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Beneath This Man, Page 2

Jodi Ellen Malpas

Chapter 2

  As Lusso comes into view, I start hyperventilating. The overwhelming desire to open the door and jump out of Sam's moving car is hard to resist. He glances at me, an obvious anxious look on his cute face, as if he senses my intention to bolt.

  Once we're parked outside the gates, Sam comes around to collect me, keeping a firm grip on me as he guides us towards the pedestrian gates where Drew is waiting.

  He's dressed in his usual finery, all suited and booted, with perfectly styled black hair, but he doesn't make me feel uncomfortable anymore. I'm more than shocked when he takes over Sam's hold of me, though, pulling me into him and squeezing me hard. This is the first actual contact I've ever had with the man. To say he was stand-offish would be a major understatement.

  'Ava, thank you for coming. ' he says, holding me in his tight clinch.

  I say nothing because I really don't know what to say. They're truly worried about Jesse, and I feel guilty and even more anxious now. He releases me and offers a small, reassuring smile. It does nothing to reassure me, though.

  Sam points up the road. 'Here's the big guy. '

  We turn to see John pull up in his black Range Rover, skidding to an abrupt halt behind Sam's car. He slides his big body out, removes his wraparound sunglasses and nods in greeting. This is John's usual wordless acknowledgment. Good Lord he looks pissed. I've only ever got a brief glimpse of his eyes - they are always concealed behind those glasses, even at night or inside, but the sun is shining now, so why he has taken them off is beyond me. Maybe he wants everyone to know how pissed he is. It's working. He looks formidable.

  I take a deep breath and punch the gate code in, pushing it open for the guys. I wish this was as far as I had to go. Drew gestures for me to lead the way, ever the gentleman, so I pick my feet up and start my walk across the car park in silence. I see Jesse's car and notice his window is still smashed. My stomach flips. We enter the marble foyer of Lusso quietly, except for the thumping of our footsteps. My insides start churning, my breathing speeding up. So much has happened in this place. Lusso was my first major accomplishment in design. My first sexual encounter with Jesse happened here, as did my final encounter with him. It all started and ended here.

  Clive looks up from his big, curved marble desk as we approach, his expression screaming tiresome.

  'Clive,' I say on a forced smile.

  He eyes me, and then the three ominous beings accompanying me before his eyes settle on me again. 'Hello, Ava. How are you?'

  'I'm good, Clive. ' I lie. I am far from good. 'You?'

  'Yes, I'm fine. ' He's weary, no doubt after having a few heated encounters with the three men escorting me, and judging by his cold reception towards me, they were not pleasant.

  'Clive, I would be grateful if you would let us up to the penthouse to check on Jesse. ' I load my voice with lashings of confidence, but I feel anything but. My heart is speeding up by the second.

  'Ava, I have told your friends here, I could lose my job if I allow that. ' He flicks a cautious gaze to the boys' again.

  'I know, Clive, but they're worried. ' I say, sounding completely detached. 'They just want to check he's okay, and then they'll be leaving. ' I try with graciousness as I know Drew, Sam and John would have been a lot less than that.

  'Ava, I have been up and knocked on Mr Ward's door and got no response. We've checked some of the CCTV, and I have not seen him leave or return on my watch. Security cannot check five days of continuous footage. I have told your friends this. If I let you up, it's more than my job is worth. '

  I'm stunned at Clive's sudden turnabout in concierge etiquette. If only he had been this professional and stubborn when I came to see Jesse on Sunday, then we might never have had the altercation we did. But then I would still be blissfully unaware of Jesse's little problem.

  I feel Sam press up against my back. 'Let us up, for fuck sake!' he yells over my shoulder.

  I flinch slightly, but I can't blame him for being frustrated. I'm feeling pretty frustrated myself. I just want to get them past Clive and go. I can feel the walls closing in on all sides of me. I can see Jesse carrying me across the marble floor in his arms. All of the images swamping my brain are now all the more clearer for being here.

  I turn and see John with a face like thunder and his hand on Sam's shoulder, his way of telling Sam to calm down. I didn't want to do this, but tempers are fraying. 'Clive, I would hate to resort to blackmail. ' I say tightly, turning back to face him. He looks at me in confusion, and I can see his brain ticking over, trying to think of what I could possibly blackmail him with. 'I would hate for anyone to find out about Mr Gomez's regular visitors, or Mr Holland's aversion to a Thai girl or two. ' I watch as Clive's face screws up into a contortion of defeatism.

  'Ava, you play nasty, my girl. '

  'You leave me no other choice, Clive. ' I spit.

  He shakes his head and motions us on to the elevator while muttering insults under his breath.

  'Brilliant!' Sam chants as they make their way over to the penthouse lift.

  I don't have any idea how it happens, but I find my feet lifting and taking small steps behind them, following them to the elevator. 'Jesse might have changed the code. ' I say to their backs.

  Sam swings around, looking alarmed.

  I shrug. 'If he has, then there is no way of getting up there. '

  All of a sudden, I'm stood in front of the elevator, taking a deep breath and punching in the developer code. There's a chorus of exhales as the doors open and they all get in. I stand on the outside and look up at Sam, and he smiles, jerking his head mildly, encouraging me to board with them.

  I do.

  I get in the elevator, Sam and Drew flanking me on one side, John on the other. I enter the code again. We travel up in an uncomfortable silence, and as the lift doors open, we're faced with the double doors that lead into Jesse's penthouse.

  Sam is the first to exit the lift, striding towards the doors and jiggling the handle calmly before he starts hammering on the door like a madman. 'Jesse! Open the fucking door!'

  Drew and John approach and pull him away, and then John tries the door himself, but it doesn't budge. I can't help but think I might have been the last person to exit the penthouse. I remember making a point of slamming the door as hard as I could.

  'Sam, mate, he might not even be here. ' Drew soothes.

  'Where the hell is he then?' Sam yells.

  'Oh, he's in there,' John rumbles. 'And the mother fucker has been drowning in his sorrows for too long now. He's got a business to run. '

  I'm still stood in the elevator when the doors start to shut, snapping me out of my dazed state. My natural reflex has my arm flinging up to stop them closing before I step out into the penthouse foyer. I know I said that I would get them up here and leave, I know I should just go, but seeing Sam in such a state has me even more worried, and John's words are prickling me. Drowning in his sorrows or drowning in vodka? If I stay, am I going to be faced with drunken, raging Jesse again?

  Drew knocks on the door calmly. It's laughable. If Sam's relentless hammering doesn't get a response, then I doubt Drew's gentlemanly tapping will.

  He steps away from the door and drags Sam over to me. 'Ava, have you tried calling him?' Drew asks.

  'No!' I blurt. Why would I do that? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to talk to me.

  'Can you try?' Sam asks pleadingly.

  I shake my head. 'He wouldn't answer, Sam. '

  'Ava, will you just try?' Drew pushes.

  I reluctantly get my phone from my bag and pull up my contact list, dialing Jesse and holding my phone to my ear while Sam and Drew watch nervously. I'm not sure what on earth I'm going to say if he answers.

  Drew's head snaps towards the door. 'I can hear it ringing. ' He returns to me, obviously waiting for me to speak down the line, but it goes to voicemail. My heart constricts. He doesn't want to talk to me. I go
to re-board the elevator, the hurt enflamed by his rejection of my call, but then an almighty crash sounds out around the foyer.

  Sam, Drew and I all whip our heads around to the double doors leading into Jesse's penthouse and find John on the other side, surrounded by a splintered doorframe. He nods at us, and Sam and Drew fly forward into the penthouse. I follow tentatively behind them and the only thoughts going through my mind are of my last discovery here. Why am I walking this way?

  Turn around! Get in the elevator! Go, NOW.

  But I don't. I stand in the doorway and from what I can see, nothing has moved. Everything still seems to be in place. I step a little bit further into the open area and hear the guys running around upstairs and down, searching for Jesse, and as the bottom of the stairs comes into view, I notice the empty bottle of vodka is still on the console table. Then I see the terrace doors wide open. I take cautious steps towards them, still hearing the guys running around the penthouse, doors opening and closing, his name being called.

  I, however, am being pulled towards the terrace. I know why. It's the same magnetism that pulls me towards Jesse every time he is near, except do I want to see what is beyond the threshold of those doors? I know it won't be my Jesse. Do I want to face him again when he is in such a terrible state, when he is so vicious and hateful? No, of course I don't, but I can't seem to turn away either.

  As I approach the doors, I try to prepare my eyes for a drunken mess, sprawled across one of the sun loungers, clenching a vodka bottle, but instead, I'm greeted by Jesse's naked, unconscious body face down on the decking.

  I choke on my heart and my pulse starts pounding in my ears. 'He's here!' I scream, running towards his lifeless body and throwing my bag down as I collapse by his side.

  I grip his big shoulders to try and turn him over. I don't know where I get my strength from, but I manage it, yanking him over so his head is cradled in my lap. I start desperately smoothing my hands over his bearded face, noticing his hand still swollen and bruised, with dried blood all over his knuckles.

  'Jesse, wake up. Please, wake up. ' I plead, giving into hysteria as I look at the man I love, unconscious and non-responsive, lying in my lap. Tears pour down my face and spill onto his cheeks. 'Jesse, please. ' I desperately run my hands over his face, his chest, his hair. He looks hollow, he's lost weight and his jaw is covered in a week's worth of stubble.

  'Mother fucker. ' John rumbles when he finds me on the terrace with Jesse supported in my lap.

  'I don't know if he's breathing. ' I sob, looking up through glazed eyes to the mountain of a man stalking towards me. Why haven't I checked this yet? It's the first rule in first aid. I grab his wrist, but my shaking hands won't allow me to maintain a stable hold to establish a pulse.

  'Here,' John gestures, kneeling down and taking Jesse's arm from me.

  I look up and see Sam skid to a halt at the door. 'What the. . . '

  Tears are invading me eyes uncontrollably and everything has gone into slow motion. Sam makes his way over and lowers himself down next to me. He starts rubbing my arm.

  'I'll call an ambulance. ' Drew says urgently as he finds us all crowded around Jesse's motionless form.

  'Hold up,' John barks harshly, leaning over Jesse and pulling his dried lips apart, inspecting every part of his limp body. 'The stupid mother fucker. He's drunk himself into a fucking coma. '

  I look at Sam and Drew, but I can't fathom their reactions to John's conclusion. How does he know this? He could be half dead for all John knows. He certainly looks it. 'I think we should call an ambulance. ' I push between sniffles.

  John looks at me sympathetically. I've never seen anything but a completely impassive expression on his hard face, so the way he is looking at me now, all sorrowful and like I'm a little naive, is strangely comforting.

  'Ava, girl. I've seen him like this, more than once. He needs his bed and some care to get him through this. He doesn't need a doctor. Not that sort, anyway. ' John shakes his head.

  Oh? How many times is more than once? John sounds like he knows the drill. He's not at all concerned by the condition of Jesse lying in my lap, whereas I am a hysterical wreck. Sam and Drew are not all that good either. Have they seen him like this before?

  John clucks my cheek and hoists himself up off the floor. I've never heard him say so much. The big, silent giant turns out to be the big, friendly giant, but I still wouldn't want to cross him.

  'What happened to his hand?' Sam asks when he clocks the bloodied, bruised mess.

  It really looks terrible and probably needs looking at. 'He smashed the window on his car,' I sniffle, and they all look at me. 'When we rowed at Kate's. ' I add, almost ashamed.

  'Should we get him into his bed?' Drew asks timidly.

  'Sofa. ' John instructs. We're back to a few words.

  I watch as Sam gets up and collects an empty vodka bottle from under the sun lounger. He looks at it in complete disgust and dramatically smashes it on the side of a raised planter. I flinch at the loud noise that echoes around us, but more significantly, Jesse flinches too.

  'Jesse?' I shake him slightly. 'Jesse, please, open your eyes. '

  Sam, Drew and John all crowd around us and Jesse's arm starts to rise above his head, flapping around in thin air. I clasp it and place it back by his side, but no sooner have I released it, he brings it back up in front of my face, mumbling inaudibly and thrashing his legs about.

  'He's looking for you, girl. ' John says quietly.

  I throw a shocked glance at John, and he nods at me. He's looking for me? I reach for his hand again and guide it to my face, spreading his palm against my cheek. He instantly calms. His cold palm on my face offers me little comfort, but it seems to soothe him, so I hold it there and let him feel me, horrified that he has, quite possibly, been out here on the terrace for days, unclothed and unconscious. It might be mild in the May daytime, but nightfall brings cooler temperatures. Why did I walk out on him? I should have stayed and calmed him down, not walk away.

  'I'll go and get some bedding from upstairs. ' Drew says, heading back into the penthouse.

  'Shall we?' John prompts, nodding at Jesse on the floor.

  I reluctantly release Jesse's hand and let Sam and John flank him on either side to coordinate a lift. As he's lifted from my lap, I pull myself up and run ahead to make sure their path is clear. I free the entire leather corner couch of a million cushions - all courtesy of me - so it looks more like a bed when I'm done.

  As Drew comes down the stairs with his hands full of blankets, Sam and John wait patiently with Jesse's naked weight spread evenly between them. I take a velvet throw from Drew and lay it over the cold leather, and then move back so John and Sam can lower him onto the couch before propping his head up on some pillows and laying another throw over his naked body. I drop to my knees at his side, smoothing my hand down the side of his stubbled face.

  Regret washes over me, tears starting to fall again. I could have stopped this. If I hadn't stormed out, he wouldn't be in this state now. I should have stayed, calmed him down and sobered him up. I hate myself.

  'Ava, are you okay?' I hear Drew's quiet voice over my suppressed sobs, and a hand starts rubbing my back.

  I sniffle and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. 'I'm fine, sorry. '

  'Don't apologise. ' Sam sighs.

  I lean over Jesse and rest my lips on his forehead, leaving them to linger for a few seconds, and as I lift myself from the floor, his arm shoots out from under the blanket and grabs me. 'Ava?' His voice is cracked and hoarse, and his eyes open slightly, searching around the room and when they find mine, all I can see are empty pits of nothing, his usual green, addictive eyes bordering on black.

  'Hey,' I place my hand over his on my arm.

  He tries to lift his head from the pillow, but I don't have to reprimand him. Before I have a chance to push him back down, he gives up trying. 'I'm so sorry. ' he murmur
s pitifully, his hand starting to pat its way up my arm to find my face again. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. . . '

  'Stop. ' I whisper on a quivering voice, helping his hand to reach my face. 'Please, just stop. ' I turn my lips into his hand and kiss his palm and when I turn to face him again, his eyes are closed. He's gone again.

  I take his hand and place it on the blanket, then make sure he is tucked in well, before pulling myself up and turning to see Sam, Drew and John, all standing silently watching me tend to him. I had completely forgotten I wasn't alone with Jesse, but I'm not in the least bit embarrassed.

  'I'll make some coffee. ' Sam breaks the silence and heads for the kitchen, John and Drew following.

  I take another glance at Jesse, my instinct wanting me to crawl onto the sofa and snuggle up to him, stroke him and soothe him. I might just do that, but first I need to talk to the guys. I follow them into the kitchen and find Sam and Drew picking up barstools and John heaving the freezer up from the floor. It wasn't like this when I left on Sunday. Jesse clearly flew into a rage.

  'I've got to shoot,' Drew says regretfully, placing the last stool upright. 'I'm taking Victoria out. ' He looks a little embarrassed.

  'You go, bud,' Sam pushes as he hunts for the mugs. 'I'll call you later. '

  'Last cupboard on the right, top shelf. ' I give Sam the directions to the mugs and he turns, looking at me quizzically.

  I shrug.

  'I'll be off then. Speak to you tomorrow. ' Drew says.

  I offer a small smile and John does his signature nod as Drew leaves us to it and Sam finishes the coffees.

  He transports three mugs of black coffee to the island where John and I have taken our seats. 'We won't risk the milk, that's if he's even got any. Black okay?' Sam asks.

  I nod and help myself, John following suit, putting an incredible four sugars into his coffee. I know there is no milk, but it would be pointless sharing this.

  'So,' Sam begins. 'Now we've found him, what are we going to do with him?' he jokes.

  Carefree Sam is back and it's quite a relief. Seeing him so fraught had only fuelled my own worry, and as it turns out, he had every reason to be anxious. I inwardly shudder at the thought of Jesse alone and suffering for the last five days. How much longer would he have been lying there if I had refused to come? They would have surely phoned the police.

  John pipes up. 'Everything is running smoothly at The Manor. We don't have to worry about that. He'll be back to normal after nursing a week long hangover. '

  'Doesn't he need to go to rehab?' I ask. 'Or therapy, I don't know. ' I have no idea how these things work.

  John shakes his head and puts his glasses back on, and I start to wonder about his relationship with Jesse. I thought he was just an employee, but he seems to be the one in the know about all of this.

  'No rehab. ' John states firmly. 'He's not an alcoholic in the classic sense of the word. He's not obsessed with alcohol, Ava. He drank to lighten his foul mood, to fill a gap. Once he starts, he can't stop. ' He offers me a small smile. 'You helped, girl. '

  'What did I do?' I ask defensively. I don't know why I sound so hurt by John's statement. He has just told me I helped the situation, but I can't help feeling like he's insinuating that I might have helped with the relapse as well.

  Sam places his hand over mine on the worktop. 'His attention was focused elsewhere. '

  'But then I left him. ' I say quietly. I'm just confirming what they are both thinking. We were not together in the couple sense for me to leave him, though. Nothing had been established as to where we both stood. We never did get to lay our cards on the table or sort this shit out.

  'It's not your fault, Ava. ' Sam reassures me firmly. 'You weren't to know. '

  'He never told me,' I whisper. 'If I had known, things would have been different. ' I'm still defending myself. I'm not sure how things would have been different if Jesse had told me, or if I had worked it out myself. I know I never want to see Jesse like he was last Sunday again. If I leave now, will that happen again? Or I could stay and help him, but would I be doing that out of guilt or because I love him? He might not even want me here. He was so mad at me. My head is a jumbled mess. I prop my elbows on the counter and plant my head in my hands. What the hell am I supposed to do?

  'Ava?' John's deep rumble pulls my head back up. 'He's a good man. '

  'What made him drink? How bad is it?' I ask. I know he's a good man deep down, but if I know more I might understand better.

  'Who knows?' John muses, and then looks at me. 'Don't be thinking he was smashed all day every day. He wasn't. How he is right now, that's just because of misery, not because he's an alcoholic. '

  'And he didn't drink when I turned up?' I can't believe that.

  John laughs. 'He didn't, although you have brought out some other rather nasty qualities in him, girl. '

  I frown, but I know exactly what John's talking about, and so does Sam by the look on his cheeky face. I've been told Jesse is usually quite a laidback type, but I have only ever seen snippets of a laidback Jesse Ward, and that was mostly when he was getting his own way. Most of the time, all I've seen is an unreasonable control freak. He even admitted himself that he's only like it with me. . . lucky me.

  What would they be faced with if I was to walk away again? 'I'll stay, but if he comes round and he doesn't want me here, I will be calling one of you two. ' I warn.

  Sam visibly sags. 'That won't happen, Ava. '

  John nods. 'I need to get myself back to The Manor and run that mother fucker's business. ' He gets himself up from the barstool. 'Ava, you need my number. Where's your phone?'

  I look around for my bag and realise that I've left it on the terrace, so I jump up and leave Sam and John in the kitchen while I go to fetch it.

  On my way back to the kitchen, I see Jesse is still out for the count. How long will he be like this and at what point should I really worry? I have no idea what I'm supposed to do.

  I stand silently watching him, his lashes flickering mildly, his chest rising and falling steadily. Even unconscious he looks troubled. I approach quietly and pull the blanket up to his chin. I can't help it. I've never looked after him before, but it's instinctive. I kneel and rest my lips on his cold cheek, soaking up the little bit of comfort I get from the contact before standing and making my way back to the kitchen. John has gone.

  'Here,' Sam passes me a piece of paper. 'John's number. '

  'Was he in a rush?' I ask. He could have waited for me.

  'He never hangs around for longer than necessary. Listen, I've spoken to Kate. She's bringing some clothes over for you. '

  'Oh, okay. ' My poor clothes are going to wonder where they live. They have been transported back and forth to this place on numerous occasions.

  'Thank you, Ava. ' Sam says sincerely.

  'Don't thank me. ' I protest, feeling uncomfortable, especially since this is partly my fault.

  Sam shuffles nervously. 'I know. It's just. . . well, after last Sunday, the whole Manor shock. '

  'Don't, Sam. '

  'When he drinks, he really drinks. ' Sam laughs lightly. 'He's a proud man, Ava. He'll be mortified that we've seen him like this. '

  I imagine he will be. The Jesse I know is strong, confident, domineering and a whole heap of other things. Weak and helpless are not included in the long list of Jesse's attributes. I want to tell Sam that The Manor and its activities have been diluted by this drink issue, but it hasn't. Not really. Now I'm here and I've lay my eyes on Jesse again, it's all screaming very loudly in my head. Jesse owns a sex club. He also uses the facilities of his own club. Sam confirmed it, even though it was glaringly obvious when I was faced with the husband of one of Jesse's conquests. I knew deep down that he must have put himself about, that he was a pleasure-seeking playboy, but I certainly didn't ever imagine how.

  We spend the next hour collecting empties
from around the penthouse and dumping them in a couple of black bin liners. I empty the fridge of more vodka, tipping it all down the sink. I'm staggered by how much he has loaded up in there; he must have bought a whole crate of the stuff. It's obvious he planned on being here alone with his vodka for quite a while. I do know one thing, though; I won't be drinking it ever again.

  Clive rings up to tell me that a young lady is in the foyer by the name of Kate, and after I've advised Clive of what we've found, we go down to meet her, each dragging a black bin bag full of rubbish and empty bottles. I make a mental note to sort the mangled door out.

  When we arrive in the foyer, Kate is waiting under the close observation of Clive. 'Hey,' she says cautiously as we approach, dragging the clanging bin bags with us. 'How is he?'

  I release the bag, causing more clanging, and give Clive the eyeball, just to let him know that I'm really pissed off with him. If he had let Sam, Drew or John up to Jesse's penthouse before now, we may have only found him drunk instead of completely comatose. He has the decency to look apologetic.

  'He's asleep. ' Sam answers her when it becomes obvious that I'm too busy making Clive feel guilty.

  When I turn my attention back to Kate, I see Sam slip his free arm around her and give her a hug. She bats him away playfully. 'Here,' Kate passes me my overnight bag. This thing is like a yoyo between Kate's house and Lusso. 'I just chucked anything and everything in it. '

  'Thanks. ' I take the bag.

  'So, you're staying here then?' she asks.

  'Yeah,' I answer on a shrug. Sam gives me that appreciative stare, and I immediately feel uncomfortable again.

  'How long are you staying for?' Kate asks.

  That's a point. How long for? How long do these things take? He could wake tonight, or it could be tomorrow or the next day. I have a job to do and an apartment to find. I look at Sam for some clue, but he shrugs so is no help at all. I look back at Kate and shrug too.

  I'm suddenly aware that I've left Jesse upstairs and I start to panic. He might wake up and no one will be there. 'I should get back up there. ' I say, looking back towards the elevators.

  'Sure, you go. ' Kate shoos me with her hand and takes the bin bag from the floor. 'We'll get rid of these. '

  We say our goodbyes and I promise to call her in the morning before I head back to the elevator, instructing Clive to sort out Jesse's car window and the door to his penthouse on my way. He, of course, gets straight onto it.

  When I arrive back on the top floor, I shut the door, but it doesn't secure fully. It will do until the repair man turns up, though. I wander into the living room and see Jesse still asleep.

  So, what do I do now? I look down my body and note I'm still in my taupe dress and heels, so I take myself upstairs, allocating myself the natural room at the far end of the landing. I'm staggered to find all of the pillows on the floor and the bed sheets crumpled from my brief lay down before Jesse transported me back to his bed after the dress massacre. I set about fixing the bed and then change into my ripped jeans and a black t-shirt. I could do with a shower, but I don't want to leave Jesse alone for too long. It'll have to wait.

  Making my way back downstairs, I make a black coffee and as I stand sipping it in the kitchen, I figure it would be a good idea to read up on alcoholism. Jesse must have a computer somewhere.

  I go in search, finding a laptop in his study. I fire it up, and I'm immensely relieved when it doesn't prompt me for a password. This man has personal security issues. I take it downstairs and settle myself in the big chair opposite Jesse so I can keep an eye on him. Pulling up Google, I type in "Alcoholics", and I'm presented with seventeen million results. At the top of the page, though, is "Alcoholics Anonymous". That would be a good place to start, I suppose. John might have said that Jesse isn't an alcoholic, but I'm doubtful myself.

  After a few hours of browsing the internet, I feel like my brain cells have been zapped. There is so much to take in - long term effects, psychiatric problems, withdrawal symptoms. I read a piece about severe childhood trauma leading to alcoholism, which leaves me wondering if Jesse had something happen to him when he was a boy, the vicious scar on his abdomen springing to mind immediately. There are also genetic connections, so then I wonder if one of his parents was an alcoholic? I'm bombarded with information, and I don't know what to do with any of it. These are not the sort of questions you just come right out and ask.

  My mind flicks back to last Sunday and the things he said to me. "You're a fucking prick tease, Ava", "I needed you and you left me". Then I had left him. . . again. He'd said he didn't tell me because he didn't want me to have another excuse to leave him, but then he said he wasn't an alcoholic. John said the same thing. If it's a problem and it involves alcohol, then doesn't that make him an alcoholic?

  I shut the laptop in exasperation and put it on the coffee table. It's only ten o'clock, but I'm totally spent. I don't want to go upstairs to bed in case he wakes up and I don't want to make myself comfortable, so I gather a few cushions up, lay them on the floor next to him and settle myself, resting my head on the sofa and stroking the hairs on his toned arms. It relaxes me to have the contact and it's not long before my eyes are heavy and I'm drifting off.