I decided to take a nap on Friday afternoon because I’d stayed up too late the previous night attempting to revise the Ethan/Jeremy/Alec story. My foggy brain registered noise, and when I finally pulled myself out of the haze of sleep, I recognized there was a hammering on my door.
I wasn’t thrilled about it, determining it was probably Candace and Topher again, and I was prepared to give them a piece of my mind. They’d been bugging the shit out of me all week after we’d had lunch and they’d quizzed me about my time with Kennedy. I’d given them enough answers to get them off my back at that moment, and I’d avoided them at all costs the rest of the week. I wasn’t ready to make any decisions, and I certainly didn’t appreciate their barrage of questions and unsolicited advice.
I hopped up from the couch and pulled on my jeans, having napped in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, and I went to the door of my apartment. When I opened it, I saw a petite, dark-haired woman standing there with a smile on her face. “Thornton Marsh?”
I didn’t know if I should answer her or not, but my body had other ideas. I nodded.
“I believe you know who I am, but I’ll do you the courtesy of a formal introduction. I’m Lark Nutter. We need to talk,” she responded as she walked past me, into my apartment uninvited.
I remembered finding out who the woman was before I left Gonzaga. I sure as fuck wasn’t happy to learn she was a classmate of Kennedy’s and they’d been very close. I’d talked to a few of his other classmates whom I’d met previously, and I described her as best I could from what I’d briefly noticed when Kennedy was buried inside her.
A guy named Craig, who was in a study group with Kennedy, told me she’d had the hots for my boyfriend all semester and had flirted up a storm with him. Based on what I’d witnessed, she’d finally won. It was then I’d decided it was time to get the fuck out of town, so I’d hopped into my car and drove down to Portland to see my aunt and uncle before I moved to San Diego to finish undergrad at UCSD.
“Miss Nutter, I know of nothing we need to discuss,” I informed her as she moved through my hallway and settled on my couch without permission.
“We have a lot to discuss, Mr. Marsh. You need to know… There are a few things you need to know. Pay attention because I don’t spill my guts to just anyone,” she announced confidently.
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a cup of coffee. If I had to listen to the woman yammer on, I at least wanted coffee. I sat down in my favorite chair and waited. “Okay, you have my attention.”
“I owe you an apology, I suppose. I’ve done you and Kennedy a great disservice over the years, and I feel it’s important for me to come clean about it. I need to tell you everything,” she responded passionately. She seemed jumpy, and she was glancing all around my apartment, which made me wonder if she was nervous or casing the place to come back and rob me.
“Well, Miss Nutter, the floor is yours,” I told her, trying to maintain my cool demeanor. I truly wanted to choke the life out of her because if it hadn’t been for her, my life would have been so different. She stole Kennedy away from me, and I wasn’t in a forgiving mood. Of course, he wasn’t innocent in the matter, but if she thought I was about to accept a half-assed “I’m sorry” and a smile, she was barking up the wrong tree. I fucking carried a grudge forever.
“I need to apologize to you regarding what happened that day in your apartment. Kennedy was upfront about the fact the two of you were a couple, which broke my heart because I was in love with him. He was easy to love, you know?”
I knew far too well how easy it was to fall in love with Kennedy. It only took me a few minutes in an elevator. “Yes, I remember very well how easy he was to love.”
“Kennedy told me he wasn’t sure if he was gay, and I hoped maybe I still had a shot with him. I… I suggested he should kiss me to see if he had a physical reaction. I’ll spare you the details, but one thing led to another and well, after you ran out that day, he told me in no uncertain terms he was gay, and he was in love with you,” she explained. I sadly found myself riveted.
She then continued. “I was so damn heartbroken I ran out of there in tears after you. I’d been a virgin, and I had basically begged him for sex because I thought I could get him to fall for me. After he told me there would never be a future for us, I was crushed.”
The woman talked so damn fast it was hard to keep up with her. She looked out the window after she spoke, and I’ll be damn if I didn’t feel a little sorry for her. That only pissed me off again.
I took a cleansing breath, trying to steel my nerves and my temper. “Miss Nutter, I’m grateful you came here to, uh, explain yourself. Whatever you’re trying to do, it doesn’t really let Kennedy off the hook, now does it? He fucked you, got you pregnant, and the two of you have a child together. Obviously, all of that is none of my business because I was the one cast aside. Thank you for your attempt at clarity, but it really doesn’t mean shit to me.” I didn’t sound like a bitching harpy at all. Right.
She took a deep breath. “Mr. Marsh, he chased after you. He tried to find you for months. He went to see your aunt and uncle to try to find you, but they refused to tell him where you went. In the meantime, I slept with another guy. Actually, the next nightI slept with another guy,” Lark admitted, though I had no idea why.
She paused for a moment, touching her index knuckles to the corners of her eyes, and then she went on. “I never found out his name. All I knew about him was the man was a soldier, and he was deploying the next week. He was as drunk as me that night, and it seemed like a good idea to hook up, so we did. I was trying to… Hell, I don’t know what I was trying to do, but I slept with him, too.”
Why in the fuck are you telling me any of this?
“When I found out I was pregnant, I panicked. I went home to my parents’ place, and with no way to get in touch with the other guy because he was overseas, I told Kennedy I was pregnant with his child. The condom had broken when we were together, so before Judah was born, it was a toss-up who was his father. When he was born, I knew he wasn’t Kennedy’s son because the other guy I was with was Native American and Jude had been born with dark, coarse hair and a darker complexion.”
Holy Fuck!!! I was sure she saw my eyes bug out of my head at her admission. “Are you saying Kennedy doesn’t know that the two of you don’t share that boy’s parentage? Are you seriously telling me Kennedy is raising another man’s son?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
Lark looked down at her hands for a moment before she looked up at me, indignation apparent. “I didn’t tell Kennedy the truth because he promised to be there for us and raise Jude with me. I needed the help physically, financially, and emotionally, so I let him believe the lie. Without Kennedy, my son wouldn’t have a father, and I don’t know how we’d have survived.” It took a minute for me to actually process her revelation.
I was immediately angrier than I’d ever been in my life. I couldn’t hold my tongue. “So, you not only seduced my boyfriend, but you led him to believe a child you had by another man was his? Does this boy even resemble Kennedy at all?” I snapped at her.
She moved her hands to her eyes and popped out contact lenses. Her eyes had been brown when I first looked into them, but after she removed the contacts, I saw they were bright grey, shocking the shit out of me.
“No. Judah doesn’t look like Kennedy at all. When his eyes changed from the grey-blue to brown, I started wearing colored contacts and using self-tanner, so our skin tone would be similar, plus I tint my hair a darker brown than it is naturally. I’ve always been an outdoors person, as are my parents, so we tanned easily. As I’ve gotten older and moved up here, I switched to a self-tanner instead of baking in the backyard. As for my eyes, well Kennedy never looked into my eyes the one time we were together, so he never noticed the color was different then than it is now.
“Once Jude was born, and I came back to Spokane to finish my degree, I was able to fool Kennedy into believing Jude just took brown eyes and darker skin after my side. He wasn’t around during the pregnancy because I was in Mississippi with my family, but he did fly down after Jude was born,” she further explained before she looked out the window again.
Lark continued after a moment. “Ken told me when I was ready to come back to school, he’d pay for an apartment for Jude and me near his, and we’d share custody, which is how it’s been this whole time, except Kennedybought Jude and me a house when he bought one for himself. The man doesn’t really notice me when we interact, so I seriously doubt he’s recognized the changes in my appearance over the years.” At that point, she was talking, and I wasn’t sure if she even knew I was still in the room.
“I know I should have been honest with him, Mr. Marsh, but I had a son without a father, and there was a very wealthy man who was willing to take responsibility and step up to the plate. I know how it sounds, and I’m willing to accept your disdain and judgment because of it, but the fact remains—blood isn’t what makes up a family. For all intents and purposes, Kennedy is Jude’s father. Eventually, Kennedy is going to need you,” she stated, finally looking in my direction.
I was beyond ready for her to leave. “Miss Nutter, Kennedy gave up needing me a long time ago. As a matter of fact, it was the day I walked in on him fucking you.” It was cold and harsh, but it was the truth.
She sighed. “I can never express how sincerely sorry I am for that incident, Mr. Marsh, but the fact remains Kennedy’s parents, Lily and KC, are going to fight us for custody. They want to take Jude away from us because they believe I’m a whore and Kennedy’s gay, thus making us unfit as parents in their opinions. My only defense to keep my son will be a paternity test, and when it comes back that Kennedy isn’t his birth father, I worry about how he’ll take the news. You see, he has certain problems, and if he finds out the truth… Well, when he finds out Jude isn’t his son, I truly worry what he’ll do.”
I stood from my chair and began pacing as I always did when I was faced with something I couldn’t or didn’t want to handle. This was something I definitely couldn’t control. Why?Why had this woman laid this problem at my doorstep? My life was dull, but it was mine. Suddenly, I was thrust back into Kennedy Catrelle’s orbit. It was the last place I wanted to be but fuck if I didn’t still love him.
I wanted to wish her good luck and toss her bony ass out of my apartment, but all I could think of was the look in Kennedy’s eyes when he told me about his son. He loved the boy, and when Lark explained the truth of Jude’s parentage, I could only imagine the repercussions. I didn’t have it in me to let him be blindsided. She had me over a fucking barrel, goddamn her.
“I need some time to think about this, and you need to consider talking to Rory. You need to tell her the truth because when you tell Kennedy the truth, he’s going to need her to keep him sane. They’re close.” I was confident I was right on that count because of what she’d done for him regarding getting me into Catnip Publishing. Candace had even suggested as much.
Lark dried her eyes and looked at me. “I know they are, but he loves you. I’m not trying to push you into anything, Mr. Marsh, but he’s going to need you. If you have any love in your heart for him at all, you need to work things out with him. I think I can buy some time with his parents, but when the shit hits the fan, Kennedy will head to a bar. He will start drinking again, and all of it—your break-up, my son, the lies I’ve told—all of it will send him back into the abyss. I’ll disappear and never bother the two of you again, but if you still love him as I think you do, be there for him.”
She stood from her seat and started for my front door. Once she arrived at it, she turned to me with tears on her face. “I’m so very sorry for the mess I’ve made. I’ll do my best to clean it up, I promise, but I’m begging you to take care of Kennedy. He’s a good man, and he deserves to have someone love him and look after him as he’s done for Judah and me.”
Without waiting for a response, she let herself out and left me alone in the living room of my sanctuary with a hell of a burden and a fuck-ton of guilt. The guilt wasn’t mine—it was hers. Unfortunately, I felt the pressure of it as I pondered her confessions.
I loved nothing more than the memories of taking care of Kennedy, and she was right. When she told him Jude wasn’t his son, someone needed to be there to pick up the pieces. Could it be me? Could I get over my heartbreak and be there for Kennedy? That wasn’t something I could have fathomed two weeks ago. Now? It was the great unknown.
Later that night after Lark Nutter’s dramatic exit, I called Candace. When she answered on the second ring, I didn’t wait for a greeting. “I need Rory Cross’ cell. Don’t ask me why. I need to talk to her,” I announced.
“Well, hello to you, too, sunshine. What’s going on?” Candace responded.
I didn’t acknowledge her question. “I need to speak with Kennedy. I need to get his phone number from Rory, and I don’t want to go through the fucking switchboard at Catnip Publishing on the weekend.” I knew I was rude to her, but I still wasn’t exactly pleased with her after the shit that had gone down regarding my book, so all niceties were out the window.
“Crapola, what’s wrong? I have Kennedy’s cell, you know. Rory gave it to me in case you wanted to talk to him,” she offered.
“Good, good. May I have it?” I asked, tamping down my temper because my personal—love—life should have been the least of her or Rory Cross’ concerns. Candace, butting into things with the help of Rory Cross, was something to think about another time.
“Thornton…” she began.
“No, Candace. You set this in motion by sending me to Catnip with no warning of what I was walking into. You don’t get to bully me into giving you details. I need to speak with Kennedy, so please just give me the fucking number!” I yelled at her. She finally did, and I hung up on her without a word. I took a deep breath and sent Kennedy a text.
I’m ready to talk. Let me know your schedule. TM
I was exhausted, so I went to bed. It had been a long fucking day.
I woke on Saturday morning when I heard my phone chiming next to me. I rubbed my eyes, still trying to process what had awakened me. After it sunk in, I sat up in bed and grabbed it, pushing the necessary buttons to get to the text. It was from Kennedy.
I was happily surprised to hear from you. I’d like to talk as well. I have two tickets to the Bulldogs’ baseball game today, and my son has a birthday party so he can’t go. Would you like to go? K
I took a deep breath and prayed I wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life.
I’ll meet you at the park. Tell me when and which entrance. T
I heard back from him immediately with a place and time, and I sent a response I’d be there. I took a shower, trying to calm my nerves because I was about to do something I never thought I’d do. I was going to meet the only man I ever loved in my life for what seemed to be a date. I’d told myself on the drive to San Diego all those years ago that I’d never speak with him again, but there I was, standing in my closet worrying about what to wear.
I finally settled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I’d turned on the news and found it was supposed to be a warm day, so I decided it was casual enough without being sloppy. Why I cared? I wasn’t going to dwell.
I tried to fix my light brown, curly hair, but it wasn’t cooperating, so I pulled on a Gonzaga Bulldogs’ baseball cap which had seen better days, but it used to be my dad’s and I cherished it. I’d called a cab, and when it showed up, I told myself I was ready. There really was nothing worse than lying to oneself, but I took a deep breath and assured myself things would be just fine. Kennedy Catrelle and I could be friends.
I found the man in question pacing in front of the campus entrance near the field. He was in jeans and a t-shirt as well, and he appeared to be very nervous. He also seemed to be just as gorgeous as the first day I laid eyes on him. He was wearing the same style aviator sunglasses I’d seen on him that first day, and I had to struggle not to let the memory cloud my judgment regarding how our day would go. I wanted to dip a toe into the water of whether we could be friends because if Lark planned to blindside him with the news regarding Jude, I would be there for him, though only God knew why because I had every reason to tell him to go fuck himself.
After I paid the cab, I walked over to where he’d stopped on the sidewalk. His back was turned to me as he looked around, and I took the opportunity to observe his form from the rear. I’d always admired the view from the back, and time hadn’t changed it much. If anything, he looked even better.
“Kennedy,” I greeted, alerting him to my presence.
He turned around, surprise evident on his handsome face, and he pulled off his sunglasses, looking at me with those bright cerulean eyes. “Thank you for coming to meet me, Thornton. I was afraid I’d be listening to the game over the speakers because I wasn’t going in without you,” he replied as he handed me a ticket.
I saw we’d be sitting on the main level at right center. They were decent seats. “So, why couldn’t your son come?” I asked, trying not to act too interested.
He laughed heartily, and I felt it wrap around me like a warm blanket, just as it always had. “He’s going to a birthday party. He was all worried because it’s his first boy/girl party. He likes the little girl whose birthday it is, and we had a hell of a talk last night. I had to explain to him about me being gay. I’m pretty sure I’ll catch hell from his mother tonight when she drops him off because I was as vague as possible. Anyway, how have you been since the last time I saw you?”
I felt the ice around my heart beginning to melt, and I wasn’t sure if I was happy or mad about it. “I had friends over, whether I wanted them or not. So, um, are you and your son close?” I asked as we made our way through the line to get into the stadium.
“God, he’s a great kid. I mean, he just seems to take everything in stride, ya know. His mom and I are friends. Good friends, but not like you thought, Thornton. I was never romantically entangled with Lark. It wasn’t like that okay? I know… Jesus, I know how badly I fucked up, but it was never anything more than friends,” Kennedy explained. I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood to hear it, but he appeared to need to say it, so I nodded and he continued.
“Anyway, when she called me after and told me she was pregnant, I sucked it up and tried to be a good dad. Unfortunately, I… Well, let’s just have fun today and skip all of that other shit for now. So, the Caine Winslow books? How’d ya come up with those? Your mind always fascinated me,” he remarked with a curious smile.
I began explaining to him how I’d developed a love for old mystery/suspense movies while I was in college in San Diego. “I wrote a rough version of the first three chapters of my first book for a creative writing symposium my senior year. My advisor recommended I pursue finishing the story, and when I asked my friend, Candace, to look it over, she sent it to her father. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had a mystery series on my hands that ended up being quite successful.” Kennedy nodded with a smile.
After we got inside the stadium, we went to the nearest concession booth where we both ordered hot dogs and soda. “Thornton, you can have a beer if you want,” he told me as he paid for our orders.
“Honestly? I recently survived a hell of a hangover. I’m fine with a pop.”
We took our food and drinks, and we ambled through the crowd to find our seats. Once we were settled, we both ate our hot dogs, and as I looked across the field to the bleachers, I smiled. “Remember the time we skipped out on classes and sat in the bleachers? It was cold as shit,” I commented.
He laughed. “It was like forty degrees. We were so fuckin’ eager for spring, we showed up in t-shirts and spring jackets like two idiots. When it started raining, I remember us hustlin’ our asses outta here and getting a cab home. If memory serves me, we warmed up in a… Yeah, I remember it.” Oh, I remembered it, too.
“Hey, there are still bleacher seats for the game. Let’s ditch and go,” Kennedy called as I pulled on a pair of boxers and jeans. He was in the kitchen of our apartment, and I smelled the coffee.
“I thought you had a meeting with your advisor this afternoon,” I responded as I tucked my shirt into my pants.
I walked down the hallway holding my shoes and socks. Kennedy was standing in the kitchen buttering toast for me, and he’d never looked sexier.
I dropped my shoes and socks on the floor and walked over to where he stood, pulling him into my arms. I kissed him gently because he’d risen before me that morning, and I woke to an empty bed, which wasn’t a surprise.
“What time did you get up?” I asked him as I pulled back from the kiss. He laughed and shoved a piece of toast in my mouth.
“After I fucked you well and good, you fell asleep. I tried to doze, but then it occurred to me what was wrong with my coding for that program I have to write. I got up and worked on it. Came back to bed about four. Now, the game? Come on. We never ditch. It’s like we’re not normal. We can get tickets for seven bucks,” he taunted as he kissed my neck. He knew, the bastard, I couldn’t say no to him regarding anything.
“Fine. What time?” I sighed, giving up any attempts at a protest. Kennedy laughed, happy with the victory secured over my willpower.
“Meet me here at noon. The game’s at 1:35. We’ll have plenty of time. We won’t regret this, baby. This is what we’re supposed to do. We’re college students,” he told me with a slap to my ass.
We went to the game, and at the seventh inning stretch, it began sprinkling. We ignored it. By the bottom of the eighth, it was raining buckets, and the temperature had dropped twenty degrees, so we ran out of the stadium to grab a cab home.
We were both soaked and freezing, so after we peeled off our wet clothes and spread them to dry, Kennedy suggested a hot bath to warm up. He made our cocoa, and the rest of the night was incredible. It would only be a few months later when we blew apart.
I turned to him and smiled. “I remember it well. There were even mini marshmallows in the cocoa.”
He smiled at me, and when the “National Anthem” began, we both stood and sang along. When we sat back down, I remembered what Lark had told me as the color guard walked off the field. Jude’s biological father was a soldier.
I genuinely wondered if she’d ever tell Kennedy or her son the truth. They wouldn’t hear it from me, but if she did finally come clean, I was determined to be there to support Kennedy. I was going to put aside my pain from our past because what he would be facing would be more devastating than anything I could even imagine.
We gingerly walked down memory lane for a while avoiding anything related to those last days we spent together, and I could see in his eyes that he still cared deeply for me. After the game ended with the home team winning by one run, I stood at the street curb with him. I owed him a piece of truth, and I couldn’t hold my tongue.
“You were honest with me last week, so I feel I owe you honesty in return. I truly hate what happened that day, Kennedy, but I’ve never… I still love you. You’re my one who got away.” My heart hammered in my chest as I said the words.
Just then a cab slammed to a stop in front of me, and before he had a chance to respond, I climbed in and closed the door, giving the driver my address. I didn’t know what Kennedy would do with the information, but he deserved someone to tell him the truth. So, I did.
To be continued…