This drop-in takes place after Happiness In Jersey and during Finding Kennedy and parts of Keeping Willow. Merry Christmas!
I woke up with a start, sweaty and disoriented. Still half-sleep, stomach sinking, I reached for her, but the space next to me was empty. Slowly, I blinked my eyes open, cognizance hitting me in bits as I rolled onto my back, studying the darkened ceiling through blurry eyes, inhaling the scent of cinnamon.
I was at my parents’ in New Orleans. And Jersey wasn’t in my bed tonight. She was down the hall in the guest bedroom. I was tempted to creep into her room. But the last time I did that she was so paranoid it ruined the mood.
“Zay, what if they hear you in here?” she’d asked, her baby doll eyes wide and full of worry. “I don’t want your mom to think I don’t respect her home.”
I tried to convince her nobody was paying attention to us. Well, not enough to be checkin in on what we were doing. My dad wasn’t tripping at all, as long as we were discreet. I tried explaining that me being in her room wasn’t even about sex. I just wanted her close. But after she kept fidgeting in the bed for thirty minutes, I finally got up and let her be.
I frowned, running a hand over my head. I was tired but I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep. The uneasiness from my dream was still swimming in my stomach and I ran a hand up and down it, hoping it wouldn’t turn to nausea.
I sat up in on the sofa bed where I slept in the office/sometimes gym, and slipped on my sweats and t-shirt before pushing out of the room, following the smell of cinnamon into the kitchen, which was dark except for the oven light.
Just like I suspected, Jersey was up, standing over the open oven, and I shook my head, unable to help my grin because she was so cute. She was wearing the same baggy pajamas she’s put on before she went to the bed, the pair my mom had bought for her last year, our first Christmas together, because she thought they were good vibes. She shut the oven just as I walked behind her, wrapping my arms around her small waist.
She yelped jumping backward into my chest. “You scared the freakin’ crap outta me, Isaiah!” she said, turning in my arms, eyes wide. “Why do you do that?”
“It’s not my fault your hard of hearing, baby doll.”
She rolled her eyes, which were sleepy and a little puffy. Her thick hair was pulled into a messy ponytail on the top of her head.
“Um, no. You move like a cat. Or a freakin’ ghost warrior or something.”
“A ghost warrior?” I asked, grinning, arching a brow. “The hell is a ghost warrior?”
She smiled up at me, and I buried my nose in her neck, inhaling her. Her skin was warm and sweet.
“Why are you awake?” she asked, wrapping her arms around my neck, raking her short fingernails over my scalp.
“I wanted you.”
She grinned and blinked up at me her cheeks tinging red at my simple confession, turning me on even more. Jersey always pretended to complain about that—how I always wanted her in the middle of the night, before I came completely into consciousness, when she was my singular thought. I hadn’t craved anything the way I craved Jersey since I started playing music. A year later, it was still here, maybe even more intense because I knew her body so well now, knew the rhythm of her breaths and moans as well as my own. More than that I knew her heart, her spirit, and her body reacted to that knowledge.
She dipped her warm hands under my t-shirt and ran her fingers down my stomach, pulling absently at the waist band of my sweats, while I kissed her neck, trailing my lips up to the shell of her ear.
“Come to bed with me.” I nipped her earlobe.
“Baby…” she breathed her chest rising and falling faster even though she was shaking her head. Jersey’s voice was one of my favorite things about her—silky and sultry like she should just whisper in my ear all the time.
“Why are you up for real?” she deflected softly, tilting her head up to look into my eyes. “Did you have the dream again?”
I pressed my tongue to the inside of my cheek, and released a breath. Her brown eyes turned sympathetic.
“I’m not surprised, since you’re back at home. Was it exactly the same?”
I’d been dreaming about my brother and sister, Rachel and Isaac, lately. Nothing heavy, but it was disconcerting because they weren’t settled in my dream. They were looking for me, asking for me, panicked because no one knew where I was. It’d been popping up with more frequency over the past three months. Every time, I’d wake up completely disoriented, and once, even grabbed my phone to call Rachel before realizing what I was doing.
I ran hand over my head as Jersey pressed her forehead to my chest, still raking her fingers down my stomach in soothing strokes. I didn’t know what the dreams were about. I just wanted them to stop. The clearest vision I had of my brother and sister, outside of looking at pictures or video, was being tainted but a disruptive dream that I couldn’t shake.
“I asked Pepper about what it meant,” Jersey said, looking up at me. “She said it could signify change. Or that you’re battling with something that needs a resolution.”
Instantly, I thought of us, and I could tell that’s where Jersey’s head was too. We’d been struggling lately. Arguing over bullshit, tense and tight almost all the time. It was throwing everything off, even the music, although we’d both gotten good at playing through our issues without alerting the rest of the band. But it was stressful. Something had to give soon, and we both felt it.
“Maybe so,” I said, not wanting to dwell on it at 4:15 a.m. on Christmas morning. “I know what kind of resolution I could use right now,” I said again in her ear, feeling her shiver against my chest. I hand my hand up under her fluffy pajama shirt, tracing my fingers down her ribcage to her hip. Her skin was soft, smooth, and I grabbed at her hip, pulling her into me. “Come on, love. Just lay down with me for a minute.”
“Oh, Trav and them will be here later, around one they said,” she offered, letting her head fall to the side while I kissed on her neck.
“Zay!” she erupted, laughing.
“What baby? Why you got me beggin’ on my birthday?”
“You never have to beg. Have you seen you?” she asked playfully, letting her gaze sweep down my chest.
“Then whatchu doin?” I asked, grabbing her by the waist again, pulling her into my erection. “C’mon and take care of me.”
She rolled her eyes, still smiling. “I have to wait for this last batch to finish baking so we can have them in the morning.”
I frowned. “Why? For real, nobody even cares whether or not there’s cinnamon rolls.”
She immediately stiffened in my arms. Shit.
“You know I didn’t mean it like that,” I said quickly, pulling back so I could meet her eyes. She looked deflated when she inhaled, scratching behind her ear as she stared at the ground.
“You know what I’m tryin to say, love. It’s just not necessary for you to be up in the middle of the night doin’ this. Everyone understands.”
“Yeah,” she shook her head, her voice guarded and tense. “You’re right. It’s not that deep. And this is almost done anyway, so…”
She attempted to push past me, but I held her, trapping her in front of the counter next to the warm oven with my hands on either side of her.
“Hey.” I waited until she met my eyes. Her expression was bored now but I knew better. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I was just talkin’ okay? It’s late, or early, or whatever. I appreciate that you care enough to make them for everyone. So does my mom.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I said it’s whatever, Zay. The moment is over. I am tired though. And I’d like to go back to bed.”
I traced my teeth over my lower lip, waiting for her to look at me. But she was still scowling, staring at some spot on the kitchen wall. I sighed.
“It’s too early in the morning for this.”
“Exactly,” she snapped. She tried to push past me again, running as usual, but I refused to move.
“What are you doing?” She glared up at me.
“We about to be into it for the rest of the day?”
She looked away but I dipped my head to meet her eyes.
“No,” she said, finally looking at me. “But you’re dismissive.”
I bit the inside of my lip and stared at her. She was damn pretty. And so damn mad all the time.
“Of my feelings,” she clarified.
“You talkin about your Pops again?” I asked wearily. “Because I know this ain’t about cinnamon rolls anymore, especially when I spend all day lately dancin’ around you and your feelings—makin’ sure you ain’t mad, or pissed off or whatever you feel like pulling from the thin air because you won’t direct it towards him.”
“Don’t be an asshole.” She scowled at me and agitation surged in my chest.
“Don’t be selfish. You ain’t always the only one with shit goin’ on Jersey.”
Her lips parted and she blinked up at me.
“I told you a million times that if you wanted to go to that wedding, then we’d go. You made the decision to skip it.”
“Which you were happy about.” Her tone was accusatory.
“Am I supposed to feel bad about that?” I raised a brow and looked at her. “Because nah, I didn’t think you needed to be there, subjecting yourself to some shit that you knew was gonna make you sad. Why would you wanna treat yourself like that?”
We’d been round and round about her Pop’s getting re-married and his punk ass excluding her from the process completely, then requesting her presence at the shit at the last minute, trying to guilt her into going. The woman he was marrying was jealous of Jersey. It was obvious to me the second we met last year. Both her daughters were going to be in the wedding but her Pops didn’t ask Jersey to be in it—his only child.
Every time I thought about the way she looked when she first told me that shit, eyes wide and full of tears, her entire body weary and defeated, I wanted to drive to Atlanta and beat the shit outta dude. Make him leave her alone for good if all he was gonna do was bring her pain and make her question herself to the point where we ended up getting into it.
Jersey inhaled, then pulled her phone out of her pocket and showed me the picture from his wedding that was pulled up on the screen. He was smiling with his new family. Jersey was staring at the screen, the dim light, casing a glow over her features, as she gnawed on her lip.
“He sent you that?” I asked, lowering my voice.
“About an hour ago. I guess they’re still up celebrating.”
I shook my head, and passed it back to her, trying to get a read on her.
“So where we at with this?” I met her eyes.
She got mad whenever I told her to forget him and to cut him off completely. And she got upset when I told her she tell him how she feels. Either way, I take the brunt of his bullshit.
“You regret that you didn’t go? And if you do, do you plan on takin’ it out on me all day? Cuz I’d like to be prepared.”
She stared at the ground so long, I could practically feel the thoughts racing in her head. Long seconds ticked by of us listening to each other breathe. She pulled out her phone suddenly, and deleted the picture. Then she scrolled to his number, and blocked it. She stared at the phone for a minute before meeting my eyes.
“No. I don’t regret not going,” she said finally. “I didn’t belong there.” She shook her head, biting on the corner of her lip, the look in her eyes so vulnerable it made me take a step closer to her, like I could absorb her pain, if it were ever that simple.
“But you belong here. Exactly where you are. Up making cinnamon rolls for everyone at four-fifteen in the morning.”
She grinned and rolled her eyes, biting on the corner of her lip. “I wanted to make cinnamon rolls for your birthday,” she said, so quietly I almost didn’t hear her. “Because I know you don’t like cake.”
My chest tightened and I drew in a breath, as she pressed her curly head against my chest again, inhaling deeply.
“I seriously don’t know what I’d do without you, Zay,” she murmured into my chest. She lifted her head and looked me in the eyes. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting lately.”
She lifted up on her tip toes and pressed her mouth to mine, softly at first, before pressing into the kiss. “I love you.”
“I got you,” I told her for the millionth time since she came into my life, meeting her eyes. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere, ever. Okay? But you gotta stop always pushin me so hard all the time, tryin’ to make me prove it.”
She exhaled deeply as we stared into each other’s eyes.
“I know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
I dipped my head down, pushing my fingers through her thick hair when I kissed her. This time she opened for me immediately, slipping her warm tongue into my mouth tangling it with mine. Her back bumped against the counter but she just angled her head the other way, wrapping her arms around my neck, sliding her fingers through my hair as she stood on her tip-toes pressing closer. I reached behind her, distractedly turning off the oven as she kissed on me neck.
“C’mon,” she whispered, pushing off the counter.
I smiled, biting on the corner of my lip. “Merry Christmas and happy birthday to me.”
She rolled her eyes, but didn’t release my hand as she hurriedly pulled me toward the back room.