Oh, dear. Can I reach the back door without Dale realizing it? Where would I go afterward?
I stood, rooted in the kitchen, both hands covered in flour, when Gracie barked and whizzed out of the room. Her little paws made frantic scrabbling noises as she slid around the corner. I always wondered if she even possessed the ability not to run.
I heard a pleased yip and a playful growl from somewhere close to the front door where Jackson probably greeted her. These two had hit it off, which was something I was very grateful for. Jackson never showed any sign of jealousy, and Gracie? She adored Jackson.
Footsteps alerted me of the fact Dale was coming my way. I quickly added milk to the flour and started mixing everything together with my hands. I couldn’t go anywhere with my hands covered in batter, right? Neither could I leave the batter sitting on the counter for hours. I really needed to bake. Right now.
“Kit.” Dale sighed as he came up behind me. He wrapped his arms around me and I leaned back into him, soaking up his warmth.
“Hey,” I said, “did you have a good day?”
“Yes, I did. What are you doing?”
“I'm making cookies. The ones you like so much, with chocolate and raisins.” I tilted my head sideways so I could give him a kiss. Dale had other ideas. He sucked at my lower lip before he pried my lips open with his tongue.
Well, maybe I opened up immediately after he flicked his tongue against my closed mouth but I won't go into semantics here.
Needless to say, I was breathless by the time our kiss ended. I readied myself to turn around in Dale's arms, grind my rapidly filling erection against his leg and suggest we go upstairs, when Dale ruined the moment by saying, “Go, wash your hands or else you'll be too late for your appointment with Dr. Carter.”
“I canceled,” I lied.
I'm not one for lies usually, at least not outright lies, but I really didn't want to go today. I didn't feel like being put through the emotional wringer since appointment days always ended up in me having a tantrum of epic proportions or bawling my eyes out in Dale's arms. Seriously, no one should have to go through this once per week. Neither I, nor Dale, Emma, my Dad or Will.
Dale's arms tightened around me before he stepped back, gripped my shoulders and turned me around. I chose to stare at his chest instead of his face. No one could blame me for my interest in Dale's chest. Even through his shirt, you could see the broadness and firmness of it.
Dale laid a finger underneath my chin and tipped my head until I had to look up at him. “Kit, is this the usual pre-appointment game of 'I don't want to go'? Or did you seriously cancel for whatever reason?”
“I'm baking. Your favorite cookies. I don't have time to go today,” I replied. He had to understand the importance of my task, right?
“Oh, kitten, come here.”
Dale pulled me back into his arms, only now I could push my face against his chest and inhale his scent. He rubbed my back in long up and down movements before he pressed a kiss on the top of my head.
“Breathe. Do it with me. In and out,” Dale said in such a calm, soothing tone that I lost the rest of whatever self-control I had.
A sob tore free from my throat and my whole body shuddered. Dale tightened his arms around me, fencing me in and sheltering me.
“Are you so afraid of going?” Dale asked.
“She'll make me think of stuff I don't want to think about, like she always does, and then I'll feel awful, which of course will result in me flipping and you...” I trailed off.
“And me? Am I making things hard for you? Kit, you need to tell me if I do something wrong.”
“But that's just it! You're awesome and I don't—”
“If you say you don't deserve me, I'll be mad. Really mad.”
I opted to sneak a glance at Dale's face to gauge whether he was teasing me or not. He was not. I dove back to his chest and Dale rested his chin on my head. I loved when we stood like this. It felt as if Dale was everywhere. No place could be safer.
“I really don't want to go,” I confessed softly.
“So, you didn't cancel after all.”
I winced and plastered myself as firmly as possible against him, complete with my sticky hands clutching Dale's shirt.
“You know I didn't,” I replied reluctantly.
“I assumed you didn't.”
“Are you mad at me now?” I sounded like a wimp but I needed to know.
“Kit, you've tried to weasel your way out of every appointment so far, and you've come up with some very creative reasons.”
I closed my eyes when heat rose in my cheeks. I hoped he wouldn't bring up the one time I pretended not to feel well and told him I thought a seizure was coming on. I was still ashamed about that one.
I swallowed hard while I waited for Dale to continue. He pushed me from his chest—which totally didn't earn him a pitiful whimper—and cupped my face in his hands. Those powerful hands that could lift me so easily, if it pleased him, but the same hands that gently stroked and patted me when I needed it.
“Stop beating yourself up about that one time.” A small smile appeared on his handsome face. I stared up into Dale's blue eyes, still surprised by the affection I always found there.
“You were scared and you did suffer from seizures after the first two appointments. Of course you feared that would happen again. Maybe you could talk to Dr. Carter about your fear of going to therapy,” Dale suggested.
“Maybe,” I amended. “It's just... it seems to be taking forever for me to get any better.”
“Your nightmares have decreased—a lot. I think that definitely qualifies as getting better.”
“But it's hard to talk about the things with... you know who.”
“Hutch? Yes, I know.”
“How can you say his name like this?” I asked.
“Oh, I didn't know his name holds any power. If you're more comfortable with it we could name him like they named Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter.”
I gaped at Dale. Right until I saw a muscle in his jaw twitching. After sticking my tongue out at him, I chuckled.
Dale imprinted a heart rate spiking kiss on me then said, “I'll just change my shirt while you put away the batter.”
“But I want to bake.”
“Yes, and you will. Just later today.”
“I hate when you're all reasonable,” I muttered. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but reciprocate the smile.
Dale ran his fingers through my freshly cut red hair before he left the kitchen. I cleaned up and was just putting the bowl with the batter into the fridge when Dale came back. He said nothing, simply held a hand out to me.
Even though my stomach churned and twisted because I feared talking about Hutch, I knew it did me a world of good. Why couldn't it be easier?
I stared at Dale's outstretched hand, and even though it probably took me years to finally put my much smaller hand in Dale's, his hand never wavered and his expression remained compassionate, loving.
Hand in hand, we walked out of the kitchen. Right before we went to the front door, I glanced into the living room to check on the dogs. Jackson rested in front of the radiator, with Gracie sleeping between his forepaws. He gave a short huff, which sounded as if he wished me 'good luck' while Gracie snuffled in her sleep. After squaring my shoulders and clasping Dale's hand tightly, we left the house.
I could do this.