I frequently took Sarah to see Joe, and once he had recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the med wing, he took her out for afternoons to give me a much needed rest. Looking after a tiny baby was exhausting by myself and any break from the responsibility was appreciated.
Of course, Ken returned eventually, he had to for the teams sake, but it was more an uneasy truce between us than the great love we had before. Was what I’d done really so unforgivable? I had to presume so, since he was barely in the J these days. As soon as training was over, he would rush off by himself, not saying a word to anyone about where he was going, or when he intended coming back.
I didn’t want to believe Joe when he dropped the bombshell on me when he returned with Sarah this evening. After handing her over, he was about to leave when he turned back to me,
“Um, Jun,” he began tentatively, “I think there’s something you aught to know, about Ken...”
“What about Ken?” I was suddenly interested, but Joe didn’t look as if he was about to break any good news.
“Oh, come on, what’s the problem?”
“I think he’s met someone else” he blurted out.
“Oh no you’ve got it wrong, you must be mistaken,”
“I hope I have, for your sake, but Ken was downstairs, in the J, paying off his tab, this guy comes in, recognises Ken and tells him to stop messing his sister about, either they’re dating or he breaks it off,” Joe paused at this point, letting me grope for a seat. Ken was here? And he didn’t even come to see me? Joe came back into the room and sat down himself, facing me.
“You’re mistaken, Joe, just some old drunk who’s got Ken mixed up with someone else.” I sounded like I was clutching at straws, and that wasn’t too far from the truth.
“I’m sorry Jun, apparently this sister had been hurt enough, and he wasn’t having the likes of Ken coming along and stringing her along. I thought he was going to cause trouble and was ready to back Ken up, but once he’d said his piece, he left.”
“Now I know you’re lying, Ken would never string anyone along....”
“Oh, no? It’s not like he didn’t string you along for long enough!”
“We were too young then, we were waiting for the right time. And besides, what do you know about stringing lovers along?” My words came out far more sarcastic than I intended. For a moment, I saw hurt, then anger cross his face, but he dampened it down quickly.
“So not devotion to duty then,”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“So you can drop those ideas of a grand reconciliation you’re hoping for.” Joe spelled it out to me once and for all, “Face it Jun, he’s moved back to the airstrip, he hardly comes into the J any more, and he barely talks after training. It’s been three months now, don’t you think he’s made his feelings perfectly clear?”
“As have you, Joe, this is some kind of ruse, so I’ll date you right? You didn’t like it when I stopped us making out like before,” I was so angry with him at that moment, I was visibly shaking trying to hold it all in. “Now, get lost, I’ll go and see Ken myself, and we’ll work it out you’ll see.”
“Fine, if that’s what you want, but if you want anything, call me OK?”
“It won’t be necessary”
Ken was finishing pre-flight checks as I arrived. He stopped as soon as I pulled up and came over.
“What are you doing here?” he hadn’t even waited for me to take Sarah from her seat.
“We need to talk,” I began. “We can’t just leave things hanging like this.”
“Well if you’re expecting me to forgive and forget, then you’re sadly mistaken” He eyed Sarah suspiciously, “So she is Joe’s child then?”
“By process of elimination? She must be, but then we haven’t had her tested.”
“WE!” he almost spat the word. “What would have happened if I hadn’t eh? Would you two have carried on? Letting me continue to believe she was mine, how many more kids would there have been?” He turned to walk away, I had to stop him and say what I’d come to say. I put a hand on his arm, trying to turn him towards me again, “Face it Jun, there’s never room for three in a relationship, I’m opting out, I hope you and Joe will be very happy together.”
“I don’t want Joe, it’s you I love.”
“I can’t believe that, if you love me, how could you even consider including anyone else?”
“It was a stupid dare that went horribly wrong”
“You said it. Look I’m letting you go. Be with Joe, or not it’s no skin off my nose either way. I wish you and the baby luck.”
This was my last chance to convince him, or I’d lost him for good, and I couldn’t bear that to happen, not now, after all we had been through. I wasn’t about to kiss our future goodbye. Not yet.
“Joe and I don’t see each other now; we stopped that months ago, it really would be just me and you from now on! Please!”
“There isn’t going to be any me and you from now on, Jun, I’m moving on and putting all this dirty business behind me, can I suggest you do the same?”
He’d moved on... so Joe had been right, I fell back against my car in disbelief, almost dropping Sarah in my shock, Ken stopped her from falling. Despite whatever went on between us, he didn’t mean the child any harm. He strapped her into the car seat so there would be no chance of it happening again, before coming back to me.
“When the Galactor scum had you imprisoned, I moved mountains to find you, almost got myself killed, if Joe hadn’t stopped me I would be dead. I imagined all sorts of horrible things they could have done to you; I think rape was about the nicest of all of them and when Ryu found you safe and unharmed, I couldn’t believe they hadn’t done anything to hurt you.”
“I needed you then Ken, you turned me away, I’d disobeyed orders and had to await sanctions, but I still needed comfort.”
“I didn’t want to contaminate any forensic evidence you might have been carrying”
“So if the goons had impregnated me that would have been ok?” I couldn’t believe this, “But because I hadn’t been raped, because I went with Joe willingly that makes it all wrong! You turned me away. I needed to be loved and Joe loved me, rightly or wrongly, he was there when you wasn’t”
“And I’ll bet he still is. Tell me, if you were to call him, would he come running?”
“Not probably, definitely. Like he’ll be there for Jinpei, Ryu and me, he cares about all of us, but he especially cares about you.” He leant next to me, against the bonnet of the car, his arm snaking across my shoulder. “We were just kids, Jun, playing at being adults, that’s why we got into such a mess. You’re a mother now, that little girl in there,” he indicated Sarah sleeping contentedly in her seat, “she needs her mother to step up to the mark, to be a proper grown up.”
I didn’t try to stop the tears flowing, I’d lost him for good, I could see that now. Lost him to some nameless, faceless woman who would turn out to be so nice, it would make me sick if I ever were to meet her.
“I waited years for you,” great wracking sobs escaping my throat, tears soaked through his shirt as he held me against his chest, “Didn’t you ever really love me?”
“I waited too, you know, and maybe that was the problem. We had such high expectations of each other that, by the time it happened, we couldn’t live up to them. You and Joe don’t have those preconceptions.” He pulled away, fishing in Sarah’s bag for a wetwipe, handing it to me to wipe my face. “You will always be special to me, and I hope I will be to you, you always remember your first love. That’s what we share and no one can take that away from us.”
There was a brief moment when I thought he might kiss me, I half leant towards him in anticipation, but his eyes turned to his right and he pulled away sharply.
I turned to see where he was looking, a woman stood, supporting a bicycle, watching us intently, although I thought she was unusually well dressed for a regular cyclist. I glanced at Ken hoping he would send her off, but he seemed surprisingly pleased to see her.
She’s saved him from a tricky situation, my first thought was. Had she not turned up, I could have – no, would have won him back, and that’s what he was frightened of.
He let her approach before he began introductions, an almost imperceptible crack in his voice as he did so.
“Jun, I’d like you to meet Laine.” I held out my hand to greet her, but she wasn’t so forthcoming.
“Pleased to meet you.” was the best I could do. Her eyes darted around, focusing on Sarah, before glancing back at Ken,
“Pleased to meet you too, Jun. You have a beautiful child, is it a girl?”
“Yes,” I responded quickly, hoping to get these forced pleasantries over with, so Ken and I could carry on our conversation. After another brief glance at Sarah, she turned back to Ken, then took a couple of ledgers from the basket on her cycle.
“I’ll just leave these on your desk, okay, we can talk about them later.”
Accounts, that’s what she was there for. For one horrible moment I had thought he was going to tell me they were dating, but at least this explained how he was able to pay off his tab. I glanced across at him, his eyes remained fixed on the retreating figure as she made her way to his shack and I tried not to cry in frustration at the now lost opportunity she had interrupted.
“I guess I should be going too.” I said, hoping he would stop me, persuade me to stay a little longer but he just looked down at the ground and remained silent.
So that was it then, there was no more to be said. I still loved him, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon, as far as I could see, but nothing was going to come of it now. I checked on Sarah quickly, she was sleeping soundly in her seat, so just a brief glance was sufficient before I climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine.
“See you in training then!” I said winding down the window.
“Of course,” that was the first time he’d smiled since I’d arrived, “and I’ll be calling in at the J, have you noticed I’ve paid off my tab?.”
“I could still keep it open for you, you know” I joked, “never know when you might be a bit short again,”
“I hope I’ll never need it.” He put a hand through the window and gave my shoulder a slight squeeze, “but if I find myself at a loose end...”
I revved the engine a time or two, Ken moved his hand and patted the roof a couple of times before walking back to his hangar. I reversed out, seeing him raise his wrist to his mouth. Since the message didn’t come through on mine, I assumed he’d sent a closed message... presumably to Joe.
Sure enough, Joe was waiting, leaning against his G-2 in civilian mode. As soon as I’d parked up around the back of the Snack J, he strolled over, heading straight for Sarah in the passenger seat.
“She will want feeding,” I told him bluntly, not believing for a minute he was there for Sarah’s benefit.
“She also needs her nappy changed,” he wrinkled his nose as he lifted her out, “which job do you want to tackle?” I recovered her bag, removing the bottle of ready prepared milk and passed it over. He didn’t take it immediately; instead he covered my hand with his.
“You Ok?” the look of concern on his face was genuine enough. I nodded, a small smile crossing my face, I knew then that Ken had spoken to him.
“We straightened a few things out between us.” I confirmed.
“Good.” He took the changing bag from me, and headed inside with the baby. In the time it took me to secure the car, fill a jug with hot water from the J’s kitchen to warm the bottle, and then carry it upstairs, he had changed her and put her in fresh clothing. Seeing me, he handed her to Jinpei, who snatched the warm bottle and proceeded to feed her for me.
“You go get your head down,” he told me, “You look knackered.”
Since when did my little brother start giving me orders? They were all conspiring against me. The J wasn’t due to be opened for a few hours, so with nothing else to do, I headed to my room and flopped onto my bed.
Sure enough, Joe followed, but he put a mug of coffee on my dressing table and turned to go straight back out.
“I thought you were sleeping.” He came and sat by me on the bed. “Do you want to tell me what really happened now?”
“He made it quite clear we were over,” I told him after a while. “He didn’t say so directly, but I got the impression he had met someone else.”
“It probably isn’t serious then.” I don’t know if that was meant to reassure me, but in any case it didn’t work.
“He seemed sure we’d be good together though.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Well you seem pleased enough.”
“Jun, I like you, a lot, but I don’t want to be a rebound fling. If you want something permanent, I’ll be here, and if not then say so now. Either way, I’ll still be around for Sarah.” He got up, walking towards the door.
“You don’t want to make your mind up right now, you’re too emotional.”
“I know, just sit with me, please?”
“What do you want, Jun?”
“I want some company, just to talk”
A silence falls between us. While I lay there, I studied his face, his expression it’s usual inscrutable mask, but if I knew Joe as well as I thought I did, there would be so much more going on inside.
“So what are you thinking?” I asked, more to break the silence than anything.
“Just wondering....” was the enigmatic reply.
“Wondering eh? Care to share?”
He grinned unexpectedly “I was wondering how long I could sit here for, and still keep my hands to myself,”
“What do YOU want, Joe?” It seemed so much time and energy was being spent on what I wanted, I was forgetting the others had their needs too.
“I can’t believe you have to ask.” I could have kicked myself; of course I knew what he wanted. I sat up, shifting myself into a kneeling position. My hand went on his shoulder, the other turned his face towards me, so I could look directly into his eyes. “Are we exclusive?”
I could only nod, mutely. His hand covered mine, turning his face to kiss the palm, before stroking its way up my arm and snaking around the back of my neck, pulling me towards him.
Then I felt it, the spark, what I’d believed was missing before, was suddenly there, igniting the flame that started the inferno that engulfed us.
In an instant, it occurred to me just how much he had held back in our previous encounters, as he suddenly let himself go. Within moments of our lips meeting, we were consumed with raging passion, like I’d never experienced before. With dizzying speed our clothes had been removed, and he was inside me, thrusting with wild abandon, putting everything he had into the act of love he was bestowing upon me. I welcomed him with equal fervour, finally free to express how much I needed this too. United, we hit the ultimate high.
Finally exhausted, we lay in each others arms, a situation I’d never conceived ever happening a year ago. He brushed some stray hair off my face, his finger tips tingling my skin wherever they connected, kissing my brow, and trailing down my nose, to my mouth, while his hands roamed over my chest.
I wondered if we were on the brink of repeating our actions when a yell from the living room broke the magic spell that enchanted us.
“Onechan!” Oh no, Jinpei, go away! “Onechan, Sarah’s puked all over me!” At the mention of his daughters name, Joe was up, dressed and on his way to see to her. I simply wrapped the blanket around me and pretended to sleep.