AJ clutched Keesha's hand as she parked in the driveway. A two-story white-framed house loomed over them. Streamers and balloons hung from the railings. Friends and family spilled from the house into the yard. His grip on Keesha's hand tightened.
"They just want to see you home," she said. "They're not staying."
He nodded. But he didn't feel reassured. Already, their stares penetrated him, searching for some sign of the man he used to be. That man was gone. It would be hard for them to accept. He didn't want to see the disappointment in their eyes.
"I stay here." He released her hand to hold onto the seatbelt strap. "They go. I go inside."
"AJ, please." She gently pulled his hand from the strap. "They love you. They're not here to hurt you. Just come out with me."
Unease settled in his stomach. "You no leave."
"I won't." She left the car before he could protest and headed to the trunk.
AJ watched Jason move from his solitary stance on the porch to come to the car. The other man joined Keesha at the trunk and took AJ's bags. Together, they came to AJ's side of the car. She opened the door and handed AJ his cane.
"AJ," Jason said. "Welcome back."
Holding her hand and leaning on the cane, AJ rose from the passenger's seat. He noted how Jason closed the car door and strode ahead of them into the house. The other man moved as if he belonged there.
When did that happen?
AJ sat on the corner of the bed, tired yet still excited to be home. As Keesha finished her nightly bedtime chores, he thought about his first day back.
Just like she promised, everyone left after they hugged and welcomed him home. Well, almost everyone. Jason stayed, helping with dinner and playing with Maya. The younger bounced around the house as he lived there. AJ appreciated the help, but he wasn't sorry when Jason finally climbed onto the back of his bike and rode off.
AJ's fears about Maya accepting him died a quick death. The second she saw him, she ran to him and hugged him until both of them had tears in their eyes. She didn't act put off by his disabilities. She listened patiently as he spoke and took his hand, slowly showing him the changes that had been made in his absence. He didn't tell her that he hadn't remembered the layout of the house. His memories were tied to people and some events, not things like houses. He understood that people lived in them, but specific designs and such didn't register. Besides, he was just happy to hear Maya's chatter and feel the warmth of her hand in his. The only thing that compared was spending time with Keesha. Seeing both in their natural element reminded him of how much he missed while recuperating.
Finally, the bathroom door opened. Keesha appeared looking fresh and beautiful in a lavender nightgown and slippers. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and joined him on the bed.
"I thought you'd be asleep by now. You've had quite a day."
"Yes, but no sleepy," he said. "Think about you and Maya."
She smiled. "See. It wasn't so bad. You're home now." She took his hand and raised it to her lips. "Everything will be just fine. No one will rush you. Remember, just take your time. Okay."
He heard her voice, but he stopped listening. The movement of her mouth mesmerized him. The way her lips parted and closed… And then, the rising of her breasts as she spoke. The unborn baby created many changes for her. Over the last few weeks, he'd noticed how she glowed and grew full. He reached out and ran a finger down her jaw to her mouth. Immediately, she stopped talking. He closed the distance between them with a kiss.
Urged by the need to taste her, his tongue traced the outline of her mouth. She gasped and he dove in. Tasting, stroking, taking. Her hand fell to his shoulders. Her fingers dug into his muscles, pulling him closer.
"Miss you," he murmured against her mouth. "Love you."
Her chocolate brown eyes bore into his. "I love you, too, AJ."
Carefully, he lowered her to the bed. Lying on their sides, he stroked her creamy exposed flesh. Her chest rose and fell quickly. As he cupped her breast and massaged a hardened peak, she covered his hand with hers.
"We shouldn't," she said.
"Just having you home pleases me. Let's not tonight, okay? Hold me, AJ."
Opening his arms, he rolled onto his back. She rested her head on his chest and snuggled against him. He wondered why she didn't want more.