The rough concrete of Joy's driveway hurt her feet as she ran after the car, waving and manic as Nate drove off, Miles already asleep in the carseat. Nate stuck his arm out the window in farewell as he rounded the corner, and then they were gone. They'd be back after dinner, which suddenly seemed really far away. Joy hadn't been with Miles every second since he'd been born, but they'd only been apart for an hour or two at a time, never most of the day. Joy was anxious, and relieved, and tired, and even more anxious, and very glad John Paul was in the house. She didn't want to be alone.
She found him in the living room, slouched so far down on the couch he was practically horizontal, long legs stretched in front of him and crossed at the ankle. He'd stripped to his shirtsleeves and undone his bowtie, but otherwise, he was still in the rumpled tux from the morning's photoshoot. His head was back, his eyes were closed, his pick was in his mouth, and he was plucking absently at the guitar across his chest.
Joy put a steadying hand on the wall, in danger of being capsized by the wave of gratitude that washed over her at the sight of him. Nate, John Paul, and now Miles: she loved these men so wholeheartedly she could barely breathe for doing it. And there they were, in her life and loving her back, each of them different, all of them beautiful.
John Paul, in particular, was currently looking like every fantasy she'd ever had a teenager, and quite a few she'd had as an adult.
"If I acquired a Harley," she said, trying to sound thoughtful about it, "what would I have to do to get you to pose with it in that tux?"
He lifted his head and looked at her, a deliberate up-and-down that picked up her pulse. "You'd have to pose with me," he said, flipping the pick in his mouth a few times, his tongue working it around. It was mesmerizing. "In real short cutoffs and a Hooters shirt."
She laughed, quick and startled. "A Hooters shirt. You spend a lot of time there?"
"Never stepped foot in one."
The slow curve of his mouth was so innocent it was anything but. Joy's hand flexed against the wall. "The tux and a motorcycle, huh?" he asked, voice just low enough to get under her skin. "What else?"
"The guitar, of course."
"Your sunglasses." She kept her tone light. JP nodded gravely. "And a cigarette." His eyebrows went up. "Unlit," she clarified, and he threw back his head and laughed.
Joy thrilled to the sound, sank into it like a warm bath drawn just for her. Not many people heard the real thing, and she liked that she could pull it out of him. It made her feel special.
But now he laughed so long that her own smile faltered. She knew things had changed between them, that the intent behind their words weighted them: this was more than flirting. It was foreplay. She also knew it wasn't anything she'd done that often -- only with Nate, really, and now JP. The last thing she'd expected was that he'd laugh at her attempts.
"I'm not sharing a mic with a smoker." She tried to cover her hesitancy with some classic good-girl indignation.
"Oh, I see," he drawled, quieting. "Are we talking about singing?" The pick disappeared into his mouth and he smiled around it, that same gradual twist of his lips, but no innocence in sight.
She crossed her arms. They'd broken out into goosebumps. "Aren't we always?"
"If that's what you wanna call it." He slid lower on the couch, legs spread, and pulled the pick from his mouth. "Come on over here, then. Sing with me."
He started playing, and within a few seconds, the strumming resolved into 'I Had Me A Girl.' They almost never played it live. Once, maybe twice; something about it didn't quite work on a stage. But in her living room, the dirtiest version she'd ever heard was was working just fine. He looked her in the eye and sang about being down on his knees, I'd beg and I'd plead, grit in his voice, and Joy's pulse slammed between her legs with every downstroke of his hand.
Well, she thought, dizzy, there's a song we're not ever going to play live again. Not if she was going to react like this. John Paul hadn't even moved and she was soaking wet and staring at his mouth, wondering what exactly he might be able to do with it. She'd been wondering about that for years now, and her wonder only grew and grew: she wondered if she might be able to find out, how she could ask him, whether he felt the same. Desire tore through her at the thought, strong enough that her vision flickered white around the edges, the way it did sometimes before a big show.
When she didn't join him for the chorus, John Paul let the song fade, his hand stilling on the strings. "No?" He looked up, his eyebrows lifted in a careful question.
Joy shook her head, and regretted it. It made her dizzier than she already was. Her hands were cold. Her throat was tight. She was nervous, she realized, and almost laughed. This was just like every case of pre-show jitters she'd ever had.
It wasn't a mystery. Things had been tense between them, in and out of the studio, and then they'd slept together. It had only been a few days, but it seemed like so much longer; Joy barely remembered it. Visceral flashes struck her at inconvenient times, but her clearest memory was that it hadn't felt the way she'd expected. Cheating was wrong. She assumed it would feel wrong.
It hadn't. It had felt exactly the same as everything else she and John Paul had done together. From the second they'd met, everything between them had been effortless, natural, and unconditionally, unquestionably right. Sex hadn't been any different.
She wanted to do it properly this time, but she'd only ever been with Nate, she'd just had a baby and her body didn't work the way it used to, and she just-- she wanted--
John Paul scratched at his cheek while he watched her, silent, patient. It was a familiar gesture, a known window to his own uncertainty, and it filled Joy with such warm affection that she could only smile helplessly. JP's forehead creased as his eyes searched the room, trying to figure out who she was smiling at. He did it every time, like her love for him was a constant surprise, one as mysterious as their connection. It only made her smile bigger.
God, it was silly to be so nervous when looking at him made her heart so full. She knew what to do when she felt this way before a show: reach for her partner, open herself up, put herself in his hands. He wouldn't let anything happen to her.
So she told him, "I'm nervous," the same quiet admission she'd made a hundred hundred times before, in dressing rooms the world over.
Usually he made some deadpan joke, or squeezed her hand, or simply started singing and pulled her along in his wake. Me too, he said sometimes, burying his face in her hair and breathing, centering them together.
Today he only stared at his feet, his jaw clenched.
"That's not very reassuring," she said, at a loss in the the face of his silence. "Are you...?"
"Nervous? I am now," he muttered.
"Oops." She grimaced. "I messed it up." The butterflies in her stomach were starting to twist into something darker, sharper.
"Nah. I just--" He broke off, shoved his hands through his hair, and tried again. "If you think I would--" But he couldn't finish that sentence, either. Finally he looked up, a plea in his eyes. "Nervous about what?"
Joy could tell him anything. Everything. Even when she wasn't sure what she was trying to say, John Paul would understand. She knew that, believed it down deep. But even with her faith to steady her, she had to force herself to cross the room. Every step felt like slogging through wet concrete.
"The motorcycle," she blurted out when she got there, back to the beginning, not sure where else to start. "I told you about the motorcycle." She pointed at him, trying to smile. "So it's your turn. Tell me a fantasy."
"Of you?" He tipped his head back to look her up and down again, as deliberate as the first time but slow, slow, slow, his eyes lingering and everywhere, so heavy he might as well have been using his hands. "I'm looking at it."
Her mouth opened, but only breath came out.
His lopsided grin was a wicked tug at her heart. "Thought I was gonna say something dirtier?"
"Well." She swallowed, and tried to match his sudden playfulness. "You were just trying to seduce me with your wicked devil music."
He peered up at her through his hair, half shy, half hopeful. "Did it work?"
"It did." She took the guitar away from him and set it gently on the other end of the couch.
"Whew." His empty hands curled around the edges of couch cushions. "Because that's my only move."
Joy hiked up her skirt and slid onto his lap, a whisper of soft wool against the bare skin of her thighs. "You have a few other moves," she said, rolling her hips, grinding down against his growing erection. She felt better already.
"Jesus." He groaned and dropped his head back, eyes shut tight. "You said you were nervous," he muttered.
"Yeah," she said, smoothing out a few of the wrinkles in his shirt before slipping two fingers inside his open collar, dragging them down his bare sternum. "But I still know what I'm doing." She hooked a finger on the next button and tugged it loose.
"Believe me, I've noticed, but-- fuck." Finally he touched her, warm hands landing on her thighs and fisting in her skirt, sliding up, up. He stopped before things got interesting, thumbs in the hollows of her hipbones, just enough pressure to keep her still. Frustrated, she tried to glare at him, but when she looked, all she could see in his eyes was the care he had for her. He wasn't teasing. He was worried: Joy never said no when he asked her to sing.
There it was again, that overwhelming rush of tenderness, affection, gratitude, the care she had for him in return at the forefront of her consciousness.
"This is a lot of new things at once," she told him. A hand on his cheek, a soft kiss, a wicked smile as she moved to the next button, the next, the one after that. As she bared his skin, her tenderness was replaced with something hungrier, more primal. She was fascinated by the movement of his body underneath hers -- the up-and-down of his diaphragm as he breathed, the tremor of his muscles as she traced the curve of his ribcage, the growing hardness pressing between her legs as she shifted against him, hot, wet, wanting.
He sighed, or maybe whimpered, strong hands guiding her hips in a circle against his as he pressed up, close as he could get with all these clothes between them. Joy needed them gone. She reached for his belt buckle with a whimper of her own, but again he stopped her, catching her hands, brushing his mouth across her knuckles. Then he let go, and placed his own hands very carefully on the cushions.
"What?" she asked, staring at her hands on his body as she waited for an answer, her fingers spread wide over his stomach, feeling the muscles tense as he started to speak, feeling them relax as he gave up on talking. "Don't do that," she said, finally looking up at his face. "You've started five different sentences. Just say it. We need to be able to talk to each other." They were having enough problems with that in the studio; she wouldn't have it here, too.
He dropped his head back with a soft laugh. "I'm not thinking too clearly with you"--she twisted down, teeth in her bottom lip, teasing--"doing that. I was just gonna say that if it's too many new things, or if you want to slow down, or stop, or--"
"No!" She ground down again, harder now, faster, and wrapped the ends of his bowtie around her hands. She yanked but he didn't move, so she kept pulling, kept grinding her hips, trying to get pressure where she needed it. "No, I don't want to stop."
Another huff of laughter. "Yeah, I picked up on that one."
"I just want..." She pulled on his tie again and this time he went with it, sat up to meet her, mouth open and moving against her own, the taste of honey on his tongue. "This," she said, biting at his bottom lip before she pulled away. He watched her, eyes dark and greedy on her mouth, and when she shoved at his chest he went with that, too, sprawling back. "And this." She licked her way up his naked chest, sucking at the scar below his collarbone. "And this." She traced her fingers over the seam of his lips until he opened for her, drew them in up to the knuckle. "And this." She slid her hand between their bodies, palmed his erection through his pants. "And-- wait."
He froze, hands fisted in the ruin of her skirt and sliding up, his eyes intent on her breasts. Hooters, she thought stupidly, and covered herself with her arms.
"Joy," he said softly, hands retreating to the safer ground of her knees. "If you don't want--"
"God," she said, her frustration -- with this, with him, with herself, with her body, with the record, with everything in her messy life -- finally boiling over. "I am so tired of trying to tell you exactly what I want."
His jaw clenched, but all he said was, "I can't read your mind."
"Yes, you can! That's the whole point of sleeping with you!"
His eyebrows went up and he sat back, lips pursed in a near whistle. "Oh my god," Joy said, following him down and curling against his chest. "I'm so sorry." It was a long time before he relented and his arms came around her, but eventually they did, a warm weight, a familiar anchor.
"That came out really, really wrong," she said, still horrified, listening to his heart beat, hoping the rhythm would resolve into words. "John Paul-- I don't have any way of-- my body, I don't know, I might get milk all over you the second you touch me. And I am so tired of worrying about it, and trying to figure out how to be and what to say, and so I thought..."
She sat up, palms flat on his chest, and studied his face, every cherished line and curve of it. "I trust you. I know you. And you know me. You must have wondered." Everything dipped lower -- her voice, her chest, her hands. "Our connection. What it would be like. Offstage. In bed. You've thought about it." Her voice was a whisper now, her lips against his skin. "I know you have. I know, if you wanted to, you could... you could..."
Her voice and brain sputtered out as his hands slid under her skirt, his callused fingertips light on her inner thigh, barely there and gone, like fading vapor trails. She spread her legs and arched, her body chasing his touch the way the two of them chased the music, like her nerve endings only existed where they met his. All her awareness was focused on the pad of his thumb as he stroked her through her once-practical cotton underwear, long since soaked through. More, she thought, and gasped when he gave it to her, the heel of one hand hard against her clit as his thumb kept working. Then he had a finger inside her and she wasn't sure how -- magic, maybe -- and she tried to bear down, to take more, maybe ask him for another finger, but then his hands were gone.
She shuddered with want and dragged her eyes open in time to watch him rub his wet fingertip over the inside of his lower lip. "Yeah," he said, "I probably could."
Joy blinked at him, her head foggy, her body aching, and tried to remember what on earth they'd been talking about. She couldn't figure out why they were talking at all.
"But I'm still gonna need you to tell me."
She managed another slow blink. His finger kept moving. "Fine," she said, "I want you to take me apart," and it was his turn to shudder. She grabbed his hand away from where it was against his mouth and brought it to her own, licking the last taste of herself away. "Use your mouth."
The mouth in question curved into a wicked, wolfish smile. "Darlin', it will be my pleasure."
He kissed her, finally, long and lazy, deep but never desperate, like they had all the time in the world and he'd be happy to spend it just like this, making her scalp tingle and her toes curl, both of them floating away. She'd been on painkillers that weren't this good, that hadn't warmed her from the inside out, hadn't made her feel so safe, so cherished, so content.
Her happy sigh turned into more of a whine when he pulled away, and it was only then she realized he'd moved her, reversed their positions so she was the one almost horizontal on the couch. John Paul was still between her legs, but he was kneeling now, her feet on his bare shoulders, his hair tickling her toes. Oh, she breathed, as he rubbed his bristly cheek against her calf. He kissed the arch of her foot and the turn of her ankle and the bend of her knee, his expression one of reverential abandon as he moved up her legs, eyes dark and locked on hers.
But without his arms around her, without his body against hers -- "John Paul," she gasped, shivering suddenly. She wasn't any good at just relaxing into it and she wanted-- she needed-- there, his hand, their fingers entwined, something to hold on to. His voice, a soft murmur surrounding her, the sound of it like coming home, something else to hold onto. Whatever he was saying was too quiet for her to make out, but it didn't matter. Then he shifted up and licked her open, and nothing mattered but him.
Her pillow was moving. Joy groaned and burrowed deeper under the blankets. Her pillow laughed.
"Joy, come on now, wake up." John Paul's voice drew her reluctantly up to consciousness. "It's getting late."
With a yawn, she stretched and arched and slid against him, enjoying how warm he was, how good he felt, the way he sucked in his breath as she moved. The heavy blankets made a cozy barrier against the frigid air-conditioning and she was still so tired, her limbs heavy, brain fuzzy, body aching. "But it's so comfy." It was a new bed with clean sheets, and JP--
"I could've put you in the crib and you wouldn't have noticed," he said.
"No good. You wouldn't fit." Smiling, she slid up for a leisurely kiss. She could still taste herself in his mouth, even though that must have been hours ago. "Can't we just stay here?"
John Paul was quiet for a long time, his heart beat steady under her ear. Then he wrapped his arms around her with a sigh, and held her close. "Fine by me."