AJ had been off all week, working on his BSDM novel. We were at my place and I was cooking dinner: tilapia, rice, and a salad. Not that he noticed when his head was in a story.
I checked the rice; simmering nicely. “Hey, I cashed my royalty check today. Hundred and seventy-five bucks. Bought lottery tickets.”
For a moment, there was silence. Then AJ mumbled, “Big plans for your winnings?”
“Yeah, insurance on the car, pay the car the fuck off, stash the rest in savings.” I cracked the oven open to look at the fish. “Why?”
“Just curious. Isn’t that one of those big what if questions? ‘What would you do if you had a month to live? What would you do if you won the lottery?'” He took a swig from the beer sitting on the table beside him, finishing it off.
“I’m not playing that one. You know, the powerball. The odds are so astronomical as to assure I’d be throwing my money away. I’m playing a state lottery. Small, insignificant. If I won, there would be no huge life-changing moment. It would just make things easier.” I glanced at him. “You sort of already won the lottery. Your inheritance.”
He stood after setting his laptop on the floor, taking his empty bottle to throw away. Before going to the kitchen, he leveled me with a serious look. “I’d give it all back if my dad would still be alive.” He turned on his heel and I heard the clink of another bottle as he grabbed it from the fridge.
Well, shit. What the hell could you say to that? I added red pepper to the rice. “The chances of me winning are so unlikely, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Saturday morning, I’ll still be the poor schlub I am tonight.”
“But you’re managing juuuuust fine,” he said with false cheer, leaning against the fridge.
I cut my eyes at him. “Yeah? You think so? The publisher I edit for is switching systems and during that week, I didn’t get one manuscript to edit. That means I didn’t work and so I won’t get income. My car insurance is due. I have to register the vehicle and pay tax. Fuck you, AJ.” I tossed a fork into the sink, where it clattered loudly. The anger simply welled up in me.
His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Fuck you back, Fen. I’ve told you I don’t know how many times I would be happy to help you. Not because I think you’re weak or can’t handle your money, or are somehow less than a man for struggling in this shitass economy. No, it’s because I love you. I hate it when you worry. I hate that line you get between your eyebrows that screams frustration.” He let out an indelicate snort. “But you won’t even take fucking forty bucks from me for an unexpected dinner with your uncle, so why would I think you’d take a couple hundred for bills? You’d rather take your chances with the lottery.” The last couple words dripped with sarcasm.
I’ve always been horrible about accepting a handout, and that’s what this was. Why the hell did money fuck things up so bad? I clamped my lips shut so I wouldn’t say anything stupid. I loved him, but accepting his offer? It would hurt like crazy and I couldn’t even explain why.
When it was clear my silence was the end of it, he pushed off the fridge and returned to the living room, but not before I heard him mutter, “Stubborn ass,” under his breath.
I followed him, pissed. “How would you feel if the situation was reversed?” My voice was louder than usual. “How would you like it if I offered you money?”
“It would suck!” he raised his voice, but kept from all-out shouting, mindful of the neighbors. “But sometimes you have to let people help you. You’re not an island, Fen.” He pointed a finger at me, jabbing the air. “You think it’s more noble to struggle when you have an option? Not only are you depriving yourself of a little goddamned relief, but you’re depriving me of the chance to do something I know will ease your mind. Which means I sit here and watch you grind your teeth and quietly freak out when you get the mail. Talk about feeling helpless.”
“Struggling isn’t noble,” I insisted before returning to the kitchen. “Five minutes until dinner.”
Goddamn it. Was I wrong about this? Was I letting my pride get in the way of something good? If he wanted to help, why shouldn’t I let him? But it sat in my stomach like lead, making me want to throw up.
Yeah, pride. It goeth before a fall, and I didn’t want to fall unless it was into his arms. I loved that fucker.
He came up behind me so quietly I didn’t know he was there until he wound his arms around my waist, careful of the stove. He rested his chin on my shoulder. “If it’s not noble, then why do it? Let me help. Hell, you can pay me back when the state cuts your lottery check.” He chuckled, the vibration rumbling from his chest to my back.
I leaned back against him and closed my eyes. What would it feel like not to worry about money for five fucking minutes? And it wasn’t as if I wouldn’t be flush again some day. I’d gone through these down periods before and always, I recovered even more strongly. “Okay. You can loan me a couple hundred.” I felt a little sick as I said it, but it would pass. “I’m keeping track though.”
He kissed my neck, giving me a squeeze. “Thank you,” he breathed against my skin.
I pushed the discussion into another part of my brain. “Hope you’re hungry. Dinner’s ready.”