But it’s nice to be with people who aren’t my colleagues.
Except for Kessler of course. Though it’s still so new working with him again, that it’s not the same. It makes me realize that outside of work, I actually don’t have a lot of friends. It’s like I’ve made my job and my colleagues my substitute family. Ohana.
Which I don’t think is a bad thing but it does make me wonder if I need some sort of separation between my work life and my personal life.
Who am I kidding…I don’t have a personal life.
But tonight isn’t the night to dwell on it. I’m tired, from the morning and from the glass of wine, and by the time Kessler is done cooking, I’m ready to eat and go to bed.
I have to admit, the food is amazing. Kessler really does know how to cook, which makes him even sexier than he was before. There’s nothing I find hotter than a man who knows his way around the kitchen, knows exactly what food needs what spices, has the creativity and a delicate touch. Actually, all of those skills translate well to the bedroom too.
Which I know too well when it comes to him.
Seeing him sitting across from me, watching him laugh with his son next to him, I’m hit with a million competing feelings all at once. Everything maternal inside me is coming alive, like my frigging ovaries are in bloom for the first time.
It’s not crazy to want this, I tell myself. To want a man and a child, to have a family in your home, a family of your own.
And yet I’m not sure if it’s just the whole scenario that I want or if it’s him. If it’s Hunter. Loan even. The whole shebang.
It is crazy to want that, I go on. And I think you’ve had too much wine.
I haven’t and to prove a point to myself, as soon as dinner is over I pour myself another glass and head out onto the porch.
“Ahhhh,” I say in a long, low exhale as I close the screen door behind me and welcome the cool ocean breeze. I light the array of citronella candles around me, sit back in my favorite teak chair, and take a good long sip of my wine.
It’s not long before the screen door slides open and Kessler steps out. “I’m not interrupting quiet time, am I?”
I glance up at him, his face shadowy from the dim light of the porch overhang. “Not at all. Are you sure I can’t help clean up?”
“Loan’s already taken care of it. She’s fast.”
“Down for the count. I read him his favorite bedtime story and he was asleep a few pages in. I think all the fresh air is doing something good to him.”
“Sedating your child,” I laugh.
“In a way,” he says, sitting down on the chair next to me. He takes a long swig of the Kona beer in his hand. “I don’t know. Back in San Francisco, I felt like we were under this perpetual cloud, aside from the actual fog. It made it hard to see my future. It made it hard to see Hunter. It’s hard to explain. He was so unhappy, you have no idea.” He exhales, and I can see all the worry and pain on his face. “I didn’t know what to do until Mike called and that’s when I knew I had to take it. I had to come here.”
“Did you know you’d see me?”
His head lolls to the side and he gives me a small smile. “Of course. It was one of the first things Mike said. He said, you used to work with Nova Lane, you’ll be working with her again. Honestly, it was a selling point.”
“I’m serious. I wanted to know what happened to you. You know, I never stopped thinking about you. I never stopped wondering what you were doing, how you were. When I moved onto Rockstar, I wasn’t in touch with the people at Kahuna anymore, so I had no one to ask. Is it too much to ask you now…how have you been these last five years?”
I stare at him blankly. “Are you serious?”
“I am,” he says, features grave. “What happened? What happened that made you like this?”
My hackles automatically raise at that. “Made me like what?”
“You know what,” he says, refusing to be intimidated by my death glare. “You’re like a tap that’s been shut off.”
“All dried up, is that it?”
“You used to have such a shine to you, Nova. Just like your name. You could obliterate every other star in the sky. Now it’s dimmed and I don’t know why. Was it…was it me?”
If he had asked me that a few weeks ago, I probably would have said yes. I would have blamed him. I would have said that he’s the one that dimmed the lights inside me. But now I know that’s not true. He didn’t help, but I can’t blame him for everything. Not when I can blame myself.
I bite my lip and stare up at the stars, looking at their light, feeling their indifference, how the lives of us down here take nothing away from them. “My sister died.”
Silence falls between us. In the distance, the shore breaks.
“I’m so sorry,” he says softly. “What happened?”
I look at him, the honesty and concern on his face, and only then do I realize he has no idea. If he did, he wouldn’t ask.
I swallow hard and run my fingers along the rim of the wine glass. “She had problems. A lot of problems. Mental health problems, then drugs. It was just such a constant in our lives, the worry, and then one day we didn’t worry anymore. Police found her ODed on the streets of downtown Seattle. Two years ago, around Christmas.”
Kessler adjusts himself so he’s facing me squarely, fingers clasped. “I had no idea. I know you mentioned you had a sister a few times but…”
“I never talked about her with you. Not the way she really was. It hurt to talk about it. It was…embarrassing to talk about it. We used to be so close growing up, she was my idol and I was her shadow, but she was always suffering. My parents saw it, I saw it, we did what we could to help but fuck if it wasn’t impossible because her own demons had her and she couldn’t rid herself of them. She fell into the darkness only because she couldn’t help herself and our help wasn’t enough.” I take in a deep, shaking breath. “Her name was Rubina and she was so beautiful and so fucking tortured and I distanced myself because it was better for me. In the end, it wasn’t better for her.”
The tears want to fall but I don’t let them. I keep them back, even though it’s like keeping a herd of wild horses behind a fence, begging to be let free. To hold them in place is against their nature but I know if I let them go, they’ll keep running and running.
“I’m so so sorry,” he says, his voice rough. “I wish you had told me.”
“To tell you would be to admit what a shitty sister I was, and I wasn’t ready to face that yet. But believe me, I’m facing it now.”
Kessler nods, slowly, his eyes searching my face, and I expect him to say something to try and make it better, but he doesn’t. “I get it,” he says. “I get it.”
I don’t know if he does get it. It’s hard to imagine a guy like him having to go through such a thing. But we all have our devils inside us, some of us just know how to dress them up better.
“So what about you?” I ask him. “You have any regrets?”
He raises his brows. “Me? No.”
“No? I thought we were about to have a little pity party here, man,” I tell him. “I open up to you, you open up to me.”
“I’ll be as open as you want me to be,” he says. “Believe me, just ask and I’ll tell you. But I don’t have any regrets.”
“Not even the Russian con?”
He shakes his head adamantly. “Nope. Not her. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have Hunter. If I didn’t have Hunter, I wouldn’t be here right now, talking to you. Every single thing I’ve done, every single choice I’ve made, good or bad, has led me to right here and right now. Even if I was absolutely miserable at the moment, I couldn’t regret a thing because we never know where tomorrow leads. We never know the choices we’ll make and the path we’ll go down.”
“Whatever is meant to be is meant to be?”
“Shit yeah,” he says, nodding enthusiastically. “Don’t you feel that?”
I shake my head. “That would mean my sister is meant to be dead. And I would do anything to turn back time and change things.”
“But what would you have done?”
I shrug, feeling defensive. “I don’t know. Anything. Something. Got her into rehab.”
“Surely you already tried that.”
“Well my parents did. All the time. It’s partly why my father sold the motel, so they could afford to put her in a treatment center. But it never worked out. She never stayed. She was so broken and in the end so were we.” I close my eyes and lean back in the chair, listening to the chorus of crickets and cicadas. I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.
We don’t say anything for several minutes, both of us wrestling with what I said, or maybe Kessler is wrestling with something else. Finally, he says, “Oh great, Dwayne Johnson’s here.”
I open my eyes to see him staring up at a gecko by the porch ceiling light. “That’s not Dwayne. That’s Jeff GeckoBlum.”
“Of course it is. Let me guess, you’ve named them all.”
I nod, happy to be onto another subject. “If you’ve noticed a lack of mosquitos out here, it’s because of them. There’s Dwayne Johnson, Jeff Geckoblum, Bruce Lee, and Sylvester Stallone. Sometimes I’ll see some other ones but they’re the regulars.”
He stares up at the gecko with comedic disgust, much the same way I imagine the actual Jeff Goldblum would. “How are you sure they’re all the same geckos?”
“How are you sure it’s always the same chicken?”
“Hey,” he says, pointing at me. “If you saw the chicken in the washroom, you would know the one we saw today was the same fucking one.”
I laugh. “You’re insane.”