Onna had remained frozen in place, getting soaked by the rain, after Joseph went into the house. Eventually she straightened her shoulders and drove home. She had just gotten out of a hot bath and was making some tea when there was a knock at the door. She tightened her robe on the way to answer it, guessing who it was.
He was drenched. He just stood there, looking sadder than she’d ever seen anyone look. She opened her mouth to speak, to say something, anything, but he spoke before she could get anything out.
“He beat my mother,” he said flatly.
She closed her eyes briefly, her shoulders slumping. She suspected as much, or something similar, but hearing him say it was heartbreaking.
“Come inside,” she said, taking his arm.
Onna took off his coat and handed him a towel, directing him to a chair. He ignored the chair and followed her to the kitchen, leaning against the counter as she poured them both some tea.
“He beat her all the time,” he said in the same eerily distant, detached voice when she handed him the cup. “She tried to leave him, hundreds of times. She and I moved in with my grandmother for the first time that I can remember when I was two or three years old. But he always convinced her to come back somehow.” Joseph swallowed.
“She always went back,” he added bitterly. “By the time I got old enough to realize what he was doing, I tried to protect her. I couldn’t stand up to him, but I would throw myself on her, trying to at least get between them. She would always push me away, tell me to run and hide.”
Onna shut her eyes in pain.
“He never touched me – not to hit me or hug me. He barely spoke to me, actually. Like he didn’t notice I was there. It got to the point where she was so beaten down she barely spoke to me either. My grandmother told me later it was because she was still trying to protect me, to keep me off his radar, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t know.”
Joseph sighed, turning away from her. He placed his hands on the counter and bowed his head.
“When I was seven we went back to my grandmother’s for the last time. He kept coming around, same as before. But this time she stayed away longer than she ever had – almost a year. And I thought we would finally be free. One night he showed up, plastered. Screaming and shouting. And he forced his way into the house. He – he had a knife. But I apparently thought myself to be the man of the house, after living so long with just my mom and grandmother. So I tried to stand up to him, shouting at him to leave, telling him to leave my mother alone. He still didn’t touch me. He actually laughed at me, like I was an annoying dog or something. Like I meant nothing.”
Onna rested a hand tentatively on his arm, tears streaking her face. He still wouldn’t look at her.
“I remember trying to shove my mom out of the room – telling her to run and hide like she’d always told me. She had this intense look in her eyes – not even scared. Just – willful, maybe. Determined. She was looking directly at him; she never looked at me. She pushed me behind her and told me to go to my grandmother’s room – my grandmother was already hiding back there. I was clawing at her, throwing my arms around her legs, begging her not to talk to him, not to go. But she just shook me off. And she left with him. And she didn’t take me.”
His last words came out in a sob and Onna tightened her hold on him.
“When I ran to the door after them, she was just walking with him calmly to his car. Neither of them turned back to look at me.”
Joseph was silent for a moment, his arms falling to his sides.
“I ran after them. I ran the mile and a half to our old house. And I heard her screaming. And I heard him – what he was doing to her.” He gulped. “I was banging on the door, shouting at him to leave her alone. I think I finally broke a window and crawled in. But I couldn’t get to her. By then some of the neighbors had heard me and had followed me in, and my grandmother had called the police and they had shown up. They pulled me out of the house.” He took another breath and forced himself to go on.
“He had beaten her unconscious,” he said in a hollow voice. “He was arrested. And she never woke up.”
Onna gasped, squeezing his arm.
“He died in prison. Some prison fight. I hope it was painful,” Joseph spat out.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. He turned and she risked a glance at him. He was staring past her.
“So, that’s what happened,” he said despondently. “No one really knows – Bolu knows some of it, and his mom. Not even Nosike and Lola know the whole story. When Deji -“ He stopped and sighed. “I was just so sure -“
“Deji’s gay,” Onna interjected. “That’s why he kept calling: he wanted to tell me why he left me.”
Joseph blinked. “He’s gay?”
After a long moment of silence while Joseph processed the news, he shook his head with a wry smile.
“Well, that’s probably the only sane explanation for why any man would leave you,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry about how I acted that day,” Joseph said. “When he kept calling and then showed up…I got so scared for you. It was like I was suddenly living in my nightmare.”
“The nightmares,” she murmured, making the connection.
“Yeah. They were always the same,” he said in a distant voice. “Always of that night. Except since I met you…you were the one in danger. It wasn’t my mother in the nightmares anymore, it was you. You were the one I had to get away from him. After that day when Deji showed up, I began to wonder if, in my nightmares, I was actually him. If I was the one you needed to be protected from.”
Her head shot up. “You’re not him, Joseph. That’s not who you are.” Her voice was steady.
Joseph met her eyes briefly before looking down. “How can you be sure of that?” he asked doubtfully, heartbreak in his voice.
“Because I know. I know you. You’re not him, not in your nightmares, and certainly not in reality. You were incredibly brave,” she told him, gripping his arm. “You were just a little boy, you couldn’t have stopped him.”
He focused his eyes on her.
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated.
“Yeah, well,” he said awkwardly.
He poured his unfinished tea into the sink and rinsed the cup, walking over to where his blazer hung on a chair.
“Where are you going?” she exclaimed.
“I’m going home,” he said as if it should be obvious.
“But – no,” she said helplessly.
“You want me to stay?” he asked in shock.
“Why would I want you to leave?” she said, confused.
“Because – you did just hear the story I told you, right?” He was looking at her like she was a simpleton.
“So?” she asked, dumbfounded. Suddenly awareness washed over her. “Joseph,” she breathed. “God, you don’t think that people – that I – would judge you for what your father did?”
“How could you not?”
“Jesus, is that what you think? That I wouldn’t want to be with you because you had the misfortune of having that asshole as a sperm donor? Do you really think so little of me?” she asked furiously, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Of course not,” he protested, thoroughly bewildered.
“I thought you were smarter than that. Turns out you’re an idiot,” she was muttering.
His confusion faded as her words sunk in. She watched him, mystified as a smile spread over his face slowly.
“What are you smiling about?” she snapped.
He began chuckling, which infuriated her.
“What is so funny?”
“Nothing,” he wheezed, losing control.
“Joseph -“ she said threateningly.
“It’s just – only you would tell me you want to be with me while being pissed off and shouting at me,” he said, laughing so hard his shoulders were quivering.
“What?” she demanded, suddenly embarrassed, her words coming back to her.
“You know what you said,” he told her cheerfully.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said briskly, stirring her tea.
“You said you wanted to be with me,” he said triumphantly.
“Well, I just meant -“ she stopped, pressing her lips together.
“What? What did you mean, Onna?” he asked softly, all humor gone.
“I just didn’t want you to think that your friends would judge you for what happened to you when you were a kid,” she said defensively, turning away from him.
Excitement surged through him as he watched her, tickled at her overly attentive cleaning of the teacup. He had felt somewhat relieved and lightened by telling her about his parents, but the overwhelming emotion had been exhaustion, emotional and physical exhaustion. That was gone now, faded completely as her words washed over him. She’d said she wanted to be with him. Maybe she hadn’t meant to say it, but she had said it. He was elated, his doubts surprisingly gone.
“Onna,” he said quietly.
He stepped up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders when she didn’t respond.
“Onna,” he repeated, squeezing her shoulders. “Why did you tell me not to marry her?”
“Because it would have been a mistake,” she said insistently.
God. Onna rolled her eyes. He was like a dog with a bone. He was not going to let it go. What had she really meant? Of course his past wouldn’t make his friends think less of him. But clearly the words that popped out of her mouth without any thought meant something. She hadn’t wanted him to be with Bimpe, and not because it would have been a mistake. Because he didn’t belong with anyone else. Trouble was, she wasn’t sure if she could be the one he did belong with.
“You don’t belong with her,” she whispered in a tight voice.
“Why?” he said softly.
He pressed his chest against her back, slipping an arm around her waist and holding her against him. She relaxed automatically, her head coming back to rest on his shoulder.
“Joseph,” she implored.
“Tell me,” he whispered, his lips tickling her hair.
“Because…” She sighed in surrender. “Because I – I think – I think you might belong with me.”
Her head dropped forward and she squeezed her eyes shut, feeling like a fool. He spun her around so quickly she needed a second to focus on him. Gone was the goading, triumphant expression. He smiled tenderly, looking both stunned and relieved.
“That’s right,” he said as if he were a teacher praising her for a correct answer. “And you belong with me,” he added.
She rolled her eyes but couldn’t stop the grin. “Condescending bastard,” she muttered.
He smirked, cupping her face in his hands. “I may be a bastard, but I’m your bastard. And you’re my wildcat. You make me crazy and I love every little thing about you.”
Her smile faded. “What -“ she whispered.
He ran a thumb across her lower lip, his gaze flitting from her mouth to her eyes. She watched him swallow, felt him tilt her head and lean in, and forgot how to breathe. Her eyes locked on his, she waited as he approached, excitement and apprehension leaving her immobile. Then his lips were on hers, molding together sweetly, and the pressure in her chest expanded. She melted into him, a small sob coming from her throat, and slid her arms around his neck.
His lips parted and she opened her mouth to him, suddenly desperate to get closer. She whimpered as their tongues met, heat rushing through her body. He sucked on her tongue, pulled back to nibble on her lip, tangled his fingers in her hair. His mouth became hot and demanding, kissing her possessively. Her knees trembled and she locked her arms around him, just trying to hang on. She had the fleeting thought that if it weren’t for her stupid no-kissing rule, things would have been a lot clearer months ago.
Joseph broke the kiss suddenly and they stared at each other, both dazed and breathing hard. What he’d said came back to her and she rested a finger on his mouth.
“What did you say,” she murmured dreamily.
He closed his lips around her finger, sucking it into his mouth, and her legs threatened to give out. His mouth slanted over hers, exploring, flicking, coaxing her to meet him. She lost the ability to think and her fingers grazed in his hair, returning his kiss greedily. Grinning mischievously, he cupped her behind and lifted her, her legs automatically going around his waist. To her surprise he walked to the couch instead of the bedroom, and they tumbled onto it, their arms and legs tangled together.
“Joseph, what -“
“Hush,” he said, grazing her lips with his. “We’ve done enough talking.”
“But – you said -“ Onna sucked in a breath as his teeth found her ear.
“Be quiet, bossy,” he teased, trailing kisses down her neck.
She met his eyes, dark and twinkling, and succumbed, gripping his arms and pulling him to her, sighing as their lips met. Seconds turned into minutes, which might have turned into hours. Seasons could have changed, calendar pages could have flipped through an entire year as she got lost in kissing him. He alternated between sweet and demanding, passive and forceful, speaking volumes without words. She was shocked that she could still learn new things about him, amazed at the intimacy of what they were sharing considering how much sex they’d already had. Somehow this felt like the true consummation, and she gave herself over to it willingly.
Their urgency slowing momentarily, Joseph brushed his lips against her cheek and forehead.
“I want you,” he said quietly.
She smiled. “Then take me to bed,” she told him.
He carried her to bed, placing her gently on her back before slowly undressing her. She lay docile except for her arching back and undulating hips as he ran his hands over her body. Soft moans came out of her mouth, her hands touching him wherever she could reach. He stripped quickly; even a second of not touching her was too long. Stretching himself next to her, he took her into his arms and kissed her deeply, his hands still stroking her. He knew at some point she would take control and tried to take advantage of her submissiveness until he couldn’t resist any longer.
Moving slowly, he rolled on top of her, settling himself between her legs. She arched up and pressed against him. She brought her lips to his, slowly drawing his tongue into her mouth as her legs fell open.
“Onna,” he said against her lips. “Do you want -“
“Please,” she whispered, looking at him with need.
Joseph was surprised; she had always taken the lead, very vocal about what she wanted. It wasn’t like anything he experienced with any other woman and wouldn’t have expected to enjoy it so much. This uncharacteristic passivity made him unsure.
Onna focused her eyes on him, wondering why he was hesitating, and saw his confusion. She knew she was very bossy in bed. She had always been that way, knowing what she wanted and how to get there. For the first time she acknowledged that it had been her way of maintaining control, of not allowing herself to be vulnerable with anyone she slept with. Even she was surprised by her desire to yield now, wanting to give herself to Joseph in a way she never had with anyone before. Without making a decision to do so, she realized she wanted him to see that vulnerability. She needed him to strip away the last of her defenses.
“Joseph,” she said huskily, placing a hand on his cheek. “I need you take me. I need you to make me yours,” she whispered nervously. She felt self-conscious but forced herself to hold his eyes.
His eyes fluttered shut and he buried his head in the crook of her neck. He reached for her nightstand drawer, scrambling for a condom, and was stopped by her fingers wrapping around his wrist.
“We don’t need to…I’m on birth control,” she whispered tentatively, staring into his eyes.
He swallowed hard. “Are – are you sure?”
She smiled tenderly and nodded.
“Onna,” he groaned quietly, entering her in one surprisingly gentle motion.
Joseph felt his breath leave him in one big gust at the feel of her around him, flesh to flesh, without any barrier. He had never done this before and the sensation was beyond anything he could have imagined. She arched her back again, her arms circling him as he began moving inside her. His thrusts were tender and steady, shocking her with the sensation that he wasn’t just filling her physically but reaching toward some place deep inside that had previously been unattainable. She felt tears forming in her eyes as the noticeable tingle started from her belly, the warmth spreading throughout her body.
He felt her fluttering around him, her muscles contracting. “Look at me,” he whispered.
Her eyes found his and he was startled by the sight of moisture in hers. She gave him a tender smile, one hand reaching up to tangle in his hair. He blinked, intense emotion threatening to split his chest open.
“Wrap your legs around me,” he demanded softly.
Her clenching around him increased and he felt his testicles contract, felt himself swell inside her, frustrated that he was so close to climax so soon. She started to moan and his eyes rolled back at the sound.
“Cum for me,” he said softly.
He grasped the side of her face, kissing her, trying to transfer the emotion welling up inside him. She responded in kind, a tear falling down her cheek. He finally broke the kiss with a gasp, starting to pant heavily.
“Now,” he told her fiercely. “Cum for me now.”
Onna let out a long, low moan, her legs tightening around him.
“You’re mine,” he whispered just before his own climax started.
His hips sped up, plunging into her as they cried out with their eyes locked. He kept thrusting long after they had both peaked, dropping his forehead to rest on hers. Finally he stopped, snaking his arms around her shoulders and clutching her tightly. Her legs and arms were still wrapped around him, both of them breathing heavily. They didn’t move for what seemed like hours, still trying to get as close as possible.
Joseph regretfully rolled to his back, sure he was crushing her. He dragged her body on top of his, hugging her to him.
“What happened to my wildcat,” he wondered out loud, stroking the length of her back.
Onna attempted a laugh but was still trying to catch her breath. “I guess I don’t need to be bossy with you,” she said softly. “At least, not all the time.” A little smile played on her lips.
“Hm,” he said thoughtfully. “I like the wildcat,” he told her, lifting her chin and giving her a slow kiss. “But I like making you mine too. Now you’re my wildcat.”
He brushed a finger against her cheek where her tear had fallen. She smiled, staring at him for so long he grew worried.
“What?” he asked.
“What you said…” she whispered.
“Oh.” He swallowed nervously. “Well, I meant it.”
“Really,” she stated, grinning.
“Really,” he confirmed, returning her smile. “I love you,” he added in a whisper.
She bit her lip, feeling the threat of tears pricking her eyes. He meant it. The words were hovering on her lips, wanting to burst out but stopped by some invisible dam, by the cage she had locked around her heart. They stared at each other for a long silence, her struggle obvious. She blushed and her eyes faltered.
“I -“ she began, looking at him helplessly. “I – I’m scared, Joseph.”
“I know,” he murmured, embracing her.
She buried her face in his chest, feeling ashamed.
“Hey,” he said quietly, cupping her chin so she would look at him. “It’s okay. I’m scared, too,” he admitted. “Besides, it’s nothing personal, right?”
Her mouth opened to protest, then saw the playful twinkle in his eyes and she poked his stomach, laughing. He chuckled, stroking her cheek.
Getting lost in his eyes, in the sincerity of his expression and his words, she felt a smile spreading across her face, warmth flooding her chest. She ran her fingers through his hair. He smiled as she trailed a finger to his mouth, stroking his lower lip.
“It’s actually something very personal,” she murmured, staring at his mouth before meeting his eyes. “I love you, too,” she said quietly.
“Yeah?” he said in surprise, grinning. “Promise?” he teased.
“Promise,” she said, returning his grin. “Kiss on it?” she added playfully.
“Thank God that no-kissing rule is over,” he said, chuckling.
Her laugh was cut off abruptly by his lips on hers and she pulled him on top of her, letting herself get lost in his kiss.