September 13, 2000 - Part II
Nikki adjusted her breasts again, leaning forward to settle them in the leather push-up bra she hadn't worn in years. She smoothed her palm over her belly, along the top edge of her tattoo as it peeked above the waist of the skin-tight denim mini skirt she wore. She paused, glancing up at the flickering neon signs that decorated the outside of the bar, streaks of color reflecting in the polished chrome of rows of motorcycles parked out front. It'd been years since she'd come to the Hitchhiker, a biker bar she used to frequent when she first hit town and needed a few bucks, but it looked like nothing had changed. Even the bikes were the same.
After Kai kicked her out, she’d gone to the diner, hoping Marge would recant and let Nikki work a shift. But Marge had refused, telling Nikki she couldn’t serve paying customers till her face stopped looking like she’d lost a fight with a door. Not sure what else to do with herself, Nikki had decided to sort through her stuff, seeing what she could sell at the pawn and consignment stores for a little extra cash, setting a few things aside in a bag for if she decided to run for it.
She’d stayed in Jonesville too long; it was a miracle Mark hadn’t found her sooner. And though he’d disappeared for now, it was only a matter of time before he came for her again, and he wasn’t dumb enough to be fooled by her tricks twice.
Nikki entered, the familiar scent of cigarette smoke, sweat, beer, and leather hitting her nose. She scanned the crowd as she headed toward the bar. She’d discovered the outfit she was currently wearing in the back of a drawer, a pack of matches with the Hitchhiker logo still in the pocket of the skirt. Unable to work and banned from Kai’s visitor’s list, she'd found her way here.
A gruff pair of guys were fighting over the jukebox, each apparently determined to let his selections dominate the night's soundtrack. Nikki ignored them, taking a seat a stool down from a lone guy sipping his beer and watching the fight, eyes lit up with hunger. Signaling the bartender, Nikki ordered a whiskey, double, straight up, and tossed it back with one burning gulp. The glass made a satisfying thud on the counter when she set it back down, drawing the onlooker's attention. She smiled.
“Got a cigarette? I quit, but I'd kill for a smoke right now.”
He smiled, fished one out for her. She leaned forward to accept the flame from his lighter, pushing her hair out of the way, unintentionally revealing her bruised and scraped up face.
"Like it rough, huh?" he said, chuckling, lighting his own cigarette.
She leaned forward, squeezing her cleavage together. "Sometimes. When the mood strikes."
He grinned, exhaling smoke. "And what are you in the mood for tonight?"
It amazed her how easily she slipped back into the old routine, but his question made her answer reflexively in her head. What did she want? To forget. That made her heart clamp in her chest, and she found her hand imitating the sign Kai had showed her, fingers bent toward her palm as she passed it over her forehead, though she acted as if she were simply shifting her hair.
"Anything you want," she said. And if her smile was a little more forced this time, he didn’t notice in the dim light of the bar.
Jon pinched his nose, as if doing so would squeeze out the headache that pressed behind his eyes. He was exhausted, having slept even less in the last week than normal. The logical part of his brain knew that Martin wasn’t his fault, that nothing he could have done could have prevented the kid’s immune system from turning on him. Knew that if the boy died, it had absolutely nothing to do with Jon and was simply the will of a malevolent God, if such a being even existed. That didn’t change the fact that Jon felt he deserved everything the poor kid’s mother had said to him, all the hurt and anger she’d vented only a few hours earlier.
He sighed. And Kai. His blood pressure was better--stable, but low--and no one seemed to know why. Gates wanted to keep Kai one more day in this unit, hoping he could go home, or at least move down to a regular floor the following day. To make matters worse, Kai’s pain had apparently been so severe he’d convinced Gates to give him something strong to combat it, and had been in a narcotic-aided sleep for the past few hours, according to Kai’s night-shift nurse.
Jon smoothed the skin of Kai’s hand with his thumb, watching his brother sleep. Kai hated narcotics; it took a higher dose than normal for the drugs to impact his pain, and the side effects hit him hard. Kai had to have been in more pain than Jon could fathom if he’d begged Gates for the drugs.
Kai’s lids fluttered open groggily, his eyes surveying the room, the haze of the drugs hovering in his irises. He attempted to wiggle his fingers in Jon’s grip, and it came out uncoordinated. He stared at their hands, his gaze a bit unfocused.
“My hand funny,” he said in an odd voice, his grammar equally off.
“Because you’re drugged up the wazoo,” Jon replied.
“Oh.” Kai giggled. “Patch.”
Jon nodded. “Fentanyl.”
“My surgery. After. Nice.” Kai smiled broadly.
Jon filled in the missing parts of Kai’s sentences: after Kai’s transplant, he’d been on Fentanyl for a few days to help with severe thoracic pain post-surgery. “You’re totally high.” Jon laughed.
Kai’s eyes suddenly widened. “My nose something in!”
Jon sighed, realizing Kai had reverted to ASL grammar, which was why he was barely making any sense. “Oxygen. Your sats dropped a bit on the opioid, but not enough to put you on the bipap.”
Kai attempted to touch his nose with his free hand, crossing his eyes, but after a few minutes, gave up. “I love you, Jon,” Kai said after a while, his voice still carrying that childlike euphoric tone.
Kai rarely said anything like that; when he did go so far as to admit he loved Jon, it was usually in the context of an excuse or apology. I love you, but I don’t need a father. Even if Kai wasn’t entirely himself, it felt nice to hear it, especially today, after Martin. Especially since only a few days ago, Jon had come so close to losing him entirely.
“I love you, too. Why don’t you try to get some sleep.”
“OK!” Kai said, a little too enthusiastically. “You BEST brother,” he added with a faint smile. Jon vaguely remembered his vocabulary list for the week; he hadn’t gotten to meet with Megan much, but he’d still tried to practice when Kai was sleeping. The signs for better and best were derived from good, simply made with larger emphasis for the larger modifier. He chuckled at how that came through in Kai’s tone.
Jon leaned in to smooth Kai’s hair out of his face. “Take advantage of the chance to sleep while you’re pain’s gone,” Jon whispered.
Kai closed his eyes. “Pain bad yes. Drugs make me don’t care.”
“All right,” Jon said, realizing conversation while Kai was like this wasn’t going to go too far.
Kai’s breathing slowed, and for a moment, Jon was convinced Kai’d drifted off again. But then he spoke, his voice small at first, unlike it had been since he’d woken. “Doctor tell me my leg HURT. Stand or walk again maybe not.” His tone reminded Jon of that scared version of his brother he’d witnessed the day before, when the spasms had returned with a vengeance. Briefly, Jon wondered if maybe the effects of the narcotic were waning. Fentanyl was powerful, but not terribly long-acting. Jon opened his mouth to comment, offer some words of reassurance or comfort, but Kai spoke again, eyes still closed. “Don’t tell Jon,” Kai said, his tone changing again, disjointed, confused, almost like someone speaking in their sleep. “Don’t worry him. ‘Ll fine.”
Kai murmured something else unintelligible, and after a few more minutes, it became clear he was asleep again.
Jon pulled his fingers through his hair, his stomach churning. He felt guilty, like he’d eavesdropped on someone else’s conversation, like he’d read Kai’s diary and accessed thoughts he normally would never have shared with Jon. The fact that Kai’d been speaking in ASL--the weakness and coordination problems of the drug cocktail’s effects preventing him from actually signing--not to mention a level of brutal honesty Jon had never seen since reuniting with his brother--were more than proof of how out of it Kai really was. Would he remember telling Jon about his leg?
Jon sighed heavily, deciding if Kai didn’t say anything, he’d feign ignorance. Jon felt like they’d grown a bit closer over the past couple days. Maybe it was an illusion woven out of drugs and pain and fear, but after seeing those marks on his brother’s torso, knowing the truth about their mother, Jon couldn’t afford to break Kai’s fragile trust. If that meant pretending he didn’t know about the verdict on Kai’s legs, then that’s what he’d do.
The guy from the bar--he told her to call him Frank; she told him to call her Monica--had wanted to dance, and so they were squeezed onto the portion of the bar set aside for the purpose, Nikki’s thigh between his as they moved together. Frank responded immediately to her touch, his smile growing with each movement. It was almost too easy. All of this. It could have been the alcohol hitting her empty stomach, or the pervasive smoke that hung in the air, but Nikki’s stomach turned, and she had to swallow carefully, keeping her own smile up.
Sure, I’m having fun. This is fun, her smile told him.
She closed her eyes, pretending to feel the music, moving her body sensually along with its beat, but her mind wandered, as it always did when she was working, her body on cruise control.
The scent of sweat and leather and smoke and cheap aftershave melted away as she was transported back months, to her apartment, to the first time she was with Kai.
Weeks had passed since she’d snuck her number into the palm of Kai's hand in the alley behind the diner, and Nikki hadn’t seen or heard from him, expecting she never would. But then he’d called one afternoon, his voice hesitant. It was adorable.
He’d shown up at her door, looking uncertain as he leaned on his crutches. She’d loved the way his hands and arms had looked, helping to support his weight, not resisting the urge to stroke her palm along one strong forearm, beckoning him in.
He’d eased into her apartment warily, looking around nervously, as if deciding showing up at her door had been a mistake. Determined to keep him there, Nikki’d dove in head first, pushing him back against the closed front door and sliding her hands over his body, lingering on his crotch, grinning as she felt his heat bloom beneath her palm.
He'd stuttered out a protest through heaving breaths. “Nikki . . .”
As her hands wandered, she could feel something under his pants. Then, she hadn’t known much about him, but when her fingers lingered a little too long on the outline of a strap she could feel beneath the fabric of his jeans, he’d sighed, pushed her away.
“This is a mistake,” he’d said.
Instead of letting him go, she’d shaken her head, taken his crutches and laid them nearby, one by one, noting how he didn’t resist, but one of his hands instinctively reached back for the wall, fingers splayed, supporting himself.
“You can walk without those, right?” she’d asked, gripping his free hand.
His eyes darted to his crutches briefly, then to their hands, then to her eyes. She remembered how incredibly deep blue they’d seemed in that moment, like looking into an ocean where the water was so clear yet so deep you couldn’t see the bottom, just infinite blue.
“Nikki--” he’d said, nervous, but he didn’t attempt to pull away from her or reach for his crutches.
“It’s OK,” she’d said with a genuine smile--God, when was the last time she’d done that?--offering her second hand for him to take.
His face had shifted through a myriad of emotions, and he’d seemed so fucking young in that instant, even though she’d known he had to be more than twenty. Finally, he’d pulled his hand away from the wall and linked it in hers. She’d seen a moment of hesitation as he found his balance before a shy smile of his own lit his face.
She’d helped him keep his balance the short distance to her bed, noticing his left leg didn’t bend and he used his right to compensate. Finally, she’d helped him turn--not the easiest feat she found--and pushed him down onto the mattress with a bounce. Then she’d sunk down to her knees and undid the button on his jeans before moving to his shoes.
“Nikki--” he’d tried again, but she’d ignored him, unlacing his shoes and quickly discovering his braces. He’d muttered a few more protests as she worked, but she’d shushed him, continuing until his feet were free, then rising, eyes on his pants. He’d been biting his lip adorably, smoothing one hand on his thigh in a nervous gesture. “I have--I wear--”
“It’s OK. Sex is much better naked, though. Don’t you think?” she’d winked, and the tension in his shoulders had eased as he broke into a comfortable smile, letting out his held breath.
She’d helped him out of his jeans--which wasn’t easy, revealing his full leg braces, the first time she’d ever seen them. She’d known he was nervous; he’d cracked a joke: “Sexy, aren’t they?” And they’d both laughed, though the truth was, she did find them sexy. Maybe it was the leather, the straps, the way the metal clearly supported his legs--she wasn’t sure she could articulate it--but it was probably that moment in which she knew, if Kai would have her, this wouldn’t be a one-time fling.
It was more than the braces; it was the fact that despite his obvious reluctance, he’d come to her, he was trusting her. And though he was nervous, her scent, her touch, was making and keeping him hard.
Once his braces, socks, and boxers were off and discarded, she’d reached for his shirt, but he'd stopped her this time, out right, no hesitation. Because he was so adamant, she’d let it go, encouraging him to pull himself back on the bed and stretch out. Then she’d given in to the luxury of exploring his body, starting with his feet--where he was actually ticklish--and guiding her hands up his calves, to his thighs, admiring how surprisingly light and soft the hair was there, even if it was flattened from the braces.
Her fingers had quickly found old, faded scars on his thighs, and she’d looked up, noticing he was watching her warily. She’d kissed each mark, feeling him tense. “What are these from?”
“Braces digging in. When I was kid,” he’d said with effort as she turned her head and blew hot breath on his balls, causing his cock to jerk.
She’d grinned, slid her hands up, under his shirt, teasing the hem. She’d looked up, met his eyes, and licked his cock from base to tip.
He’d groaned, and finally pulled the shirt off, hesitating a moment before tossing it away. She’d immediately seen what he’d been trying to hide: a long--healed, but fresh--pink scar that ran vertically down the center of his chest, and the hint of two more crescent scars beneath each pec. He also had another fairly fresh one just northeast of his navel, a couple more faded marks near his collarbone, and a noticeable, pink, puckered indentation at the base of his neck.
She’d seen the inward pull of his stomach as he held his breath, waiting. She’d offered him a smile, gliding her fingers over his chest and abs just as she had his legs. Even with the scars, he was gorgeous, and she couldn’t wait to taste him, leaning forward and pulling her tongue up along his largest scar, kissing to the base of his neck, enjoying the way he'd finally released his held breath as his breathing grew harsher.
She’d kissed and licked each scar, asking him about them in turn until she'd felt she knew his body--at least superficially. He’d been too awed to touch her, so she’d finally placed his hands on her breasts, giving him the chance to explore her in turn as she ground against him.
Kai hadn't lasted long the first time, not that she could blame the poor guy. She' known he wasn't a virgin, because of Becca's big mouth, for one. But he might as well have been, the way he sighed and moaned and arched into her touch, the way his breath hitched as she teased him with her tongue. It was clear no woman had spent time lingering over every muscle and scar. Being free meant Nikki now had that luxury, and Kai was delicious to both the eye and tongue. And so beautifully responsive, too.
When she'd finally taken his full length in her mouth, tonguing his slit with little flicks, he'd gasped and she'd felt hot, bitter warmth suddenly flood her mouth.
"Oh, shit, I--" he'd attempted to stammer, but his eyes were heavily lidded.
She'd swallowed, something she'd never done on the job, but had acquired a taste for since. At least with the right guy. Then licked her lips, crawling up alongside him, one leg draped over his. She'd grabbed his hand, guiding it along her skin until he got the hint and began to trace a delicate path with just his fingertips, making her entire body tingle.
Her own fingers tickled the base of his half-hard cock, hoping to stir it back to life: one advantage of his youth.
"Would you like me to fuck you?" she'd whispered, breath hot in his ear.
She hadn't waited for an answer before climbing on top of him and rubbing against his cock until it fully recovered and he was pressing on her hips, desperate for her to stop teasing him.
He'd kissed her, hard and urgent and wonderful every time she leaned forward. Kissing had never been something Nikki had gone for: it was too intimate, too risky. But fuck, Kai was a fantastic kisser. It was like all his quiet reserve, his shy hesitation, disappeared, leaving only raw passion, hunger. Kai had reminded her, that day, that sex could be more than two bodies moving together. That day, as he gripped her hips hard enough to leave bruises, Nikki had found something with Kai, even if it had taken her months to truly see it.
And now, as she gripped the condom as she climbed off Frank, she knew: whatever indescribable thing she and Kai had, she'd ruined it. Perhaps forever. An inevitable outcome, and she'd resisted him for weeks. Months.
Nikki hurriedly pulled her clothes back on, ignoring Frank, who was muttering something about her being a good fuck and could he call her. As she headed for the door, she spotted the cash on the dresser. Part of her wanted to leave it, disgusted with herself, but not taking it would make cheating on Kai all that much worse, and she could use the money to buy a bus ticket.
Fuck, she thought as she stepped into the cool night air. Had she ever been with anyone that the word "cheating" could have even come to mind?
Later, that night, in the shower, her skin red from water just shy of scalding and minutes of furious, futile scrubbing, freshly opened scabs bleeding until the water ran pale pink in rivulets down her body, Nikki realized the truth she’d known all along. The truth she’d tried, over the past couple weeks, to ignore.
She could never be what Kai needed.
Her arms wrapped around her, burning from the water’s heat yet still shivering, Nikki leaned against the shower wall, propping herself up.
And for the first time in years, Nikki let herself cry.
Continue to September 15, 2000 ------->
Continue to September 15, 2000 ------->