We waited a few more excruciating minutes for our server to return Jackson’s credit card, and I gathered up my purse, clutching it my shaking hands as he signed and left a tip on the receipt. This had been such a wonderful night. Gorgeous restaurant, great food, and great company— Jackson was always great company. Well, that was usually the case, but then he had go and ruin it by asking me something he had no business asking me. He had a lot of damned nerve.
I nearly choked on my own tongue in disbelief when he dropped the slip of paper and pen back to the table, then without a backwards glance, got up and headed for the door. Hurrying out of my own seat, I followed, catching him halfway across the parking lot.
“Jackson! What the hell is your pro—”
“Two years, Kris,” he barked, rounding on me so abruptly that I nearly stumbled on my heels as I came to a stop. “You’ve been sidestepping me on this for two damn years.”
Eyes narrowed, I crossed my arms. “I don’t understand why you’re mad.”
“Because I would think that a gesture like that would mean something to you.”
“It does! But it doesn’t change my answer.”
He stared at me for a second before turning to shake his head in what I perceived as disappointment. A tiny part of me felt a little guilty, but again… this wasn’t my fault. I trailed behind him as he finished the distance to the car, where he remembered his manners and opened my door. I waited for the ‘accidental’ brush of his hand against my ass as I lowered myself into the car. I could count on his affectionate grabbiness the same way I could rely on eight o’clock coming twice a day.
Usually, at least.
This time, he kept his hand on the door, waiting for me to swing my legs inside. I lifted an eyebrow at him, which he challenged with a cocked brow of his own.
“So it’s like that, J?”
“Yeah, it’s like that.”
Rolling my eyes, I buckled my seatbelt as he closed the door then went around to the driver’s side to sit down. On the awkwardly silent ride back to my apartment, I wondered how long he would be mad. Jackson and I rarely fought, so I didn’t really have anything to compare this to. I couldn’t remember him ever being this upset with me, but I really, really can’t say enough that this was not my fault.
Nobody asked him to go and buy a damned engagement ring.
No matter how chic, and sparkly, and gorgeous, and expensive, and blingy, and— Wait, what was I saying? Oh! Yes. The ring could have been universally voted best ring in the history of engagements — and damn, it was a pretty good contender— but my answer would have still been no, because as wonderful as Jackson was… I didn’t want to get married.
There. I said it. Kristin doesn’t want to get married again. Was that really so bad? I gave up fifteen years of my life to a marriage that ended in shambles, and now, at 35, I wasn’t interested in going down that road again. Not even for Jackson, who was — quite frankly — everything I could possibly want in a man. He was kind, and sweet, and gentle with me, but still firm, dependable, and strong. Jackson was smart, successful, and open minded with the body of a broad-shouldered athlete swathed in rich dark brown skin. A few months before, he had swapped his locs for a low cut fade, which, along with his goatee, only accentuated his handsome face. More important than all of that was that fact that Jackson never gave me any doubts that — in his mind, at least— he was mine, and I was his.
But was I really ready to be had again?
I fully recognized that Jackson and Ahmad were different men. Ahmad and I met when we were still kids really, at 18 years old. Things for us got hot and heavy fast, and before I knew it, we were married. My memories of our marriage are beautiful, fond ones. We were as happy as two people who got married before they even knew themselves could be, and we learned and grew along the way. Still, looking back, I realized that at some point, we had lost our way. That must have been the point when Ahmad decided he wanted to act like he was single again. We devolved into a relationship of boyfriend and girlfriend, then casual sex partners, and then, obviously… strangers.
Jackson, on the other hand, had an unshakable sense of maturity about him. He was — usually— level-headed and easy going, with a slow temper. He was just cool, like Denzel. From the moment we began officially dating, Jackson loved and cared for me like I was his wife, protecting and providing like he was my husband. That’s probably why he was so upset. For the last two years, he had been playing a role that I wouldn’t officially give him.