Chapter 14 – Aftermath

Fidele by Jenna Lynn Brown

A moment later, the sky opened and we were drenched with rain. Noel cursed and clambered out of the Jaguar so he could unbuckle the fabric roof and get it in place. I tried not to laugh at his fumbling, and wrapped myself around him when he climbed back in, soaked and shivering. I rubbed his arms and kissed raindrops from his face until he muttered, “All right, all right,” and tucked his head against my neck. We lay in silence for a while as we listened to the tick-tap-tick of the rain on the Jaguar’s roof. Noel stroked my chest and I rubbed my lips against his hair. I could feel the steady thump of his heart. His body was solid in my arms. As I held him his trembling subsided.

He whispered as he stroked my chest with his thumb, “I didn’t plan this. I wanted to talk to you away from — all that — but I didn’t plan this.”

“I’m not complaining.” He chuckled dryly, and I said, “Are you all right with this?”

Rain tapped on the windows, louder than before in Noel’s silence. My hand rested on the space between his shoulder blades where I could feel him breathe. Finally, soft, “I’m not sorry this happened. I’ve wanted you since the moment I laid eyes you. But there’s a reason I don’t have sweethearts, Malcolm. I can’t take the risk.”

“You can’t live in fear of your father forever.”

“It’s more than that.”

“What risk are you taking?” I tipped up his head — even in the dim light I could see the trouble in his face, the sorrow in his eyes. “Is it losing your job? Your reputation?”

“My job doesn’t care who I fuck,” Noel said. “And I don’t give a fuck about my reputation.”

“Then what are you so afraid of losing?” He gazed at me, and I stroked his full lower lip with my thumb. “Noel. Tell me.”

His eyes searched my face. “You’ve got a big family, don’t you? Lots of cousins?”

“A ridiculous amount,” I said. “There are Carmichaels all over northern California.”

Noel nodded slowly. “My family isn’t like that. One child, maybe two, and then the wife dies. Branches have died out after a generation or two. We’re going to die out entirely unless Caleb has kids.”

“I saw that in the family Bible.”

“You’ve looked in the family Bible?”

“I was curious,” I said. “And it’s a beautiful book.”