Roger managed to escape the house without Justin coming downstairs.
When my roommate finally emerged later that afternoon, his mood was unreadable. He lifted Bea off the floor and tickled her belly with his hair as he spoke, “What do you feel like for dinner tonight?”
“Anything is fine.”
Carrying Bea over to the cupboard, he scratched the overgrown stubble on his chin. “I have to figure out what we have.” He glanced over to the trash bin, taking notice of the Maggie’s Coffeehouse cup. “Did you go out for coffee?”
“No. Roger brought it this afternoon.”
His jaw tightened, and his hand froze on the last item he was touching as he pondered that. “He was here?”
“Yes.” I sighed. “We need to talk.”
Justin closed the cupboard. “Alright.”
Just say it.
“Roger asked if I wanted to go to the jazz festival with him this weekend. I told him yes.”
He blinked a few times. “You’re going on a date with him…”
“It’s a fucking date, Amelia.”
“I explained to him that I’m not ready to date.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re not looking to date. You’re just looking for a casual fuck.”
“It’s just an outing.”
He raised his voice. “It’s not just an outing. He’s a guy. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He wants to fuck you.”
Justin was really starting to piss me off. My instinct was to scream at him, but I stopped myself. Instead, I just looked into his eyes—really looked into them. “What are you doing?”
I hoped he saw the pain and frustration I was feeling through my expression. Even though it was a simple question, I knew he couldn’t exactly answer me. It was complicated. I don’t even think even he understood why he was acting this way. But it had to stop.
Then, something in his eyes shifted. It was as if realization finally struck as to how unreasonable he was being. He didn’t want something more with me, but he didn’t want anyone else to have me either. He couldn’t have it both ways. It wasn’t fair, and I think in that moment it finally clicked.
“I don’t know,” he whispered, staring vacantly into space. “I don’t know why it makes me so mad. I’m confused. Fuck. I’m…I’m sorry.” He was still holding Bea and handed her to me before walking over to the window to stare out at the ocean.
I spoke to his back. “I was going to ask you if you could watch Bea, but I think it’s better if I take her with me.”
“No.” He turned around, his hands in his pockets. “I’ll watch her. You deserve to get out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. Thank you.”
That night, we ate in silence.
The Friday evening before my Saturday date, I decided to go watch Justin at Sandy’s.
Aside from playing with Bea, he’d kept to himself since our altercation about Roger. I guess a part of me was curious as to whether his mood somehow carried over to his performance.
Bea was asleep in her carrier when we arrived at the restaurant. Tonight they had Justin playing on the outdoor stage. He didn’t notice me sitting in a far corner.
It was a breezy night. A few napkins flew off some tables, and Justin’s hair was blowing around a little in the wind.
When he started a cover of Daughters by John Mayer, it squeezed at my heart because I wondered if he chose that song because of the situation with Bea and Adam. I also wondered if he was thinking of her. Most of the songs he’d chosen tonight were slow and melancholy, so much so that Bea slept right through them.
His first intermission finally rolled around. He still hadn’t noticed us. He wasn’t as observant of the audience tonight in general, seeming very much in his own head. He usually engaged much more with the crowd.
Just as I was about to get up and announce that we were there, an attractive young redhead made her way over to the stage. I watched for several minutes as she flirted shamelessly with him. My stomach was in knots. At one point, she handed him a piece of paper, which he put in his pocket. Whether he accepted it to be polite or intended to use it, I had no idea. Even though this type of thing probably happened every night, it still felt like I’d been sucker punched and killed any desire I had to stay for the next set.
Bea and I left, and Justin never even knew we’d been there.
The sound of punching could be heard coming from Justin’s exercise room. As I got ready for my sort-of-date with Roger, it occurred to me that the last time Justin beat the shit out of the Everlast punching bag like that was the night of my date with Dr. Danger last summer. This felt like deja vu.
I stood in the doorway and watched him attack the bag until he noticed me and stopped.
Out of breath, he said, “What time are you leaving again?”
“In about forty-five minutes. I just wanted to make sure you were all set to watch Bea.”
He wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Yeah. I’ll shower and be downstairs in time for you to leave.”
Wanting to make sure she had a full stomach before I left, I nursed Bea while Justin was taking his shower. She ended up falling asleep, so I put her in her crib before checking myself out one last time in the mirror. The jazz festival was a casual event, so I wore a simple tank top with a denim jacket and flowy floral skirt.
Back downstairs, I was waiting for Justin so that I could give him some last minute instructions. I started loading a couple of bottles of pumped milk into the refrigerator when I heard his voice behind me.
“So what do I need to know?”
When I turned around, Justin was leaning against the counter, looking gorgeous. A few strands of his wet hair were falling over his forehead. He hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt. My eyes couldn’t help traveling down to his cut abs. His thumbs were hooked into the belt loops at his waistline. While his jeans were zipped, they were unbuttoned at the top. I imagined what it would be like to lick a line straight down that happy trail. On top of that, he was barefoot.
I had some instructions to give him, yet I’d forgotten them all. My mind went completely blank.
“Not to steal your own words from you, Amelia…but my eyes are up here.”
Feeling embarrassed, I simply said, “I know.”
He wore a smug grin. “So…answer me. What do I need to know while you’re gone?”
“Um…I have two bottles of milk that I pumped. They’re sitting in the door.”
“I won’t drink them.” He winked.
“She should have a serving of rice cereal when she wakes up. That will help keep her stomach full while I’m out in case the two bottles aren’t enough. I literally just fed her before she went down.”
He crossed his arms. “Alright…anything else?”
“You should change her diaper as soon as she wakes up, too.”
I tilted my head. “Any questions for me?”
“How late are you staying out?”
“Probably not more than a few hours. I should be back by eight.”
When he didn’t say anything further, I asked, “Any more questions?”
He was silent, but his stare was burning into mine. “Yes, I do in fact,” he finally said.