easily. "Well, I won an award once for selling the most girl scout cookies in my troupe."
John grinned, his eyes twinkling with undisclosed affection. "You'll show me? You promise?"
Nodding, Jane passed her hands over John's arms and squeezed them before turning to face a rather imposing-looking closet. "I promise. But first, we have to get down to business."
John agreed and stalked towards the closet. Unceremoniously, he grabbed a couple pairs of pants and tossed them on the bed, then grabbed a few sweaters and shirts. Pulling a small soft-sided duffel bag out from the depths of the closet shelves, he then started stuffing the clothes he'd chosen into the bag.
"Here, let me do that," Jane interrupted him, pulling the wadded clothes back out of the bag to refold them. "You should change into something warmer before we go out. Here." She shoved a pair of thicker pants and one of the sweaters at him.
Nonchalantly, John pulled off the shirt he had been wearing. He tossed it on the bed and went to put on the sweater when he noticed Jane's expression.
The sight of him had stopped Jane in her tracks. It wasn't as if she had never seen him without a shirt before, but watching him take off his clothes in the rather intimate surroundings of his own bedroom affected her in an entirely new way. Not to mention the fact he looked astonishing, sculpted in the soft light and heavy shadows of the lamp he was standing beside.
Jane stood frozen for the longest time, unable and unwilling to move as if the striking man before her were just an illusion so fragile even the slightest intake of breath would make him fade away.
"Jane?" John said, his voice tinged with concern.
Jane immediately lowered her eyes and licked her lips anxiously. It was becoming harder and harder for her to ignore the way her body reacted to him. Her only hope was to acquire John's cooperation in this matter.
"Uh, John...I thought I asked you not to get undressed in front of me."
Raising his brow in inquiry, John stepped closer to Jane, making her take a step back. "Here too?"
Jane nodded, at first trying to avoid looking at him, but then decided it only made her appear coy. She fixed her eyes on his, stealing a quick glance at his well-shaped torso en route.
Clearly baffled, John frowned, gathering up his clothes, and trudged off into one of the adjacent rooms.
Busying herself with packing, Jane crisply folded each article of clothing and placed them carefully inside the duffel bag. She turned around to close the closet doors, and almost collided with John, standing just behind her.
John looked down at her, wearing the same expression he'd departed with, as well as the fresh clothes she'd given him.
Jane gnawed her lower lip briefly before talking to him.
"I've confused you, haven't I?"
John nodded slowly. "Your words say one thing. Your face says something else."
Reaching up, Jane brushed some imaginary lint from John's shoulder. She couldn't help but notice the light blue color of the soft cotton sweater he was wearing, matched his eyes. His long hair was attractively tousled now, a few strands falling rakishly over his face, making Jane's fingers itch to tuck them back in place. Her eyes drifted to his mouth. She noticed his lips were wet, as if he'd just licked them, and pursed slightly in obvious contemplation and practically begging to be kissed. Jane could almost feel the warm weight of his mouth and the fullness of his lips sliding languidly over hers as his heated breath filled her body with new awakening desires.
Determinedly, Jane shook the image from her head and cleared her throat.
"What I want, as opposed to what I know is right, doesn't always agree with each other," she confessed. "I'm trying to keep things between us heading down a certain path, at a certain pace, because it's the right thing for us to do. I know you don't mean to, but sometimes you do things that make me want to...stray from that path."
Her resolve bolstered by her words, Jane placed her hands on John's chest and leaned against him, letting him put his arms around her shoulders. She gazed deeply into his beautiful eyes and sighed wistfully.
"I don't want to rush into anything that may jeopardize what we have right now. Before we move onto the next step, I want to make sure our foundations are solid. It's the only way I'll know this is more than an infatuation between us. It's the only way I'll feel secure. So, for now, let's just take it slow. I'm hoping, in the end, all this waiting will be worth it. Can you understand that?"
John blinked back at her, apparently struggling to reason through what she had just said. After awhile, he nervously passed his hands up and down her back a few times, and drew her closer, burying his face in her hair.
"I'll wait for you," he whispered in her ear and hugged her.
Jane hugged him back. He hadn't understood, but he was still willing to be patient. At least that was a start.
PART TWO ~ Domestic Bliss
Jane played back the message on her answering machine from Kathleen Clayton and wrote the number she had left down in the pad of paper she kept by the phone. Then she picked up the receiver and punched the numbers into the keypad.
While waiting for Kathleen to answer, Jane spared a worried glance at John. Ever since she'd brought him back here, he seemed decidedly uncomfortable and clearly not sure what to do with himself. Jane knew it would most likely take him awhile before he felt at ease, but she also knew--especially from his random visit this morning--that he used to feel comfortable in her home. Maybe her list of rules had him spooked. He seemed to be afraid to touch anything, or go anywhere in the apartment, without getting her permission first. Right now, he was staring out the window, as if fascinated by the traffic passing by.
"Hello? Who's calling please?"
Jane started at the sound of Kathleen's cultured voice. She took a deep breath and sat down on the sofa.
"Kathleen, it's Jane."
"Jane. Good to hear from you. I'm sorry I haven't called sooner. I hope everything is all right. How's John doing?"
Jane looked over at him again. "He's fine. Now. He got into a little trouble with the police earlier this week, but I got the charges against him dismissed."
"Oh god," Kathleen groaned. There was a drawn-out moment of silence. Then: "Is there anything you need me to do?"
"No. He's all right, really. There's nothing for you to be concerned about. I took some time off work and...John's staying with me now."
There was another slight pause as Kathleen obviously digested this bit of information. "Staying with you? What do you mean? Was he released into your custody?"
John was looking back at Jane now, having heard his name mentioned. He stalked over to where she sat, and knelt beside her.
"Is that Kathleen?" he asked in a whispery voice.
Jane nodded, and tried to think of a tactful way to both reassure John's aunt and not upset John.
"I'm taking care of him, if you know what I mean," Jane replied, forcing a smile. John smiled back.
"Oh, I see," Kathleen said in a hushed tone, as if sensing John might be near her.
"It's been mutually beneficial for us both," Jane added.
Kathleen took a deep, measured breath. "I'm sure it has," she stated knowingly. "Just be careful, Jane. I just don't want to see John get hurt. He...cares a great deal about you. And he's more vulnerable than you'd think."
Jane felt her face flush with anger. She licked her lips and told herself to calm down before answering. Kathleen had every right to worry about John. Her love for him was unwavering now. To her, he was nothing short of a miracle, and she protected him with a paternal ferocity that rivaled Jane's.
"You don't have to worry about that," Jane said evenly. "I won't let anything happen to him. I promise."
Kathleen sighed again. "Is he around? Can I talk to him?"
Jane nodded. "Yeah sure. He's right here." She passed the phone to John and got up off the couch, going to the window and taking up John's abandoned vigil to give him some sense of privacy.
She could still hear him talking, of course. Softly and succinctly, he responded to his aunt's questions: "Yes. No. No. Yes. All right. Good-bye." Then Jane heard him suddenly behind her. She turned around and he handed her the phone.
Jane took the handset from him, and automatically went to turn it off, then stopped herself.
"When you're finished talking, you press this button, see?" she told John and pointed it out to him. "That shuts it off. And when it rings, hit 'talk' here, and that will connect you."
John's eyes brightened at the trust Jane had just shown to him with what he must have assumed to be a costly and complicated piece of new technology--surely nothing like the phones he been familiar with back in the early eighties.
He smiled as he brought the handset to his ear, listening to the drone of the dialtone for a moment before turning it off and handing the phone back to Jane.
Jane smiled warmly, happy to have pleased him with such a simple gesture. She set the phone aside and motioned for John to sit down.
"Relax, John. Make yourself comfortable. Take a load off."
John simply looked at the sofa, his cheered expression fading. Slowly, he turned his eyes back on Jane, and licked his lips apprehensively, his posture conveying his returning unease.
"I'd like to wash up...if that's all right," he said somewhat shyly, and dragged his hand through his hair as if pointing out to her its sorry state. He then rubbed his stubbly jaw and flashed a small smile. "I need to shave."
Caught off guard by his request, Jane opened her mouth to say something, decided against it, and gestured towards the bathroom. She couldn't help wondering if being with her was making him more self-conscious of his appearance.
"Of course," she stated. "Go right ahead. There's clean towels in the closet behind the bathroom door and a fresh bar of soap in the shower. The razors are under the sink. Help yourself to the shampoo or whatever else you need. Okay?"
"Thank you," John said, pivoting on his heel, and disappeared down the hall without another word.
Jane heard the bathroom door close and a few seconds later, she heard water running. John was probably undressing now. Images of him slowly pulling off the blue sweater and slithering out of his pants wafted through Jane's mind. She had to admit, they were pleasant images, but not exactly welcome. Jane shook her head forcefully to clear away such thoughts. All of a sudden, she was the one feeling uncomfortable and not sure what to do with herself.
She purposefully faced away from the bathroom and headed for the kitchen to brew some tea. She put a kettle of water on to boil and took out a mug and a tea bag. Glancing down the hall as she did, she spied John's duffel bag lying on the floor in Nikki's room. Jane started towards it, deciding to clear away some of her sister's things and unpack John's clothes for him while she waited for the water to boil. It would give her something to do, and hopefully keep her overactive imagination in check.
Nikki's room was a little smaller than Jane's, but seemed to hold more stuff. Jane worked briskly to empty the top drawer of her dresser and unpack John's things into it. She carefully put away some of Nikki's more personal things and took her collection of stuffed animals and throw pillows off the bed.
Leaning against the foot of the mattress, Jane fleetingly wondered if the bed might be too soft for John's taste. She sat down on it and bounced a few times, then lay back and stretched out.
Her weary bones happily sank into the softness of the bed's downy comforter with the sweetest relief. As tired as she was, Jane couldn't help but lie there a while, pressing her head against Nikki's feather pillows and closing her eyes. Before she realized it, she had fallen into a very deep sleep.
John emerged from the steamy bathroom, scrubbing his hair with a towel, re-dressed in the same clothes he'd gone in the bathroom with. He had only been wearing them for an hour or so, and since Jane had insisted he be fully dressed around her, he wasn't about to risk another reprimand from her for the sake of slightly fresher clothes.
A shrill, hissing sort of whistle suddenly blasted from the kitchen. Curious, John went to check it out, tossing the towel aside with a growing sense of concern. Jane was here, but she wasn't anywhere close, and she wasn't attending to whatever was wailing in the kitchen.
"Jane?" John called, looking around the apartment as he made his way to the kitchen.
A water kettle was on the stovetop, rattling and spewing forth steam in an alarming demand for attention. John approached it cautiously, quickly analyzing the situation, and then decided the first, and best course of action was to get the kettle away from the heat source.
The handle was hot, despite it's protective coating. John gingerly grasped it and quickly jerked it off the burner, releasing it immediately with a snarl of pain. He simultaneously blew on his scalded fingers and shook his hand furiously to throw off the sting. The whistling stopped and a welcome peace ensued but the stove burner was still radiating an incredible amount of heat.
"Jane!" John called again, more urgently this time, but still received no response. She had told him not to touch the stove, but he couldn't very well leave it on.
Shaking his head in dismay, John quickly scanned the various dials and panels of the stove and determined which dial he needed to use in order to turn off the heat to the small front burner. On/Off was easy enough and the little picture of the stovetop on the panel helped.
John waited impatiently for the glaring burner to cool before abandoning the kitchen to search for Jane.
She wasn't hard to find, and in minutes, John knew why she hadn't answered him or heard the kettle boiling. She was fast asleep, curled up in the middle of her sister's bed, oblivious to the fact John was standing anxiously over her, wondering what to do about her.
"Jane?" John said a little louder.
Sighing heavily in frustration, John thought about carrying Jane into her room and placing her on her own bed, but she had expressly forbidden him to enter her bedroom while he was staying here. That also ruled out the possibility of him sleeping there for the night. He had already broken one of her rules tonight and he wasn't going to chance breaking another. He considered sleeping on the floor next to the bed and thought about just leaving to return to his garden, but neither option appealed to him very much at the moment.
Studying Jane's expression more closely, John determined that, despite what at first, appeared to be a peaceful and deep slumber, Jane was shivering sporadically, and her pretty face was lined with tension. She hadn't covered up and was lying on top of the blankets. John looked around the room, mentally ticking off the list of Jane's rules to better understand his remaining options. One seemed obvious. He could just lie down next to her. He knew his body would warm her, and hopefully the physical contact would give her an added sense of security and calm her. He wouldn't be breaking any rules by doing so--as far as he knew.
Carefully, John climbed onto the bed and positioned himself behind Jane. He spooned himself around her back and gathered her body close, wrapping his arms around her tiny waist. Jane stirred, but only for a moment, pressing herself tighter against him as she did and emitting the softest of sighs.
"Ssshh," John whispered, nuzzling her neck. He reached up and stroked her face, soothingly, then nestled his head next to hers on the pillow, closing his eyes and deeply inhaling the aromatic scent of her beautiful hair.
Holding her this way gave John his own sense of peace and security and happily he succumbed to his own fatigue. It had been a stressful week, but he couldn't help thinking things were about to get better. A lot better.
Jane wondered if she was still dreaming. She woke to visions of blue birds singing on the window sill, dewy wildflowers strewn about the floor and thick ivy climbing up the walls. There were chipmunks sitting at the foot of the bed and a deer standing by the post. The sunlight blazed off it's tawny coat, spilling golden highlights about the room.
Jane smiled widely. I am dreaming, she thought, then took a moment to ponder the last time she had slept so wonderfully, and woke to lingering fragments of such a sweet, silly dream.
A forest. Wild animals. Plants. The outdoors. Jane was never one to idealize what she normally regarded as a hostile environment and couldn't help wonder why she'd find such comfort in those things now.
With her mind off and running, Jane shifted slightly to look at the clock next to the lamp on her bedside table.
Opening her eyes, she quickly realized not only was there no familiar bedside clock, this wasn't even her bed, or her room, and what was worse, looking at the thick, sinewy arm draped over her breasts, apparently, she wasn't here alone.
"Tell me I'm still dreaming," Jane murmured, wide awake now. Within the next moment, she realized several things at once: that she was in Nikki's room, that she had fallen asleep in her clothes--including her shoes, and that sometime during the night, John had decided to join her. Hesitantly, Jane turned her head to the side.
The sight that greeted her eyes carried her breath away. Bathed in the golden rays of the morning sunshine, John's handsome face filled the scope of her vision with the most stunning portrait of natural beauty Jane had ever seen. Indulgently, she let her eyes drift over the curves and planes of John's features, marveling at the perfection of their form, and increasingly appreciating the striking allure of their composition as a whole.
There was something exotic about his looks that shouldn't have been there, but was. Sometimes, it wasn't hard for Jane to picture him moving gracefully through the lush foliage of the jungles, dappled sun-light playing off his glistening skin and long, untamed hair--a rare and extraordinary creature of the wild.
"Tarzan," Jane whispered and John opened his eyes.
He blinked at her a few times as though not completely trusting what his eyes were showing him. Once he decided Jane was in fact real and lying next to him, the corners of his mouth turned up in a slow, sexy smile.
"Good morning," he murmured drowsily.
But Jane felt his hand move almost imperceptibly across her shoulder and wondered if he was attempting to release her before she noticed how intimately they were entwined. It hadn't occurred to her until then how warm and comfortable she'd been. Cradled in his arms, she'd slept more soundly than she had in months.
"No," Jane said rather desperately, before she'd even decided to say anything.
Immediately, John tensed beside her, his eyes dimming with apprehension.
At first, Jane was confused by his reaction, but then realized he must have thought she was scolding him.
"No," Jane repeated, more softly, and grasped John's hand to keep him from moving any farther away from her than he already had. "Don't leave. I like this."
John stared back at her, stopping his retreat, but made no move to return to her side.
"It's okay," Jane reassured him and snuggled up to him again. His body was radiating heat, even through his thick clothes and Jane curled her arms against his chest and rested her head beneath his chin. "I'm cold, John."
Slowly, the tension in John's body began to fade and he shifted closer to her, tightening his arms around her and even throwing his leg over hers in a gesture of complete possession.
Jane smiled happily. This wasn't so bad. It wasn't so scary. In fact, this was nice. Really nice. She had never let John this close before because she knew how such intimacy would inevitably make her feel, and though her body was placed in a state of heightened awareness by his proximity, her mind felt unexpectedly at ease.
In that instant, she knew any further intimacy between them would have to be initiated by her and Jane was not ready to do anything like that. John simply would not, which Jane believed to be more of a sign of respect for her than any naiveté on his part. And he seemed quite content to simply hold her and caress her and occasionally nuzzle at her skin. John tempted Jane to initiate further intimacy, but Jane could resist such urges for the time being. She could be content to hold and caress him as well.
"I slept really good last night," Jane murmured against his neck. She languidly trailed her fingers over the collar of his soft sweater.
"You were tired," John noted.
"You left the stove on."
At that Jane sat bolt upright in bed, tearing herself out of John's embrace in a real panic. She was almost to the bedroom door when John caught her.
"It's all right. I turned it off."
Jane relaxed slightly, but faced him with a newfound suspicion. "How?"
"I turned the knob."
Needing to confirm this with her own eyes, Jane stalked into the kitchen and quickly surveyed the stove. Everything looked in order. She peered up at John.
"Well...thank you," she mumbled, frowning. "That was really...irresponsible of me. I could have started a fire."
"I took care of it," John assured her, reaching for her.
Their moment of blissful indulgence having since crashed in Jane's fit of panic, she artfully dodged away from him now, and went to the coffee pot to begin her morning routine.
Resigned, John disappeared from the kitchen, reappearing several minutes later washed and wearing fresh clothes.
Jane smiled at him benevolently. "How about some breakfast? Are you hungry?"
John smiled back at her and looked around. Not seeing any ready supply of food, he glanced at Jane and raised his brow inquiringly.
Jane gestured at the refrigerator. "I can make you some eggs if you'd like. And there's fruit. I bought all kinds of fruit, I wasn't sure what you liked. Oh, and I've got bread. And cereal."
John was already peering into the refrigerator when Jane turned away from the coffee maker to see if he'd made up his mind yet. She wasn't much of a breakfast eater herself, but liked to have buttered toast with her coffee while she read the paper.
John straightened, brandishing a left-over egg roll from the Chinese food Jane had brought home a few days ago.
"What's this?" he asked quietly, sniffing it thoroughly.
"Ah...that's an egg roll and it's a little old and not exactly a breakfast food--"
"It smells good."
Jane shrugged in resignation, and watched as John gathered up the remaining egg rolls from the plate in the refrigerator. He propped himself up against the wall and took a small bite of one.
"Sit down, John. Relax. You always look like you're ready to dash off somewhere."
Jane realized the necessity of developing the habit of eating that way growing up in a jungle, but in her home, she wanted him to get used to sitting at the table. She gestured at a chair and smiled encouragingly.
"So what's the verdict? Do you like it?"
John looked at the chair Jane was indicating warily, then dropped heavily into it. For a few moments more, he appeared decidedly uncomfortable, then he began to relax, and delved into the remaining egg rolls with relish.
"It's good," he declared, once he'd finished chewing. He ate the second one, and picked up the third. "Can you get these again?"
Jane nodded, amused. "Sure." She poured herself a cup of coffee and wondered if she should re-hash the week's menu plans. Maybe John would prefer pizzas and Chinese take-out to her apples, steaks, and raw broccoli.
The phone rang, interrupting Jane's inner musings. She took a step towards it, then stopped herself. John was looking at her hopefully.
"Uh, would you mind getting that for me?" she asked him. "I'd kind of like to finish my coffee."
Pleased beyond words, John rewarded Jane with a dazzling smile, and sprang agilely from his chair, disappearing into the living room to retrieve the ringing phone.
Laughing lightly at John's child-like excitement, Jane went to the doorway and listened. The phone had stopped ringing, and she could just hear John's deep, quiet voice in the other room. He was coming towards her now, still talking into the phone. He drew up in front of her, then handed it over to her.
"It's Nikki," he told her, still smiling ear to ear.
Jane took the phone and had to turn away from him to keep from laughing again. He was so damn adorable at times, she felt she could just lose herself completely in all his undiscovered innocence. Answering a phone was a big deal to him, just like it had been a big deal to her when she was a child. She remembered the fights she and Nikki used to get in over who got to pick up the phone.
"Nik! How are you doing? Broken any bones yet?"
"Oh. My. God. Jane! John Clayton! You finally slept with him!"
Jane sighed and massaged her eyes. "Nikki..." she said evenly in warning. "Don't go jumping to conclusions."
"What conclusions am I jumping to? He answers the phone at seven-twenty in the morning and when I ask him what he's doing there answering the phone, he tells me he slept with you." Nikki chuckled. "You said it yourself, John doesn't lie. He doesn't even know how, so dig yourself out of this one, Sis. And I want all the details!"
"Nik, don't be so precocious, okay? John doesn't lie, but he doesn't use figurative speech either. If he says he slept with me, trust me, that's exactly what he did."
"Oh," Nikki half-groaned, her excitement deflating. "But still. Sleeping together. That's kinda hot, isn't it?"
Jane was growing impatient with her sister's insinuations. "What's up, Nik?"
Nikki cleared her throat. "I'm just calling to tell you there's been a change in plans. I'll be home late Saturday instead of Sunday. Turns out the hotel reservations got screwed up and we were gypped out of a night. They've already got the room reserved for someone else, so we all just decided to cut the trip short. One night. No big deal."
One night, Jane thought, meant one less night with John. She glanced over at him and tried to smile. Funny how a mere twenty-four hours ago, Jane wouldn't have batted an eye at Nikki's news. Now she found it strangely disappointing.
"Jane, you still there?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. I mean, I'm sorry you have to come back early. I wish there was something I could do for you," Jane went on. She truly did too.
"Don't worry. It'll be nice to be home again. And like I said, it's just one day. I just called to let you know. I was going to try to call you again tomorrow 'cause I thought you might be lonely, but I guess there's no chance of that now, huh?"
Jane rolled her eyes. "Talk to you later, Nikki." Jane turned off the phone and set it on the counter. She poured herself a fresh cup of coffee and faced John once more.
"She's funny," he said softly.
"Yeah, she's a barrel full of laughs," Jane countered and grinned. "She told me she's coming home Saturday night. Her reservations got messed up."
John nodded, but from the look on his face, he didn't catch Jane's vague hinting.
Jane decided not to get into it now. They still had two whole days.
"So. What do you want to do today?"
John inched closer to her. "Come out with me."
Knowing that probably meant climbing buildings and trees in the park, Jane hesitated momentarily, then nodded. "Okay."
Smiling broadly once more, John grasped her hand, pulling her towards the door.
John glanced back at her. "Why not?"
Jane frowned, but then laughed. She set down her coffee cup, turned off the pot, and shook her head.
"You're right. Why not."
Just as Jane had suspected, they passed the afternoon in the park, mostly just walking around and taking in the scenery, but also climbing the occasional low-limbed tree. They stopped to listen to some street performers for awhile, then ate calzones from a street vendor for lunch. A snowball fight just as the sun was setting, soaked their clothes, and finally forced them to call it a day.
Jane paid for a cab because she was too cold to walk all the way back home and didn't want to wait to take a shower and get into something cozy and warmer. John was going to need another shower too if he was ever going to stop shivering. He looked miserably cold, but clearly happy. The cab's meter and radio had piqued his interest, and reminded Jane of the first time she'd ridden in a cab by herself.
"I was nine years old," Jane told John. "I was supposed to go from school to a friend's house which was in the Village. My mother couldn't drive me because she had to work late, so she gave me money for cab fare and wrote down the address for me to give to the driver. It turned out the driver couldn't read and barely spoke English and took me to the wrong house. Luckily the people there were nice enough to drive me to my friend's house. I was so scared. I was crying hysterically the whole time. I thought I was lost forever."
John peered back at her sympathetically.
"I got lost once too," he said softly. "I was hungry, and I went too far from the place that I knew. There were gorillas. Seven of them. They let me follow them, and led me to water. I ate what they did, and slept close to them that night. They took care of me. I was lucky just like you."
Jane gaped back at John in awe. His tale was ten times more horrific than hers was, yet he relayed it with the same nonchalance she had. Jane swallowed down the tightening lump in her throat and reached over to take John's hand.
"How old were you?" she questioned, her mind struggling with the unimaginable terrors John had been subjected to as a child.
John shrugged and looked a little embarrassed. "I don't know. I was still small--like him." He gestured out the window at a young boy on the sidewalk holding his mother's hand as they walked into a corner market.
Jane took a deep breath. "God....It's no wonder you're not afraid of anything now," she pointed out, trying to lighten the moment.
Lowering his gaze, John shook his head. "I am afraid," he stated solemnly, all expression fading from his face.
Jane stared back at him. She opened her mouth to ask what that one thing was, but then John looked up at her as if in anticipation of her question, fixing his eyes on hers in a piercing gaze that said it all.
Squeezing his hand, Jane nodded slowly. "I'm afraid of losing you too," she confessed and snuggled closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder, and letting him hold her the rest of the way home.
In a chivalric gesture, John insisted Jane shower first, and passed the time looking at some old photograph albums Jane had shown him. When it came to his turn, John took a change of clothes into the bathroom with him: a pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt to lounge in for the rest of the night, and closed the door securely behind him.
Jane cooked dinner while John showered. She made a vegetable and chicken stir-fry recipe, thinking John might like it because it was similar to Chinese food, and it was chunky, so he could eat it with his fingers if he preferred--which he did, but with a surprising delicacy.
The remainder of the evening was spent perusing the photo albums again, while listening to some of Jane's favorite jazz CDs. Jane showed John how to work the player, which, like the phone, thrilled him to no end. He picked out a CD and put it on, pausing to listen to the first few strains of music with his ear next to the subwoofer, then he climbed to his feet and held out his hand to Jane.
"What?" Jane questioned, staring up at him expectantly.
"Teach me how to dance."
Jane's eyes grew wider at his request, then she shook her head and looked away from him coyly. Out of all the songs he could have chosen, this was a soft, smooth melody with lots of sultry saxophones.
"I'm not that good a dancer, John."
He cocked his head dubiously and flashed her an encouraging smile. "You'll be better at it then me." He bent down and took her hand, pulling her to her feet.
In moments, Jane was imprisoned in his arms, staring up into his eyes like a deer caught in the headlights, feeling the long, lean line of his body pressed tightly to hers.
"Is this right?" John asked, indicating the position of his hands.
Jane blinked back at him a few times and tried to smile. She made some minor adjustments and inched away from him slightly.
"Like this," she whispered and started to move. "Listen to the music and just sway with it for now. Gently, slowly, don't get ahead of it." Jane glanced down to monitor the position of their feet. "Okay, now take a tiny step forward and I'll take a step back and we'll keep doing this in a little circle. Stay close to me. Keep in time with the music."
John moved just as Jane instructed, completing his first circle with a natural grace and rhythm that was denied most men Jane had danced with. Before the first song ended, they had danced their way around the perimeter of the living room. By the middle of the CD, they were dancing like two seasoned veterans of the ballroom circuit.
Content to let him do all the leading, Jane nestled her head against John's shoulder, leaning against him now as he rocked her slowly back and forth. Closing her eyes, she could almost picture herself in a pearl-studded gown, snuggled against John on a dimly-lit dance floor; him in a tuxedo, his long hair drawn back with a black ribbon, meriting the wistful eyes of every woman in the club.
"Are you planning on taking me out dancing now?" Jane murmured softly.
John brushed his cheek against Jane's hair. "Now?" He thought about it for a moment. Then: "If you want to."
"God, you really are fearless, aren't you?" Jane said and grinned. "But maybe not right now. It's getting late." She forced herself to step away from John, and then stretched. "After all that carousing in the fresh air we did today, I gotta tell you, I'm beat. I think I'm going to go to bed now." She gestured at the now silent CD player. "You're welcome to stay up if you'd like. Listen to some more music if you want."
John peered over at Jane indecisively for a moment, gnawing his lower lip fitfully. "No. I'll go to bed too," he abruptly announced.
Jane furrowed her brow. He didn't seem the least bit tired. In fact, he looked like he had just had a shot of adrenaline. She shook her head.
"You can stay up, really. You can even go out, if you want. It's all right with me, honest."
For a long while, John stared back at her intensely. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but then wasn't quite sure how. Finally, he cleared his throat, lowered his eyes, and spoke.
"Where will you sleep?" Tentatively, he raised his eyes to hers, took a breath, and seemed to hold it in anticipation.
Jane understood what he was really asking now, but decided to coax him along a little to see how he'd react. "In my room. Why?"
John looked immediately disappointed. He bowed his head and turned away from her. "I was just wondering," he murmured.
Going to him, Jane turned him around to face her again and reached up to brush the hair from his eyes. "What were you wondering?"
Taking several deep breaths, John toyed the hem of his shirt and dropped his gaze to the floor.
"If I could sleep with you again," he stated and glanced briefly up at her to gage any initial reactions from her expression.
"All right," Jane said, before her rationality got in the way.
She took his hand and led him into the bedroom, taking comfort in the fact that, just as she had told Nikki earlier, when John said 'sleep', he actually meant sleep. He wasn't one to mince words and tonight, Jane was grateful for being able to take what he said at face value.
Still somewhat stunned at the ease in which Jane had given in to his request, John stood just inside the room, looking around as if it were the first time he'd ever seen it before. Jane pulled down the blankets and smoothed out the sheets.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked, aware of the fact she was only wearing a nightgown, but it was too late to turn him away now.
"I'm sure," John quickly answered and stepped forward.
Jane smiled at him. "Well, which side do you want?"
John's eyes flitted to the full-sized bed and shrugged. "The side by the door?"
Understanding, Jane climbed onto the bed and scooted to the side against the wall. She laid down and settled herself beneath the covers, then looked up at John and patted the empty side of the mattress encouragingly.
He stood unmoving however, an indiscernible bevy of emotions flickering in his eyes. There was a certain longing in them held in check by his uncertainty as if he still couldn't quite believe he truly had her consent.
Last night had been different. He had acted out of concern which forced him to make the decision on his own despite the possible retributions he thought he'd be subjected to in the morning.
Jane couldn't blame him. She had kept him at bay for so long now--even going so far as to one time banning all physical contact between them. She realized now, she had made him afraid. Afraid of making a mistake with her he believed he could not afford to make.
Jane sighed, then got an idea. She rubbed her arms briskly and pretended to shiver.
"John, are you going to sleep here or not? I'm getting cold." She stared up at him expectantly.
For a moment, Jane thought she had him fooled. He stepped forward, a shadow of concern furrowing his brow, but then he smiled sweetly, knowingly. A second later, he practically leapt onto the bed, tackling her, and playfully gathering her into his arms. Wrestling with him, Jane rolled with him almost off the side, and tickled him in retribution.
His laughter was like music to her ears. He hardly ever laughed. His life hadn't given him much reason to. She was glad she had given him a reason.
"Stop," he demanded breathlessly, after pinning Jane to the mattress and holding her arms to her sides.
Jane struggled half-heartedly, knowing she was no match for his strength and then admittedly enjoying her captivity too much to want to escape from him anyway.
"I'll stop," she promised. "You behave. No more wrestling. No more tickling."
"I'll behave," he promised back. "Go to sleep. You're tired."
Jane couldn't argue with that. She was tired. Her eyes were growing heavier each passing moment, and even though John's warm, firm body was draped rather seductively over hers, sleep was weighing heavily on her mind.
"Mmm, good night, John," she murmured.
She felt him rise off her and touch his lips to her forehead.
"Good night, Jane," he whispered back, and curled around her side.
Snuggling against him, Jane closed her eyes, thinking how sweet it was not to have to struggle through any explanations or misunderstanding. For once, their feelings were perfectly synchronized.
PART THREE ~ The Way Home
Kathleen Clayton was on the phone. Jane had let John answer it again, which gave him the opportunity to joyfully explain this exciting new activity to his aunt. He had insisted she call more often and then he had asked her if she had a CD player.
Jane was on the phone with her now, sitting across the kitchen table from John, watching him finish off the last egg roll from the Chinese take-out they'd picked up for lunch.
"What's this about a CD player?" Kathleen asked, sounding as if she suspected Jane was somehow corrupting her nephew with the wrong kind of technology.
"Oh, I think he wants one now that he knows how to use them," Jane told her nonchalantly. "I showed him how to work mine last night. You might want to consider getting him one."
"I'll do that," Kathleen said placatingly, and quickly changed the subject. "I'll be home on the red-eye Sunday. Everything went as good as can be expected on this end, so I thought I'd come back early. I've already talked to Mary and she's getting the house ready. It will be good to be back. I miss John. I can't stop wondering how he's doing."
"He's doing fine," Jane stated, a little defensively. "He's learning things and he's enjoying himself. We're finally getting to spend some time together, and it's really brought us closer."
Kathleen sighed. "Really? And just how much 'closer' have you two become?"
Jane felt her cheeks flush with heat. She knew what Kathleen Clayton was really asking.
"I know you think it's somehow your business, but it's not," Jane stated coolly. "John's an adult. He's not a child, and he doesn't appreciate being treated like one. That was Richard's mistake."
Kathleen fairly growled over the phone at the mention of her brother's name. "How dare you compare me to Richard? Richard treated John like an animal." She paused and took a deep, steadying breath. "John may not be a child, but he is an innocent. He sees things as they are. He doesn't look for deeper meanings. What seems obvious to you, may seem like something entirely different to him....I just don't want to see him get hurt by some misunderstanding."
Jane squeezed her eyes tightly shut and counted to ten before replying.
"I don't know why I'm getting so defensive. I guess it's because you think I'm selfish enough to risk hurting him, and it's not like that at all. Not after all we've been through. What you and I have been through for him. You love him just like I--"
Jane cut herself off, aware of John's eyes on her. She cleared her throat, and tried to smile at him, but failed miserably.
"Kathleen, I have to go."
There was a long moment of silence before Kathleen responded.
"Look, you're right. I don't know what I was thinking. I'll see you and John on Sunday."
Jane swallowed down the knot tightening her throat. "All right. Good-bye." With that, she hung up the phone.
Jane should have been relieved knowing her life would soon be back to normal, but strangely, she wasn't. Before, the prospect of having John live with her--even for a few days--had plunged her into panic attacks. Instead, these past few days had shown Jane all her fears were unwarranted. She had discovered that living with John was not only doable, but enjoyable. The day after tomorrow, John would go back to Kathleen's, and Nikki would come home, and Jane would return to work Monday. Things would be back to normal, but maybe Jane didn't want things back to 'normal' anymore.
Slowly, John rose from his chair and knelt beside Jane, taking her hand in both of his.
"What's wrong? Your face. It's sad."
Jane forced a more genuine smile, and blinked back at him cheerfully. "I'm fine," she told him and stood up, pulling her hand free. She gathered up the empty plates and took them over to the sink to soak and picked up a dish towel to dry what was already in the rack.
Still kneeling on the floor, John watched her closely, the look of concern he was giving her growing more solemn.
"Tell me what's wrong," he said tightly.
Taking a deep breath, Jane turned around to face him. "Your aunt's coming back the day after tomorrow. You'll get to go home."
John's expression of concern withered into one of confusion. "But I don't want to go back there. I want to stay with you."
Jane put her hands on her hips. Clearly he was going to make this hard for her.
"Well, you can't. These past few days have been great and I mean that. We've had a lot of fun, and we have learned a lot about each other. I think what we shared helped strengthen what we had before. It was wonderful...really, but as they say, all good things must come to an end."
"I don't want it to end."
Jane didn't particularly want it to end now either, but she didn't want him to know that. If he detected her true feelings, she might never get him to go back to his aunt's. But she had meant what she said, and she hoped John believed her.
"You knew you would have to go back eventually," Jane pointed out to him. "You knew from the start this was only for a few days. You can't stay here, John. You have to go. Nikki will be back tomorrow too and she'll want her room again."
John licked his lips, his eyes gently pleading. "I'll sleep in your bed. With you. You said it was nice. You don't have to send me away if you don't want to." He paused momentarily and took a deep breath. "I like holding you when you sleep, and I like waking up with you in the morning. It feels right. I belong here, Jane--with you. I want to eat your kind of food and hear your music and learn more new things. I thought you wanted these things too."
Jane's eyes started to burn and water at the poignancy of John's plea. He was opening his heart to her now, but something kept Jane from opening hers to him. There was so much she wanted to tell him just then. If only she had the courage to reveal to him the way she truly felt--not what she tried to convey for the sake of propriety. All those deepening truths she could scarcely acknowledge to herself, but could not possibly deny. She longed to go to him, and take his hands, and shout her feelings from the rooftops of New York, but she just couldn't. Not yet.
"It's...not that I want you to go away, John," she explained, keeping her tone level and cool. "You just have to. That's the way it has to be."
"Why?" John demanded forcefully, rising to his feet. He smashed his fist on the table as he did, rattling the remaining dishes and actually cracking the wood. He seemed to take no notice of it however, and towered over Jane, seething in frustration and confusion. "You always choose what you don't want. I don't understand! If you want me here, why won't you let me stay?"
John's sudden and violent outburst zapped Jane's patience and sparked her own temper. She stormed over to her table, shoving him back, and examined the dented crack.
"Damn it, John!" Jane threw down her dish towel and turned around to confront him. "I'm trying to do what's right, and if you're going to act like this, I don't want you to stay here! You think just because you want something you should have it. Well, it doesn't work that way. For anybody. You can't have everything you want, so grow up, and learn to control yourself, and your wild childish behavior, and then maybe we'll talk about you and me. Okay?"
As imposing a figure as John was, he seemed to shrink before Jane's eyes. For a long time he didn't move. He didn't even blink. He just stared at her, stricken. Jane stared back at him, her temper fizzling under the pained look in his eyes.
"Listen," Jane began softly. "I didn't really mean that the way it sounded--"
But John shook his head, as if refusing to listen. He lowered his eyes, clearly unwilling to even look at Jane now, and took one hesitant step past her, then dashed out of the kitchen.
Jane knew in that instant she had hurt John the same way she had just sworn to his aunt she'd never do. Now he was leaving, obviously convinced she didn't want him, and would not tolerate having him around.
"John! Wait!" she called after him, racing after him into the bedroom.
But by the time Jane arrived, the only indication she had that he'd even been there was a cold, northerly wind which buffeted her face from the open window. John was no where to be found.
Jane spent the rest of the afternoon scrubbing the apartment from top to bottom for lack of anything better to do. She didn't want to go anywhere because she kept expecting John to show up on her window sill, as if nothing had happened--tattered and grimy from his adventures on the streets, wanting to shower and crawl into bed with her for the night.
But the sun had long since set and John had not come back. Jane went into Nikki's room and gathered up his clothes to do a wash. She found the pastel blue sweater he had worn the first night he'd slept with her thrown over the back of a chair, and impulsively slipped it on. It wasn't the same as having his arms wrapped around her, but wearing it gave her some comfort. She peered at herself in the mirror attached to Nikki's dresser and frowned deeply.
Hadn't she proven to herself these past few days that having a real relationship with John was viable? It could have progressed nicely from this point if she had let it. Instead, just when she felt the barriers around her heart coming down, she reinforced them. Just when John had gotten closer to her than he'd ever been before, she pushed him away.
Jane sat down on the edge of Nikki's bed, her eyes watering and her throat constricting dryly.
"What am I afraid of?" she whispered to herself, wiping her moistening cheek with her palm.
She sat on the bed pondering the answer to her question, but twenty minutes later, she still hadn't come up with a suitable answer. The only thing left to consider was the fact Jane had never felt this strongly towards anyone before--not even Michael. She knew she had loved Michael, but her feelings for John were so powerful at times, Jane did not recognize them as simply being love. Maybe it was the same fear of the unknown she had experienced before, only now, it wasn't John who was unknown to her. It was her own heart.
Jane woke the next morning after a restless night's sleep. After only two nights together, it seemed strange to wake up alone. All night she had missed the solid warmth of John's body next to hers and the security of being wrapped in his strong arms. Her bed felt large and empty last night, and no matter what she did, she couldn't get comfortable in it. Spitefully, Jane hoped John had slept just as miserably as she had.
Throughout most of her morning routine, Jane half-expected John to show up. She made her coffee and nibbled her toast. She showered and dressed and read the paper. By ten-thirty, Jane concluded John must have gone back to the mansion, and reached for her car keys.
After all, wasn't she the one who needed to make amends? Maybe, if she went to him and apologized, and explained to him the irony of her anger yesterday, he would put what she had said to him in a proper perspective.
On her way to Kathleen Clayton's eastside residence, Jane rehearsed in her head just what she was going to say to John when she finally saw him.
"Okay, the reason I was angry was the same reason you were angry. Sometimes things are unfair and sometimes no matter how much you want something, you are powerless to change it and it gets frustrating."
But that didn't explain why she had said the things she did which drove him away.
"I was trying to convince you to go back, because you had to go back. There was nothing I could do about it and there was nothing you could do about it, so it was just better that you believed I didn't want you to stay...."
God, that sounded awful, but it was the truth. Or was it? She wanted John to stay, so why didn't she let him? She had let Michael stay with her on enough occasions. At the time it didn't matter if Nikki were home or not. Michael came and went as he pleased. He did everything John had done these past few days and more.
Jane nervously gnawed her fingernail as she rang the bell to the Clayton mansion. She recalled the night John had answered the door and hoped with all her might, he would again, but Kathleen's maid came to her summons instead.
Jane frowned, trying to look past Mary into the spacious foyer for a possible glimpse of John.
"Good morning," Mary greeted, but didn't appear as if she was having a good morning at all.
"Ah, good morning. Is John in, by chance?"
Mary narrowed her eyes. "I haven't seen him. But I haven't been on the third floor yet. He may be in."
"Would you mind if I have a look?" Jane asked, hopefully. She couldn't see any reason for Mary to mind as long as it didn't involve her.
Mary waved Jane inside, and closed the door behind her. She started towards the stairs, but Jane stopped her.
"I know the way."
Mary paused and let Jane pass her. "Suit yourself," she said, then turned, and disappeared into the parlor.
Jane jogged quickly up the remaining stairs, her heart pounding more from the prospect of seeing John than the exertion. The first place she searched was the likeliest--the atrium. She threw open the doors and called John's name, but could feel he wasn't around and hadn't been for sometime.
Less likely were the rooms inside the mansion where John kept his clothes and few meager childhood possessions. The rooms were dark and slightly musty-smelling as if they hadn't been aired in awhile. The contents looked as if they hadn't been disturbed since the last time Jane was here.
Obviously, when John had left Jane's apartment, he hadn't come here, which meant he was on the streets somewhere. Somewhere.
With new determination, Jane let herself out of the mansion, and started walking towards Central Park. She searched the grounds using a mental police grid of sorts, taking care to look into the treetops from time to time. Either she missed him or he wasn't in the park either.
Undaunted, Jane considered other places John frequented, and headed back towards her car to go check them out.
Her cell phone rang just as she slid inside and buckled her seatbelt. She answered, not paying attention to the Caller I.D. and was surprised to hear Sam Malone on the line.
"Jane. Jane. Jane," he grumbled, and Jane could almost picture him shaking his head. "I thought you'd like to know who showed up on my doorstep at five-fifty-five this morning looking like a beat puppy."
Jane's heart jumped to her throat. "Not John?"
"Yes, John," Sam countered. "Seems he needed a little manly advice on dealing with women." Sam paused and chuckled deeply. "He was messed up. A sorrier sight I never hope to see. I take it you two lovebirds had a little fight?"
Jane closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the carseat. "It wasn't really a fight. I said some things--"
"Well, whatever you said to him sent him crawling to me."
"Oh God. Keep him there, will you, Sam? I have to talk to him."
Jane's hope sunk. She sat forward. "Left? Well, where did he go? Did he say anything?"
"Not much," Sam told her, his voice taking on a sympathetic tone. "What he did say, I had to pry out of him. At first, I thought something had happened to you, but he kept saying something about being lost and he had that look in his eye, like his whole world had just been turned upside down. I didn't think he was talking about you, but I had a feeling you were somehow behind it all. Quite frankly, he didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Does any of this make sense to you?"
Jane bit her lower lip and nodded automatically. "He thinks I'm lost," she answered numbly. John had told her that losing her was the one thing he truly feared.
"Whatever," Sam huffed. "I told him not to worry so much about it, and to just give you a few days to cool down. He told me Nikki had said that about you too. Obviously, at some point, he must have sought her counsel too. He wants to make this work between you two, Jane, and he's willing to do a little legwork to get the inside scoop on how to go about it. I kinda admire him for that."
"Oh Sam. I've got to find him," Jane moaned. "Do you have any idea where he might have been going?"
"Mmm, sorry. I just called you 'cause I thought this was something you should know."
Jane smiled feebly. "At least now you know he considers you a friend," she sighed.
"Is that a good thing?"
"They don't come any better," Jane replied sincerely.
"Well, I felt sorry for the kid. He didn't know which way was up. Love'll do that to a guy. Messes you up inside."
Jane's smile widened. "Thanks Sam. I owe you another one."
"I'll just add it to your tab," he replied and laughed lightly.
Jane hung up the phone and started the ignition.
By late afternoon, Jane decided either she wasn't looking in the right places, or John was avoiding her. Searching a city the size of New York made both prospects likely.
She had parked her car on a side street, and continued on foot, keeping her eyes turned up for the most part, and calling out John's name in the back alleys from time to time. If anything, she was letting him know where she was, if he didn't already.
Shadows on the streets were growing longer, and the remaining hours of daylight were fading into dusk. Jane headed back towards her car, keeping in mind she had to pick Nikki up at the airport in a few hours. If she went home now, she'd have time to make herself something to eat, shower, and change into some fresh clothes before heading out. There was still the chance John would show up at her place for the night, or maybe even tomorrow morning.
Jane tried not to worry. Maybe John was just taking Sam's advice. Maybe he was making himself scarce to give her time to 'cool off'. It wouldn't be the first time. But even then, John had come to her when Jane had called to him. If he knew she was searching for him, surely that would tell him she wanted him back.
Rounding the corner to get back on the street where she had left her car, Jane was confronted by an unwelcome sight. Four young men were loitering around her car, smoking cigarettes and passing around a brown-bagged bottle. Jane didn't think they were gang members--she didn't recognize any tell-tale signs, but they were obviously delinquents, and the fact they had all but made themselves at home sitting on her car, was not going to make this easy or pleasant for her.
Taking a deep breath, Jane fished out her badge, unsnapped the holster of her gun, and started forward.
A knowing silence descended on the four youths as Jane approached. Then the whistles and catcalls started.
"All right, gentlemen," Jane stated flatly. "Time to move along. Go find yourselves another park bench to sit on."
Undeterred by the badge, the young men started baiting her with lewd propositions. The closer Jane got, the more obnoxious they became and the louder they got.
This was the one thing about being a woman on the police force, Jane despised, and that was not being taken seriously. Here she was, waving an N.Y.P.D. badge under their noses, but all these men saw was an attractive piece who was about to make them all lucky in the back seat of her car.
One of the bolder men made a move towards her, and Jane drew her gun. She wasn't playing around and they needed to know this.
"It's not worth it, boys," she warned. "You accost a police officer, and you're going to find yourselves in way more trouble than you bargained for."
Unfortunately, all four of them seemed too drunk, or high, to give a damn at the moment.
"Give me your keys, baby, and we'll take you for a ride," the shortest one taunted. "You know you want to."
Jane shifted the gun on him. The other three advanced. Apparently they believed even with the gun, the four of them could still overpower her.
"Goddamnit! Don't make me shoot you!" Jane snapped, thinking more of the ensuing investigations and paperwork such an incident would require and less of actually pulling the trigger.
She had to stay calm. She couldn't let them see even the slightest hint of fear on her part even though her insides were twisting into knots. There were too many factors against her however. She fired off a warning shot, and for a moment, all four of them froze. Then they rushed her.
Jane re-aimed and shot the closest one in the right shoulder. He spun to the ground screaming while the remaining three surrounded Jane. She got in some good hits, but they were fueled by lust, and numbed by the alcohol they had consumed. One of the heavier youths got Jane's gun away from her as the other two searched her pockets, pulled out her keys, and dragged her towards the car.
Struggling for all she was worth, Jane managed to kick the car door close, counting on their lack of coordination to make things even more difficult for them. Her heart was racing in her ears, but in the distance she could hear approaching sirens. Someone, somewhere, had called the cops on her behalf, or at the very least, to get these drunken rowdies out of their neighborhood.
Far be it for anyone to actually interfere, Jane thought bitterly, knowing a lot could happen in the time before the police arrived. They had her gun. They could get her to cooperate if they wanted her too. Maybe, in this case, the fact they were too stupidly intoxicated to realize this, was in Jane's favor.
Something popped loudly in Jane's ears, startling her. At first she thought the guy holding the gun had fired it, but everyone was staring up, open-mouthed in a sort of dumbfounded silence. Jane looked up too.
On the now severely dented roof of her car, John was rising to his feet, his eyes scanning the faces of the three men holding Jane, as if daring one to make the first move. To Jane's horror, the heavy youth with her gun raised it and pointed it right at John's chest.
John did not wait for him to fire however, and launched himself from the car roof like a leopard springing after its prey. Together they crashed to the street in a blur of movement, scattering the remaining two delinquents. They released Jane in a panic, which allowed her to take down the one nearest her with a couple of well-aimed kicks and an elbow to the face. John made short work of the one he had been grappling with, and jumped after the only one left standing, even though he had been trying to flee. John brought him down effortlessly, and pounded his face until he slumped against the asphalt in a limp and bloody heap.
Jane recovered her gun and reholstered it, looking around at the mayhem on the street. The sirens were deafeningly close now and the lights flashed erratically off the sides of the surrounding buildings. John shot a quick look at Jane, then hopped onto the closest fire escape and disappeared into the shadows. A moment later, two squad cars rolled up and three uniformed officers approached her.
After slapping handcuffs on the only perpetrator left conscious, Jane held up her badge and stepped towards the ranking police officer to explain what had happened. As his partner called for an ambulance, he questioned Jane thoroughly, and when he paused to write down the information she gave, Jane spared a glance upwards.
John was there, watching from the rooftop. At least he hadn't left her. But as usual, he would not stay and take credit for what he had done. Jane mentioned her mysterious benefactor to her interrogator, but also pointed out in the ensuing chaos, she could not get a good look at him and he had fled the scene as soon as her assailants were more or less under control.
After what seemed like an hour later, the four injured delinquents were taken away and Jane was free to go to file her own reports and charges, considering technically, she was the arresting officer.
Now she waited until the street was completely cleared, then pulled herself up the fire escape to find John.
John was sitting on the roof's scalloped molding, braced by his arms with his long legs dangling freely over the side. A myriad of city lights blazed in the background, casting his face in shadow, but his eyes glittered in the darkness, and locked on Jane's as she drew nearer.
"Thank you," she began hesitantly. "You dropped by at just the right time." She summoned a small smile. "Only, did you have to drop on my car? That'll cost me two weeks in a body shop." Her attempted levity fell flat however. She felt even more awkward when John simply slid off his perch and walked stiffly past her.
"You're welcome," he murmured to her and continued on to the other side of the roof.
Jane started after him. "John! Don't go! I've been looking for you all day! I need to talk to you."
John paused and peered over his shoulder at her curiously. "Looking for me?"
Apparently, he hadn't been avoiding her. With her heart pounding, Jane cleared her throat, and tried to remember the lines she had rehearsed in her car. Somehow, they didn't seem appropriate anymore.
"John...why did you leave yesterday?" she asked instead.
He seemed surprised by that question.
"You didn't want me to stay."
Jane nodded. "Yeah, I did. You knew I did. So why did you leave?"
John turned around to face her, his expression hardening. "'Cause I believed what you said!" His entire body visibly coiled up with tension. He clenched his fists tightly and bounced them off his chest in frustration. "Why do you do this to me? I don't understand!"
Jane tried to seize his hand, but he jerked away from her, his eyes flashing in anger.
"John, please," Jane whispered, pleadingly. She certainly wouldn't be able to explain anything to him if she couldn't get him to calm down and listen.
"No!" John snapped, moving away from her. "You need to leave."
Jane licked her lips apprehensively. "Is that what you really want? I'll leave you alone...if that's what you really want."
John shook his head. "It doesn't matter what I want. You said so yourself."
"It matters," Jane told him. "It is just that...you can't always have what you want. Neither can I. Things, just aren't that simple."
Pacing back and forth in front of the fire escape, John fixed his gaze on Jane, and scowled.
"It is simple when you know what you want," he countered, pointing an accusatory finger in her direction. "But you don't know what you want. Even when you do, you...ignore it."
Jane's chest tightened with emotion and she could feel the sting of tears in her eyes. This was a do-or-die moment. A turning point that would set the course for all their days to come. It was a time for honesty and openness as well as understanding. John needed to hear the truth, as much as Jane needed to confess it.
"Remember what I told you about what I want and what I know is right and how they don't always agree? Well, I know what I want, John," she stated quietly at first, her voice growing stronger along with her conviction. "And even though I'm not sure it's right, I've come to the conclusion I'm not doing either one of us a favor by denying it any longer. I told you I'm trying to keep our relationship on a certain path. Well, I think we reached a turn-off I just wasn't prepared for and didn't recognize." She paused, hoping with all her might she wasn't confusing John more with her talk about roads and turn-offs. The best thing to do now was simply come right out and say it. "In other words, I want you with me. Closer. I want us to be together"
John grew very still, then he turned his head slightly in Jane's direction. "I want that too."
Jane sighed, relieved. "Before, I was trying to face facts, and I just didn't see a way to make it work. I tried to explain that to you, but you wouldn't accept it because you knew how I really felt. Then, you have a tendency to only see things in black or white. You never stop to consider all the underlying complications."
"But now there is a way?"
"I think so." Jane reached in her coat pocket and pulled out a key. "Here. This is for you. It's the key to my apartment. You can let yourself in whenever you want--should you ever feel the urge to come through the front door." She summoned a smile and took a deep breath as John lifted the key from her outstretched hand. "You can sleep over if you'd like. You can eat meals with Nikki and me. You can even use my CD player. But...you still need to go home though. You can't live with me."
"Home?" John said and looked up at her as if he'd never heard the word before.
Edging closer to him, Jane nodded. "Home, John. Kathleen's. It's where you belong. It's your home. It belongs to you."
"Home is with you," John answered in a barely audible voice, turning away from Jane. "I have no other home."
Jane frowned. "Yes you do. That house belonged to you once," she went on. "It will again. Right now, you just have your rooms with your things, but that entire mansion and everything in...it actually belongs to you."
Shaking his head forcefully, John released his breath through his teeth in a billowy, icy cloud. "It all belongs to him."
Confused, Jane turned John back around to face her. "Your uncle?" she asked, but then thought maybe he meant his father.
John's upper lip curled back in a snarl of derision. He twisted free of Jane's grasp and dragged his hands through his disheveled hair.
"Don't you see? You'll never learn about me if I have to stay there. None of it's mine! The things in those rooms--they were his. John Clayton Junior's. But I am not him. I'm not John. I'm Tarzan. And nothing belongs to me."
Momentarily stunned by his declaration, Jane stood unable to move as the significance of his words registered in her brain. She stared up at him, helplessly, watching the sorrow rise in his moistening eyes. She opened her mouth to speak his name, but stopped herself.
"You're wrong," she breathed, leaning towards him. "I can think of things that belong to you. Like your house, things that are yours, you probably aren't even aware of."
John watched Jane dubiously as she reached up and traced the strip of leather around his neck which held his locket. Then she lifted his hand and opened his fingers to show him the key she had just given him.
Staring deeply into his eyes, Jane grasped his face in her hands, sliding her fingers into his hair and gently pulled him towards her.
"And I belong to you, Tarzan," she whispered.
She turned her head and at first, merely touched his lips with hers, then opened her mouth and kissed him caressingly, sinking her lips down on the smooth fullness of his mouth with gently increasing pressure until he began to respond.
Clearly tensing more from shock, than from being kissed, John hesitantly placed his hands on Jane's shoulders, closed his eyes, and let her manipulate his mouth the first few moments. Then slowly, the tension in his body faded, and he followed her lead, opening his mouth and turning his head to slide his lips wetly over hers. He moaned softly and sweetly, as his kiss became more passionate, but with an almost intentional tenderness. His hands shifted, moving to her back, drawing her body closer to deepen the kiss more.
Jane moaned too, caught up in the rapture of John's embrace. She meant what she had said, and at that moment, felt ready to surrender herself completely to his desires. This time, she had recognized the turn in their path and had taken it with new confidence.
Seized with the sudden urge to gaze into John's eyes, Jane pressed her palms lightly against his chest and leaned back.
John blinked back at her for a few seconds as if slightly disoriented. Then he locked his eyes on hers, taking in her beaming smile and slowly smiled back, emitting a somewhat breathless sigh.
Jane's cell phone rang, muffled inside the pocket of her jacket, but still making both of them jump, startling them more less back down to earth. Jane rolled her eyes, and fished out the phone, then flipped it open, and pressed it to her ear.
"Oh! Nikki! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed a moment later. "Of course I didn't forget about you." Jane let Nikki complain while John slipped his arms around her and began nuzzling her hair. Jane grinned and closed her eyes, savoring his attention. "I said I was sorry. I got a little wrapped up in what I was doing, but I'm on my way right now. I promise."
She turned off her phone, and replaced it in her pocket, then turned around to face John.
"I need to go get Nikki at the airport. She's been waiting, and she'd kind of upset." Jane paused and took a deep breath, staring wistfully into John's eyes. "I don't want to. But I have to go."
"I know," John said quietly. "Let me come with you."
Jane raised her brow. "To the airport? Are you sure?"
He nodded enthusiastically.
Considering it, Jane shrugged and smiled. She reached out and took John's hand and squeezed it. "You know, I could probably use a big strong guy like you to help carry all of her luggage."
John grinned and lifted Jane's hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "I want to help."
Pulling him closer, Jane leaned forward. "You can spend the night too. You can sleep in my bed, with me," she murmured hopefully.
Surprisingly, John shook his head, locking his eyes on Jane's. "No. I need to go home."
"Go home? You mean, come home with me?" Jane questioned, not certain she'd heard him right, and definitely not expecting him to want to leave her anytime soon.
"To Kathleen's," John corrected. "I need to be there--be home, when she gets back." He paused and offered Jane a knowing smile, turning his head, and slowly closing his eyes. "She'll need help with her luggage too." Bending towards her, he captured her mouth with his and kissed her with an effortless sensuality that made Jane's toes curl.
Jane obligingly kissed him back, understanding his newfound sense of belonging completely, and pleased to know, he understood his belongings too.