“You were married?” Jesse asked. He put his soda down.
Maggie nodded, a wan smile on her lips. “Yeah. You want the cliff notes version?”
“Uh, n-not if you don’t feel comfortable,” he stammered.
“Nah, it’s ok.” She took another sip of her soda and then set the can down. She shifted on the couch so she was facing him, tucking one foot under her other leg. “It was ages ago. We were eighteen, stupid, horny, and thought getting married was the best way to have sex without our parents jumping down our throats. His dad was a minister, and super-conservative, so it just seemed easier. So instead of thinking about college, he got a job with a local logging company and I started waitressing. We rented this hole in the wall studio apartment and…‘played house’ is the best way I can describe it.”
She leaned back, hand on her shin. “He had…has, something a little off. Like, it’s never been diagnosed, but Web MD makes me think he might’ve been manic-depressive. Because for months everything would be great – he’d be super-attentive, and fun! He was the life of every party. And then, on a dime, his mood would totally change. He’d withdraw from me; get angry at the littlest things. He wouldn’t want to go to work. I had to force him and he’d resent me. And then a month or two later he’d suddenly be back and be so sorry and he loved me and I made excuses for him to myself and we’d start the whole thing over again.”
“It went on like that for three years,” she said. “Until finally, during one of his ‘downs’ I had the nerve to ask him to get help and…he hit me. And that was it. I packed a suitcase, drove to my parents’ house and filed for divorce the next day. He signed the papers and I thought that was that, but after a few months he was ‘up’ again and he decided he changed his mind. He started following me around begging me to go back to him. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I quit my job and moved up here. My parents won’t tell him where I went, and last I heard he’d given up trying to find out.”
Jesse shook his head. “Jesus,” he said quietly. “Sorry.”
“Nah.” She picked up her soda again. “Like I said, it was ages ago. Yeah, it sucked, but I learned from it, and I’m doing all right.”
He ran a hand through his hair. Of all the things he’d imagined, a previous marriage hadn’t crossed his mind. To be fair, marriage wasn’t something that often crossed his mind generally. “So have you, uh, dated since then?” he asked.
“No,” she said and then laughed at what must’ve been his surprised expression. “I just felt that, while I was so busy defining myself in relation to my ex, I hadn’t really defined myself. So I’ve been working on that. And to be honest, I never really felt ready before.”
‘But what about that picture in the General Store?’ He was dying to ask, but couldn’t figure out how to do so without coming off badly. “What made you feel ready now?”
“I figured five years was long enough,” she said. She took a sip of soda. “Doesn’t hurt that you’ve got, like, the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen,” she added with a smirk, not looking at him.
Jesse felt his ears turning red, but he couldn’t help but smile. “Heh, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Maggie said. She set the can down. It made a hollow sound as it hit the coffee table. “So what now? You wanna keep playing the game? Watch TV?” She walked her pointer and middle fingers across the couch and up over his knee. “Or we could make out.”
“Oh god, yes.” The words, practically a gasp, were out before he could stop them. And before he could chastise himself for being too eager, she slid over closer and wrapped her arms around his neck. Fumbling, his hands found her waist. Just feeling her hip bones through the fabric of her dress was enough to get him riled. He shifted slightly, making sure there was air between her and his lap. ‘Just to be safe.’
She brushed her nose against his. “Gotta say, I love your enthusiasm,” she murmured.
Her lips were then on his and he was drinking her in as if he’d never get another opportunity. While his mouth worked over hers, his hands roamed her. His thumb brushed against the wire of her bra and he brought his hand back down quickly. She pulled away. ‘Shit, Pinkman, you just had to go pushing your luck, didn’t you?’ “S-sorry,” he mumbled.
“Hang on,” she said and he was surprised to see she was still smiling. Her cheeks were flushed. “This thing cuts into my ribs after a while. She had a hand behind her back. ‘What is she–?’ There was a flash of something whipping past his face and it took him a moment to process that she’d discarded her bra. “That’s better,” she said, smiling at him. She raised a finger. “That’s it though for tonight – got it?”
He swallowed thickly, forcing his gaze away from the neckline of her dress. “Y-yeah. Got it.”
“Okay.” She kissed him again.
Jesse kept his hands on her hips for as long as he could. Finally, as he felt her tongue touch his, he let his hands creep up over her ribs. His thumbs grazed the underside of her breasts and she let a little moan escape her lips. Encouraged, he shifted his hands higher. He could cup them easily, one in each hand. ‘They’re adorable,’ he found himself thinking. He began rubbing little circles over her nipples and he felt them turn hard beneath the fabric of her dress. His jeans were getting uncomfortably tight.
Maggie let out an affirmative murmur. She leaned her head back and he took the opportunity to place his lips on her exposed throat. Her hand was in his hair then, partly tousling, partly tugging. He planted kisses all down her neck and over her collar bone, heartened by the soft moans that kept escaping her lips. Her hand moved slowly through is hair, to the back of his neck, then over his cheek, grazing one of his scars.
Instantly, a dozen terrible images flashed behind his eyelids and he jerked away, jumping up from the couch as if he had no control of his own body. It took all he had to stop there, to not bolt for the door. Heart racing, head pounding, he pushed his fists into his eyes, trying to expel the faces, the cruel laughter, from his mind.
Maggie’s voice brought him back to the room, away from the dark. What could he tell her? He turned towards her, trying to swallow his shame. She was staring up at him with a mixture of worry and fear in her eyes. One spaghetti strap of her dress had slipped down her shoulder. The urge to flee clenched his stomach and he did his best to fight it. He gestured with both hands, as if the right words were somewhere in the air if only he could catch hold of them.
After a moment of struggling, he sat down on the arm of the couch, staring at the floor. “My, uh, my dealer was, uh, not the nicest guy,” he said at last. He ran a hand over the scars on his cheek. “And he could get a little rough when you couldn’t pay him on time.” It had a grain a truth. It fit into the story he’d already established. And the humiliation at having to admit being abused was painfully real, as were the tears that were cresting behind his eyes. He swiped at them with the cuff of his sleeve.
“Oh my god, Josh, I’m sorry,” Maggie said, reaching out for him and then stopping just short. “I had no idea, I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have my shit together more than this.” He wiped at his eyes again before turning a weak smile towards her. “Talk about a mood-killer, right?”
“Josh…” He was surprised to see tears welling in her eyes too. “Maybe we should just slow down. You’ve…obviously been through a lot.”
“That’s putting it lightly,” he muttered, sliding back down next to her. She leaned over, so they sat with their arms touching.
“Have you ever, um, talked to anyone about it?” she asked quietly.
She took hold of his hand. He squeezed it. “I know it’s hard, but it might help,” she said.
He let his head fall back against the couch cushions. “You’re probably right. But maybe it’ll keep for now?”
“Of course,” she said. “When you’re ready.”
“Thanks.” He twisted and reached over with his free hand to right the strap of her dress. Her cheeks flushed. “Sorry to be such a buzzkill. Seriously. I, uh, I was really enjoying earlier.”
He raised his other hand, still clasping hers, and pressed her fingers to his lips. Then, slowly, he moved her hand back to his cheek.
“You don’t have to–” she started.
“I kinda do.” He placed her palm on his face and shut his eyes. The face of his tormentor was waiting behind his eyelids, smiling that dopey, Mayberry smile that both hid and amplified his psychotic nature. ‘He’s dead, Pinkman,’ Jesse told himself, squeezing his eyes shut tighter. </i>‘He’s gone. It’s over.’</i> Something soft and warm fluttered across his face, right over the scar that lined the bridge of his nose. Then again on his right eyebrow, on his chin. ‘Maggie.’ She was kissing every place his captor had left a mark.
He could feel tears cresting in his eyes again. And he couldn’t stop them.
So he didn’t try. Instead, he let her guide his head to her shoulder, let her wrap her arms around him, and cried. He cried for Jane. For Andrea. For Brock. Mostly though, he cried for himself. Groping blindly, he slipped his arms under hers and clasped her back. He could feel her running a hand over his hair, hear her murmuring his new name. He wanted to tell her everything. He knew he never would. So he cried.
After a while he ran out of tears. He swallowed thickly, bracing himself before sitting back up, wiping at his bleary eyes. “So that was a thing that just happened,” he said at last.
Maggie brushed his hair away from his eyes. “Do you feel a little better?”
A laugh caught in his throat. “Yeah kinda.”
“Can I get you some water?”
She rose from the couch and he was left for a moment with his raw nerves and jumbled emotions. He felt less embarrassed than he’d thought he would. More relieved. This certainly wasn’t the end of things, but maybe the next time would be less hard, would pass more quickly. He glanced at the clock on her DVD player. 1:18 AM. He stood just as Maggie came back around the couch with a glass of water in one hand. “You’re not leaving?” she asked.
“I was thinking I should,” he said, taking the glass she offered. “It’s pretty late, and people gossip enough around here.”
Maggie bit her bottom lip, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “I wish you’d stay.”
He took a long sip of water then set the glass on the coffee table. Then, purposefully, he took the few steps needed to close the gap between them, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her good and long on the lips. When they parted he was smiling. “You’re too good, you know that? I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
She grabbed his collar and pulled him in for another kiss. “You sure you’ll be alright by yourself tonight?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. He tucked one of her curls behind her ear. “I will.”
“Okay.” She nodded, but didn’t let him go. Instead she played with his collar, the buttons of his shirt, lips pursed. “I have a different idea,” she said at last. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“At one in the morning?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m not tired, are you?”
“Well, not really, but–”
“Then let’s go. C’mon. The sun will be setting in a couple hours. Let’s watch it. Let’s watch it set, then spin around and watch it come back up again. C’mon.”
She was tugging on his shirt like an overeager kid and he had to laugh. “Gotta say, that would be something to see. Let’s do it.”
A bright smile spread across her face. In a flurry they put their shoes back on and he followed her back down the fire escape to the street. He could hear the music still pounding from inside the bar and was happy to not find anyone on the back steps. With her hand in his, this was a moment he didn’t want to share with anyone else.
They wandered back out to the docks and resumed their game from earlier. After all the heaviness, it was a relief to compare favorite cartoons (him – X-Men, her – Batman), childhood career aspirations (him – firefighter, her – country music star), and least favorite vegetable (him – most of them, her – brussel sprouts).
“Wait, you don’t like any vegetables??” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
“I didn’t say that,” he said. “Just not a fan of a lot of ‘em.”
“How many have you actually tried?” When all he did was shrug, she said, “Well, we’ll see about fixing that. We’ll hit up the co-op market Saturday morning.”
“Oh it’s fun!” She linked her arm with his. “Everybody who grows stuff brings what they can’t eat themselves and they set up tables all along Main Street. Then they sell it or trade it for other things. And the shops all have mini sidewalk sales. It’s something we can only do in the Summer, so everybody looks forward to it.”
“Sounds cool,” he nodded. “What do you guys do in the Winter?”
“Swap meets in the school gym,” she answered. “And, I shit you not, knitting circles.”
“I’m getting pretty good too!” she said. “And it’s a great way to pass the time. You get bored enough; I bet you’ll try it too.”
He laughed. “We’ll see.”
She hugged his arm to her chest and he realized, with the heart-skipping joy of a teenager, that she hadn’t put her bra back on. ‘Nice.’ Was this really what his future was going to be like? They had wandered to the edge of one of the docks, out over the water. The sky was finally starting to resemble evening, its orange hues reflecting across the bay. Maggie released his arm and began tugging off her boots. She stumbled a bit and he put a hand out to steady her. With a wordless smile she thanked him then seated herself at the edge of the planks, bare feet dangling inches from the water. She patted the spot beside her.
Following her lead, he crouched down to remove his shoes and socks. He sat beside her, swinging his legs over the edge. Being taller than she was, his feet hit the water and he nearly choked in surprise. “Jesus! It’s freezing!”
She burst out laughing. “What did you expect? It’s Alaska! These last few days have been about as warm as it gets!”
“You could’ve warned me,” he grumbled.
“Oh, you’ll get used to it, you big baby,” she teased, bumping playfully against him. “Though I guess we can count you out of the Polar Bear swim come January.” He could feel the color drain from his face at the thought and she laughed again. “This is gonna be a fun year,” she said. She reached over and put her hand over his.
He shook his head, smiling. “I think you’re right.”