Jon plodded resolutely along behind Rachel as they ascended the gazillion stairs which would put them at the zenith of mighty Diamond Head. His heart wasn’t in it and, in all honesty, he would rather be getting a root canal than scaling the epic Hawaiian landmark this morning.
Last night continued to weigh heavily on his mind, mostly because they’d never really resolved anything. She’d offered up some half-assed intention to do better, they’d gone back to the boat for lackluster sex and when she popped out of bed this morning, it was obvious that she had put the whole restaurant scene behind her. Seeing as he was still stewing, her carefree attitude irritated him a little. Add in that this hike brought back memories of his last visit – when he was a lovesick schmuck pining after Rachel – and he was in a piss poor frame of mind.
Nonetheless, he was trying his best to put on a hap-hap-happy face and not be a dick. She had been looking forward to this excursion since almost the moment they met and he wasn’t asshole enough to want to ruin it for her. Hell, he wished he could shake off his mood enough to try and enjoy it himself, but it just wasn’t happening.
As they edged around the tightly spiraled staircase at the top of the old military bunker, Jon pondered how they’d gotten from his lovesick schmuck moment to the point they were now – together, yet not. It confused the hell out of him to be in this predicament. Jon thought he’d done everything right since they’d reunited.
They’d been infamous for doing very little beyond fucking and fighting, so he had been very about not falling back into that pattern. Hell, he’d even read a few – okay, one – of those couples’ communication books in hopes of finding a way to make his point without becoming vicious or insulting. Some of it must have even sunk in, because he could honestly say that they hardly ever fought anymore.
While it was great that they weren’t trying to slice one another to ribbons with their insults and harsh words, he wondered if it really made a difference. They still didn’t work through their problems, if you asked him. It was more a case of avoiding the hot spots in order to keep the peace and, even if he was guilty of it at this very moment, he didn’t think it was a good solution.
After one final wiggle through a narrow opening in the bunker, they finally arrived at their destination – the pinnacle of Diamond Head. While his chest heaved a little more deeply than usual, a smile as wide as the horizon lit Rachel’s face just before she threw her arms around Jon’s neck, chirping something about how beautiful it was and some other platitudes that he didn’t quite catch.
Inhaling deeply of the warm sea air, Jon pulled his lips into some semblance of a smile. Still of the intention to not be a dick, he kissed the top of her forehead, patted her bottom and mumbled semi-agreeably, “Yeah, Rach. Beautiful.”
Seemingly encapsulated in her own euphoric bliss, Rachel didn’t take notice of his marked lack of enthusiasm. She merely twisted in his arms so that his hands were clasped across her stomach and snuggled into him, dropping her head back against his chest.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy in my life as I am right this minute. Well…maybe when the kids were born, but this is a definitely close second, Jonny.”
What was he supposed to say to that? He might not want to be a dick, but he wasn’t going to pretend he was happy as a pig in shit either.
So he said nothing.
His lack of enthusiasm might not have dented her Diamond Head exhilaration, but his silence evidently did. Rachel swiveled around within the loop of his arms, tipping her grinning face up to his and teasing, “What’s the matter old man? Did the hike wear you out?”
“Nah.” He sighed and settled his hands into the small of her back, deciding that he could try being honest without being a dick. “I was just thinkin’ about the last time I was here.”
“You mean when you sent me that text out of nowhere trying to get me to fly over here and meet you for dinner?” she asked with a happy-go-lucky chuckle.
“I wanted a lot more than dinner, little girl.” His somber eyes met her merrily dancing ones. “I wanted you back where you belong – with me.”
“And you always get what you won’t, don’t you, Jon?”
“Not always,” he countered with a shake of his head. “I just keep chasing my tail where you’re concerned.”
Rachel plainly didn’t understand that he wasn’t just engaging in lighthearted banter and witty repartee, because she grinned up into his face with a lopsided smile. “You used to chase my tail, not your own. What happened there, baby?”
“You got me all pussy whipped tryin’ to get you back and I’ve still not found my balls,” he grumbled, with maybe just a touch of acrimony. It was true. He’d been walking on eggshells for months, doing everything he knew in order to make sure he didn’t lose her again, trying to make her happy despite the fact he wasn’t.
This time, Rachel caught the tone in Jon’s voice and her infatuation with the paradise surrounding them dropped to the back burner. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked defensively, unhappy lines furrowing their way into her forehead and cheeks. “I’ve been dying to bring you here and now you want to pick a fight? Here of all places?”
Okay, so despite his best intentions, he’d managed to be a dick anyway. He didn’t want to pick a fight, he just wanted things to be the way he wanted things to be.
“I’m sorry, Rach,” Jon sighed and tried to channel a technique from the communication book by dialing back the bitterness in his voice and speaking more conversationally. “Being back here just makes me realize not much has changed since the last time I was here.”
“What do you mean?”
Score one for the book. Now she at least didn’t sound like she was ready to pounce on him and tear him to shreds for ruining her moment.
“I stood here in this very spot, more miserable and lonely than I’d been in any far corner of the world, because all this…” He waved his hand in a vague gesture toward their surroundings. “…was supposed to make me feel closer to you, but it only made me miss you more. Made me remember how much I fucked it all up.”
“We fucked it up, babe,” she corrected quietly, laying a hand alongside his jaw. “And we fought to get it back. Look at us, Jon…we’re stronger than ever. We share a beautiful home, a beautiful life. I’d say quite a lot has changed since the last time you were here.”
Jon frowned over her head out at the vast ocean and tamped down the urge to call bullshit.
“We have a beautiful home,” he agreed carefully. “But we don’t really share it. If I’m there, I’m there alone because you’re in California climbing the corporate ladder.”
“You know that I’m dedicated to my job.”
“I know that you didn’t used to give a shit about being a business tycoon. You told me yourself when you started in real estate it was to make enough money to pay for fertility treatments. The only thing I can figure is, now that you don’t want to have more children, the corporate world must be more appealing to you.”
“I’m not interested in being a business tycoon,” she reaffirmed with a frown. “Why else would I have taken on that new project with Habitat for Humanity? I’m not profiting from that and it’s one of your pet organizations.”
He closed his eyes for a moment. In for a penny, in for a pound, he supposed.
“Yeah, there’s that now, too,” he sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. What you’re doing is admirable, but it’s just one more commitment that keeps us apart. It’s hard enough working around my crazy schedule, but when you have meetings here and there every day of the week. Well, dammit, Rach.” Jon scraped a frustrated hand through his hair. “I called you from this fucking hill because I wanted to be with you, and now it’s to the point where we aren’t any more together now than we were when I made the goddamn phone call.”
“Jonny!” Rachel protested, taking a small step backward, as though he had just grown a second head.
“It’s true,” he continued doggedly, knowing that if he didn’t find his balls now, he never would. “You blow me off whenever I bring it up. Oh, occasionally you make an extra trip to put a Band-Aid on it and pacify me for a while, but we never resolve anything. Maybe we don’t scream and fight, but we still aren’t dealing problems like normal people and we have to if this – we – are going to last. It’s time to make some changes, Rach. Right here and now.”
Now his second head had apparently developed a serious case of leprosy, if the look of disbelief on her face was anything to go by. “You’re serious,” she remarked with the same incredulity in her voice.
“As a fuckin’ heart attack,” Jon affirmed with a sharp nod, his balls gaining momentum. “I’ve walked a tightrope since we got back together, knowing that I was an asshole before, but I’ve had enough now. When I’m home with my kids, I want you home with us instead of asking how high when cocksucker James says ‘jump’.”
Her disbelief was slowly gaining ground and morphing into something that had her eyes snapping with attitude, but he didn’t give her the chance to unleash on him. Jon just very quietly and calmly informed her, “I’m not interested in fighting or drama, and I’m not making empty threats here, Rachel. I’m not even mad, but I am done with things the way they are.”
Maybe he had been a dick – with balls – by unloading all that on her at once, but at least it was out in the open now. They would finally be forced to deal with their problems, anyway.
“We either come up with a plan that has us together more than apart or…” Jon shrugged. He hadn’t planned on issuing any ultimatums when he climbed up here, but this is where they were and he wanted her to know he was damned serious. “I’ll go back down this god awful mountain – and home – by myself. What’s it gonna be, Rach?”
Rachel stayed quiet, eyes still snapping, though not quite as sharply as before. Either she was actually considering what he had to say or devising the most efficient way to throw his ass over the edge. Either was realistically possible. She never had appreciated his ‘high-handed’ and ‘dictatorial’ personality traits all that much.
When she sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, he felt pretty sure he wasn’t going for an unscheduled dive and swim.
Rachel was dumbfounded.
She hadn’t expected this conversation at all, much less here. She’d thought last night was just Jon being overdramatic because he’d had too much to drink and that the issue had waned along with his blood alcohol content.
Clearly, she’d been mistaken, because those weren’t the words of man talking off the cuff. He’d obviously put a lot of thought into this… situation, and she couldn’t say that she completely disagreed with his assessment. They still hadn’t figured out how to work out their problems, only how to ignore them more civilly.
She was proud of Jon for presenting his thoughts in a way that wasn’t making her feel defensive – much – and he wasn’t doing his usual thing by insisting they get married or even that she give up her job and let him support her. Those were all major steps in the right direction, so she figured the least she could do was take a step or two of her own.
After all, he was just insisting that some changes be made and, she had to concede, his reasons for doing so might be valid. They had been spending more time apart than together lately and she wasn’t necessarily thrilled by it, either.
“I miss the days when we were together more often than not,” she finally concurred with a slow nod. “When I was working from the New York office we had a more normal life together and I kind of miss that. So I think you’re right about making changes so that we have that life again.”
The rigid set of his shoulders relaxed, filling Rachel with further assurance that she’d done the right thing in choosing to talk instead of be angry.
“I’m sorry that I’ve been blind to how you’ve been feeling about this,” she continued, confidence blooming. “And I will absolutely make arrangements so that we’re apart less often.”
“I’ve heard the empty promises before,” he reminded her. “Specifics, please.”
“I, uh…” What could she do? Something concrete. “Well, for starters, I can work more from Jersey when you’re home.”
“Okay,” He nodded and she realized that, for the first time that morning, there was a genuine smile on his face. “That’s a start. Anything else?”
When his arms settled back around her waist, it was something akin to Superman putting on her cape. With him by her side, she could do anything. All she had to do was decide what she wanted to do.
“My responsibilities will still be based on the west coast, and I’ll have to spend a lot of time on an airplane, but I can work in the air and try to maneuver around your tour schedule.” Yes. She could make this compromise without giving up her entire world. This was totally doable and she smiled up at him with the knowledge of it. “Crawling in bed with you at night justifies the extra wear and tear on my luggage.”
Those beautiful blue eyes sparkled brighter than she’d seen them shine in a long time when he returned her smile. “I’ll buy you new luggage, baby. Hell, for such a huge compromise, I’ll buy you a luggage manufacturing company.”
Arms twined around one another, they turned at an angle which allowed them both to survey the renewed beauty around them. The sea swam around the base of Diamond Head, a mixture of dazzling turquoise and aquamarine. The sky was a turquoise several hues lighter, but none the less brilliant. The mountain on which they stood, and the surrounding flora was a shade of green so lush that it almost looked like velvet.
It was, in a clichéd word, paradise.
“Yanno somethin', Rach,” he murmured into her hair as the breeze ruffled them both. “You're right. This place is pretty special."
Now all she had to do was hope that karma - and James - cooperated.