Friday Favorite: Jack

Even if this book never sees the light of day, I just love Jack.

~~

Jack put his sticks in one hand and stepped out and away from the drum set, and Sarah watched him move toward her. She wanted to make him play a hundred songs while she just sat and listened.

He stopped in front of her and touched her chin. “I’m glad you liked it.”

His hand was warm, and she sighed.

Then he held up the sticks. “Your turn.”

She jerked back and shook her head, sudden nerves breaking his spell. “I can’t—do that—”

“Shh.” He reached down and took her hand, pulling her out of the chair. “Come on, you little coward.”

Sarah wanted to balk, but the feel of his hand on hers was compelling, like he was some kind of pied piper with drum sticks. She sat on his stool, the wooden sticks clutched in her sweaty palms, and looked at the array of instruments.

She had to clear her throat twice before she could speak, and even then it was barely more than a strangled whisper. “How do you keep them all straight?”

He pulled a chair over and sat to her right. “You know how you can shut your eyes and touch your nose? You don’t miss and hit your shoulder?” At her nod, he shrugged. “It’s like that. Give me your hand.”

She pulled the sticks in close to her lap. “What if I break something?”

“I’ll kill you.” He scooted closer and picked up her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers.

Her heart rate accelerated immediately.

“Relax,” he said, and he was close enough that his breath brushed her cheek, and she could smell the sweetness of his strawberry milkshake mixing with the scent of his beer. Her face started to drift toward his when she heard bells in her head.

She blinked. Not in her head. He was using her hand to make the stick tap the center of one of the large cymbals on the right, and she realized he’d said something about eighth notes and the number four.

Relax. Was he kidding?

“You do it.” His hand dropped away from hers.

Focus took more effort than it should have, but she found herself wanting to succeed, to impress him like he’d impressed her. She discovered she could tap out an even rhythm on the cymbal without feeling too ridiculous.

Then he said, “Now add your foot.”

His voice was soft, his breath warm against her neck. She almost dropped the stick.

“Relax,” he said again. He touched her knee, his hand lingering for just a moment. “This leg. On every one and every three.”

She swallowed and followed his direction, reveling in the tone of his voice as he softly counted the beat, and distantly realized that she was somehow making it all work.

He shifted his chair so he was still behind her, but now more to her left. She couldn’t imagine him being closer, but he was. She could feel the warmth of his body, achingly close to hers.

“Now your left hand,” he said, picking up her wrist. The ink on his skin made a striking contrast where it ran alongside her pale forearm. “Every two and four.”

He helped, but she got it. The rhythm was strong and clear, and even with his closeness, she felt a bit of elation at her own ability. “I’m playing drums!”

Jack laughed, a little. “See? You don’t need me.” He let go of her left hand, but she was able to hold the beat for a moment.

But his nearness was too intoxicating. Sarah let the sticks come off the drums and pulled them into her lap. She turned to face him, her cheeks warm, feeling giddy and foolish. “Show me something else.”

So he took her face in his hands and brought his lips to hers.

The kiss was insistent, his fingers strong yet gentle against her face, along her neck, in her hair. The sweetness of ice cream lingered on his lips, soft and warm against her own. She wanted to lean into him, to feel the press of his body, but uncertainty held her back.

Then his hand was around her waist, making the decision for her, pulling her against him. She was certain he could feel her heart beating against his chest, especially when his hand slid under the hem of her shirt to find the bare skin of her back. She shivered and gasped against his mouth, and his tongue brushed her lips.

She jerked back, suddenly breathless.

They were on the floor, kneeling, her body still pressed against his. She didn’t remember coming off the stool. Jack’s eyes were very close, alert and piercing silver. His breathing was nearly as rapid as her own.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Don’t apologize.” He used his free hand to smooth her hair back from her face. The hand along the bare skin of her back pulled free, moving to safer territory at her waist. “Sarah.”

The way he said her name made her want to melt against him. Her face felt hot. “I’m not—I don’t—”

“Shh.” He kissed the edge of her jaw, then her neck. Then her lips again, but slower now, less a demand, more a question. She relaxed into his touch, enjoying the warm sweetness of his mouth against hers.

She couldn’t get enough of touching him. She clutched at his arms and made a low sound against his mouth.

He broke free this time, looking almost as panicked as she’d felt a moment ago. His voice was very rough. “I—I shouldn’t do this.”

She felt her chest cave in until it hurt to breathe. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t!” He took her by the arms. “Don’t apologize to me. You don’t know—You just—” He shut his eyes and his hands softened against her skin.

She tried to draw herself up, but her voice and the crushing weight in her stomach didn’t help. “It’s all right.”

“No—it’s not. Damn it, Sarah—” He pulled her forward and kissed her, his hand somehow finding the skin at her back again, sending her pulse racing.

Jack broke free a second time, and her head spun. She knew he was going to tell her she had to leave, that his issues were too much, that this couldn’t continue.

“Sarah.” He whispered her name against her lips.

She shut her eyes and sighed. Her mother was right. This road only led to pain.

He stroked her hair again. “Will you come upstairs and stay awhile?”

Her eyes shot wide. She choked on the change in extremes.

“Just for a while,” he said, and for the first time she heard him sound uncertain, like he worried she’d refuse. His eyes held hers. “Just to talk.”

She wondered if he could feel her trembling. “Yes. I will.”

Relief bloomed in his eyes. He leaned in and pressed his mouth to hers once more, his hand tight against her back. When he raised his head, she felt him smile against her lips. “All right, maybe a little more than talk.”

~

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