Love by Shekriah Marley

ennifer slowed down as the cabin came into sight, her running now a jog, across the field. The wooden cabin held glass in place of walls around the first floor; the second floor had large closed windows and one balcony. She hadn’t been able to get a good look of the cabin as when her and Michael arrived darkness had settled in the sky. A small light coming from the second floor caught her eye, more specifically the bedroom she was suppose to be sharing with her boyfriend. Instead she had left him while he was asleep and went for a run, the light told her that he was awake and no doubt wondering, maybe in a little panic because she had disappeared. She dropped to floor a few feet away from the porch steps, the ground dry yet slightly chilly but she didn’t mind. A sigh escaping her lips as her heart rapidly pounded against her chest, a thin layer of sweat covering her skin. Jennifer stretched her legs out, following the movement with her arms. Her fingers brushed the toe of her trainers, eyes catching glimpse of the silver watch on her wrist. Silently groaning, half-past midnight and she could feel the begging coming from her body to sleep, but she had tried a couple of hours ago. Her mind seemed hell bent on keeping her awake. It wasn’t the first time her mind had been like this, something uncontrollable, it wouldn’t be the last. Running normally helped, straight after a late night run she would be able to sleep with ease but this wasn’t like the other times. Six days of hell, that’s what she called it and today had just topped it all of, enough to make her start questioning herself and her feelings. 

Sunday was just the start, if she was to be technical then Monday at half two in the morning, an evening meal and drinks with her friends. Ended with Jennifer and her friend Katherine turning up at Michael’s completely obliterated, although he was expecting her, he was expecting a phone call to pick her up first. Her memory was fogged with the excessive alcohol but she remembered all that had happened, he had been a complete gentlemen and surprisingly he didn’t complain nor de he tease her the next day about it. He took care of each of them and finally at about four am they were all in bed, Katherine in the spare room with everything she could possible need. Jennifer was already passed out in Michael’s bed; that was what he thought, she had been wide awake but the darkness obscured him from seeing her eyes. She was ready to turn over and face him but when he started talking, she didn’t dare make any kind of movement or indication she was awake. The small speech lasted no longer than a couple of minutes. His words were real, something she never imagined being said to her or the man she loved saying to her. Six months, Jennifer and Michael have been having a more personal relationship, not a long time but she was sure of her feelings for him. Michael rarely spoke of his feeling towards her, it was more about his actions and the way he looked at her, but he hadn’t just said the three words he said more. Neither had said a word about it and although each day she thought about telling him, she kept quiet and now she doubts it all. 

Jennifer spent Monday lazing around and trying to get rid of the headache that just wouldn’t leave, but her mind was focused on his words. The words were burned into her mind, as if she had them written on paper and read them for hours, yet she only heard him say it once. It was worse when Michael got home; she avoided his eyes and tried to busy herself. He saw through it in seconds, of course that was only because he’s a profiler and they have been working together nine years. He reads her like a child’s book; although she disliked it she herself had managed to pick up on a few things over the years. So when he asked her what was wrong, she told him she had an argument with her mother, it wasn’t a full lie because she did have an argument with her except it was a few days ago. If Michael did pick up on the small bullshit, as he likes to call it, he didn’t say anything. The rest of the week was mostly a blur, filled with a whirlwind of issues. Arguments; her boss went into one over misplaced paperwork, her ex with the care about their son and another one with her mother. Jennifer barely had time to comprehend each thing as work just pilled up. 

Friday topped it off, when she turned up to a crime a scene, Michael was already there with other agents. Keeping their relationship between the two was easy, or as easy as it could be but they both knew everyone else had their suspicions. She was in the master bedroom, the body across the bed; her eyes caught sight of a trail of blood and she followed it. As soon as she stepped into the en-suite the door was slammed, locked and she was face the face with a woman holding a gun to her head. Thirty minutes passed before the door was kicked in, a few shots but everyone was ok. Jennifer was ok physically but mentally was whole different level. Trapped and questioned by a killer. Jennifer was shaking throughout, almost petrified, but she kept as calm as she could and kept talking. Somehow she had managed to record the whole thing on her voice recorder, not that she had showed or told anyone about it yet.

A cold breeze pulled Jennifer from reminiscing the week. She took a glance around, now noticing a light from the first floor inside switched on. Her legs now crossed as she stared into the distance. A single question on her mind…

Has anyone loved you and meant it? 

The questioned made her re-think about it all. Jennifer see the look in the woman’s eyes, profiler or not and killer or not. A look she had only seen in two eyes; her mothers and a killer. Wide and bright, a small sparkle. Loved, that’s what the woman said but her eyes told Jennifer it was more. Love-love, like in love. The look was in her mothers eyes when she spoke about her late husband, Jennifer’s father. Before another thought could scramble into her mind, she smiled as her nostrils filled with a scent she had grown to recognise all too well. His cologne mixed with cigarettes, strong yet fresh and always brought her a sense of warmth. Guilt bust through her veins, tears welled in her eyes, she had been unfair with him and he still came to find her.
“I thought you were sleeping, special agent Costa.” She said. Praising herself mentally; her voice didn’t sound as defeated as she felt.

“Well you thought wrong, Pierce.” Michael said, she didn’t need to look at him to see the smirk. He sat down next to her and placed and bottle of water in front of her legs.

Michael watched her, the silence thickening with each second. He was tired almost exhausted and was asleep as soon as they got into bed. He woke when he heard Jennifer moving around the room, but didn’t think of anything until a few minutes passed and he heard the door closed. Panic quickly set in but he relaxed when he stood on the balcony and watched her start running. Michael put on some sweat pants before making his way downstairs, he flicked the kettle on and caught sight of Jennifer’s work phone. It was unlocked and screen showed a voice recording lasting twenty eight minutes. He played it, listened and drunk his coffee, once finished he saw Jennifer outside. Michael reached for hand but she quickly rejected and picked up the water bottle. 
A frown upon his face and his fist clenched, Jennifer tried to ignore it but her heart clenched. A single tear sliding down her cheek, he saw it and she didn’t attempt to wipe it away.
“Darling,” he started his voice nothing but soft. Another tear slipped from her eye as she let out a shuddering breath. Her pulse raced; regret guilt and pain. She wanted to tell Michael about what happened about all of it. Apologise for her behaviour. He had planned this weekend away for weeks. She was ready to tell him that she didn’t feel up to going but when he told her how excited he was and the smile on his face, she couldn’t say no and deep down she was pretty excited to spend a weekend away with him. 

“I’m sorry,” she said in a low whisper. This time her voice cracked, she sniffed and twisted the bottle in he hands, refusing to look at him. The little distance between them closed, Michael moved closer with his legs stretched in front, their legs touching.

“What’s keeping you awake?” Michael asked. He wasn’t ignoring her apology, he knew she didn’t mean to be distance and shut him out. He understood why, pain in his chest and his mouth dry. The pain was nothing to what he felt at the time of realising Jennifer was locked in a bathroom with a killer. It took him twenty minutes to realise she was missing, five to realise she was locked in with a woman who murdered several people. He didn’t see it coming, no one did, guilt was clear. As soon as she was out he insisted she get checked by an EMT and just take it easy, he apologised as much as he could but she insisted it wasn’t his fault. 

“Just thinking.” She spoke quietly, a blunt answer but not in a harsh way. Michael knew her mind went crazy at times; over-thinking, under-thinking, thoughts that were both negative and positive. He had always been able to read her although sometimes he wishes he didn’t or couldn’t, a small part wanted to know every detail of what ran through her mind but he tried not to be too forward, last thing he wanted was to give her a push that made her want to run away. 

“Are you ok?” He whispered. He wanted to see all of her face; she still refused to glance his way. Michael felt his stomach knot, his heart telling him to come clean and tell her that he had listened to the recording on her phone. Jennifer would for sure be angry that he had, part of her would also be relieved. 

Jennifer didn’t answer, just a mere shrug was all he caught sight of out the corner of his eye. A full moon in the sky highlighted her face. He could see the conflict clear in her darkened eyes, she wanted to talk to him, and she didn’t want it to change anything. Michael could feel the tension starting to raise even more, his heart pounding against his chest in anticipation for her to talk. The seconds turned to minutes, he opened his mouth ready to speak but held back and clamped his mouth shut and dropped his head back looking at the sky. 
“Your phone was on the counter, unlocked. I listened to the recording.” Michael stated. She felt her breathing visibly hitch, her throat drying and more tears building. 
“I’m not sorry for listening to it. I’ve been worried ever since the moment I couldn’t find you, darling. She got into you head and was trying to control you, but you done the best you could, especially without any training. You kept talking and kept her calm yet you were basic with your answers, it’s hard to do that. I am sorry I didn’t get to you sooner-”

“I told you earlier, it wasn’t you fault, it isn’t your fault. Michael it was a situation no one could predict, it’s over now and I’m just trying to clear my mind.” Jennifer said. Interrupting him honestly with a soft voice, he felt himself relax but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he should have got there sooner.
“She asked if anyone has ever loved me and meant it.” She laughed. He didn’t miss the bitter and hollowness in her tone. All Michael wanted to do was wrap his arm round her, comfort her; however he knew from the way she was sat and the lack of eye contact that was the last thing she wanted. The last thing he wanted was to hurt Jennifer, always the last thing he ever wanted to do. Jennifer let out a shaky breath; her hands that rested on her legs trembled.

The question was momentarily forgotten as she thought about the now; what to do now and how to go about it. She had made the first step by telling him what had been keeping her awake, but without a word they both knew it wasn’t just that.
“Love-love, like… in love. Every other question I was able to answer apart from that one. I still don’t have an answer.” Jennifer told him, hesitation clear in her voice and even if she wasn’t looking at him; he smiled gently at her. Watching as she caught her lip between her teeth, dropping her head back and fixing her eyes to the stars. 
“It’s silly, it really is.” She forced a laugh, quickly risking a small glimpse at the man sat next to her. Michael sat with his legs outstretched but leaning back on his elbows; she didn’t look for longer than a second.

“What else is on your mind?” 

“Did you mean what you said the other night? I heard you and I know I was completely intoxicated. I know you thought I was asleep and part of me wishes I was but it wasn’t just three little words, Michael. You poured you heart out to me, I want to believe its true… I have doubts.” She rushed out but her voice dropped below a whisper with the last three words. Michael took a deep breath, he had no idea she had been awake at the time. She stood up with the bottle in one hand, willing herself to not cry she ran her tongue over her lips before looking down at Michael. 
“You don’t need to answer it. It’s easy to say something when you think someone is asleep, I’ve put you on the spot and it isn’t fair. Just answer this, is it a fling? I have strong feelings for you. Fling or not, Michael, it won’t change what’s happening with us.” The sincerity in her voice shocked him for a second. Michael’s heart skipped a beat as their eyes connected. The tiny curve of her lips, it was a small smile yet he could see it. It wasn’t just his heart that skipped; he felt the air leave his lungs. Jennifer was utterly amazing, everyday something she done or said amazed him even more. Close to a breaking down, telling him she would be happy with a fling yet her eyes told him differently. 

She smiled, it didn’t matter that it was small. It was her smile one he did truly enjoy seeing. One in a million felt like an understatement to him. Michael had never met a woman like her, in the many years they had known each other; it was a one of a kind journey that had its ups and downs, yet here he was nine years down the line at his secluded cabin. Even as things appeared to taking a turn, one that Michael didn’t feel fully ready to deal with. He knew he had only two options; shut her out with the possibility of their relationship going nowhere, or bite the bullet and tell her the truth with the hopeful possibility of their relationship progressing. The latter one, his head and heart told him but as soon as his gut wrenched to tell her. Michael took a deep breath.
“Darling, if you want the truth, I’ll give you it.” 

“That would be nice.” Sarcasm in Jennifer’s tone and Michael could see the frustration building in her eyes. Her face showed him nothing and slightly surprised that he could only read her eyes, they didn’t give much away except irritation. He saw the flicker of hope and maybe even love in her eyes.

“I’ve had many relationships and I’m almost Fifteen years older than you, I’d be worried if you didn’t have doubt.” Michael told her. A throaty chuckle left his lips, relaxing as he saw her grin. Jennifer didn’t want to smile but she couldn’t help it, she felt less tense but still worried. Michael was attempting to lighten the situation, it must be a good sign Jennifer thought. 
“I’ve never lied to you. I may have thought you were passed out but that doesn’t mean what I said wasn’t true. I said it was different, the way I feel about you is different to what I’ve ever felt before. You make me feel like I’m worth something; the way you look and speak to me, the random things you come out with, the few words I’ve heard you say about me to other people. It’s the tiny things, the massive things and everything in between. Over my many years, I’ve heard people say that the first always holds a special place. My father told me it once, the second to last conversation I had with him.

“I only remember a few chats I had with him. His words; through life you have a first for everything, many things are a first. When you share a first with someone and that someone is special, you will feel it, it will always hold a place deep down and it can never be replaced. With you, nearly a decade of highs and lows; laughs and tears, awful to dreadful and excellent to beyond what words can describe. It has been a trip, one that has been filled with many of things being a first; I’ve shared them with you, it’s been enchanting and darling I wouldn’t change it for anything.” Michael told her, his eyes not moving from hers. The words falling into sentences as they rolled from his tongue, like he had it wrote down and studied it for weeks. Jennifer didn’t fight the tears, she let them overflow and streak down her cheeks. Despite the darkness they felt as if they could see each other crystal clear. Neither one let their eyes drift; he didn’t hide the fact his were filled with tears. 

Jennifer’s heart swelled, he had no problem with showing her his emotion, as long as it was just the two of them. Michael moved quickly, standing in front of her he laced his fingers with hers. He kept his eyes down and burning with desire and glued to hers. Smiling that she didn’t pull away, but she was the first to look away but not before offering him a small smile; one that was bigger than before but still held a flavour of sadness. Her heart was beating in her ears, its all she could hear. Michael had told her what he felt, the truth, from his heart and not a minor indication he was lying or joking. He understood her silence and didn’t mind it, it was comforting. He wasn’t one to express his feelings like that, normally a romantic gesture or something small that didn’t involve words. 

Jennifer closed her eyes as Michael cupped her cheeks. His thumbs wiped away her tears before placing a kiss on her forehead then her lips. 
“The last thing I ever want to do Jennifer is hurt you. I really need you to know that. The day we met, do you remember the second question I asked you?” he asked. Jennifer had let her head lay against his chest, one of his arms around her shoulders. She shook her head, feeling his chest rumble as he chuckled.
“I asked you ‘have you found him yet? You just laughed and shook you head, I joked and told you ‘maybe you have now.’ It never once crossed my mind, that one day I would be at this cabin with you, that we would have more than a professional relationship and now it’s better than any dream or fantasy.”

“I thought men over the age of forty didn’t have fantasies.” Jennifer retorted dryly. She couldn’t bite her tongue anymore, mentally slapping herself for a comment like that, no doubt having ended the conversation. Jennifer knew that Michael knew it was a joke, especially as he laughed and squeezed her shoulder. He never minded her humour, sarcastic comments or dry remarks. It’s what made her who she is, the woman he loves. His laugh drowned out and a comfortable silence fell between them. 

“Marry me?” 

Jennifer stiffened, her whole body tensed, she let her fingers slip from his chest and took a step back. Michael looked just as shocked as she was, but that soon vanished as he smiled and watched her intently. Her eyes wide, jaw clenched along with one of her fist. The words had slipped from his lips before he even thought it, he wasn’t about to back down though. He knew it was a big step for both of them, for her more than him considering he had been married before. The question the killer asked was long forgotten. The thought of telling people about their relationship made Jennifer feel slightly sick. She wasn’t embarrassed by him, far from it, she didn’t want the feeling but the whole thing was like lightening. It was all going so fast, she wanted to run and she was ready to. 

She took another step away, avoiding eye contact. Michael’s heart felt like it was being ripped. Everything was telling him something different; his mind told him to tell her it was a joke, his heart told him to pour his feelings again. His gut told him to stand his ground and wait for her answer. He did, a look across her face was something he had never seen.
“Michael, you can’t be serious.” She whispered and shook her head. The man was actually crazy. His eyes told her just how serious he was about it, she watched him waiting for him to laugh or something but he was serious. His face, his eyes, all of him told her the seriousness his question held.
“This is ridiculous. Absolutely damn right ridiculous, Michael. Why would you even ask that? I think you need to get you brain-“ 

“I take that as a no.” Michael stated. 

“Yes.” 

“So you will marry me?”

“This is all a joke.” She snapped. Flinching at her tone he sunk his teeth into his lip, taking an involuntary step back. He wants to tell her it wasn’t a joke, but her tone was firm. Her breathing was the only sound, heavy and fast, he had no doubt her heart was beat just as quick as his. She turned, putting her back to him but he see her shoulders shake slightly.
“Please go inside, I’ll be in soon.” He heard her choke on a sob. Knowing she was crying and that she wanted to be left alone; it felt like in ice pick in his heart and it was being twisted. He knew he couldn’t walk away; he couldn’t leave it like this. He closed his eyes but in less than thirty seconds a small smirk fell to his lips as he opened them again. Jennifer felt small spits; rain fell slowly from the sky. Little prickles against her exposed skin, only wearing sweat pants and a sports bra but she wasn’t cold. The droplets felt cool against her still hot skin, mixing with her tears.

Jennifer wrapped her arms around herself, tightly holding as she silently begged herself to stop the tears. Tears of frustration; she had spent hours trying to comprehend an answer, Michael had confessed his feelings and proposed and she had being nothing less than a bitch about it all. She wanted to apologise, she wanted to say yes but everything in her told her to run. 

“Darling, answer this… we continue our relationship, a few months maybe a year down the line. What would your answer be then?”

“It isn’t that easy.” 

“It can be.” His voice low; husky and his lips brushed against her ear. Michael let his hands fall to her shoulders before gently running them down her arms. 

“I have to think of my son and you need to think of your kids. We work together and a proposal will ruin it all.” She tried to reason with him. They had things that needed to be considered about before the relationship progressed. Jennifer without a doubt knew she wanted a relationship with Michael; she wanted all of it with him except getting married, it wasn’t Michael, it was her. 

“If we wanted it to work, we could make it, Jennifer.” He spoke matter-of-fact. He pressed his lips against her cheek, letting them linger against her smooth skin. She closed her eyes and leant back into him, warmth radiated from his body.

“Yes.” Jennifer whispered. Michael wondered if he was hearing things and as if she knew, she repeated it again in the same low whisper. 

“I’ll get you a ring-“

“No. This isn’t an engagement, you asked a question and I answered. It was hypothetical. I don’t want a ring, I don’t want an engagement. Just what we have now Michael, we are both happy nothing needs to change.” Her voice shook. He knew that she didn’t want to rush it and that was fine by him. Jennifer had said yes, that’s all he needed even if it wouldn’t be for a while. 
“It’s like I told you; my feelings are strong. We can make it work… just take our time and carry on the way we are.” All he could do was nod, his chin on her shoulder and her head tilted against his. 

The quiet moment lasted less than five minutes; soon enough Michael moved away. The time on her watch showed her it was nearing two in the morning. The rain was falling harder but Jennifer was enjoying it, it was calming. She didn’t know what Michael was doing or if he was waiting for her to turn, he’d be waiting a while for her to go inside. A shiver travelled down her spine, rain soaking the both of them, cold but bearable. Michael ran a hand over her damp shoulder; his body almost pressed flush against her back. Jennifer bit her lip, closing her eyes. 

“I love you,” Michael whispered. She jumped as she felt his hands on her neck, something cold on her chest. Slowly she peeled her eyes open, fixating them on her chest, her heart stopped. Sucking in a sharp breath, fresh tears filled her eyes. Speechless, was the only way to describe how she felt. Lifting her hand she ran her fingers over the gold chain; it held a gold signet ring. Michaels gold curb chain and ring, he wore them almost all the time. The chain he had brought himself only a few years ago. The ring he had been wearing the day they met, she asked him about it the second time she see it. Michael’s mother had got it for his father, who had given it to Michael. 

“Michael,” She choked out. He watched as she turned around but didn’t look at him, her eyes only focused on the gold around her neck. She held the ring in her fingers; shaking her head gently. She found Michael’s hand with her free one, linking their fingers but her eyes wide with shock and adoration, still staring at her chest. At a loss for words; not a single thought. He placed a kiss on her forehead before cupping her chin, gently forcing her to look up to him. Jennifer gave him a weak yet happy smile, her eyes telling him the words she couldn’t speak. Resting a hand against her cheek, Michael used the pad of his thumb to brush away a tear. 

“My father would have liked you, very much. No proposal, no engagement with pretty diamond ring. Just a promise,” He told her. Staring deeply into her hazel orbs. Her pulse raced as Michael smile, a genuine bright smile the one that made her skin tingle. The sparkle in her eyes told him all she felt, he didn’t need more than that. His cheeks started to ache from smiling but he couldn’t stop, he didn’t want to. Finally Jennifer laid the chain against her chest, her lips curving into a grin. Michael slowly leaned down and captured her lips. His hand fell to her lower back, the space between them closed as he pulled her as close as he possibly could. 

Jennifer clasped her hand at the back of Michael’s neck, their lips moving in union. She arched her body into his as his teeth sunk gently into her lip. Michael pulled back first. Her hand fell from his neck as she laid her head against his chest, his arms automatically falling around her shoulders. His fingers falling into her hair as she wrapped an arm round his waist.

“Please come inside, we should sleep.” He spoke huskily. Jennifer nodded against his chest before stepping back. Connecting their hands, she started walking with Michael falling into step with her.
“I guess you have an answer for that question now.” He pushed open the door but didn’t step inside; instead he looked over his shoulders, smirking as she furrowed her brows. 
“Sono innamorato di te.” He winked at her before walking inside, ignoring the urge to chuckle. Jennifer rolled her eyes, she wasn’t fluent in Italian. As she closed the door she remembered the question. 

Has anyone loved you and meant it?

Michael just told her his in love with her. In Italian so she would need to cheek later but she was sure. He was stood at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for her. Her fingers crossed behind her back as she slowly strutted towards him. 
“Ti amo, Michael.” She told him. Michael swore under his breath with a smile, the woman amazed him. Relieved she had got the words right, she moved quicker to him. They both knew it; the relationship was different, something complicated yet a first in numerous ways, it was beautiful sometimes ugly but that is what made it real. Neither wants to lose what they have, tonight confirmed that. With a smile on each of their face, Jennifer led the way up the stairs, Michael’s hands on her waist as he followed.

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