All the King's Horses
Part I: Chapter 4

“Jamal,” Alison cringed. “This isn’t what it looks like.” She quickly released the jar and stepped back.

“That’s what you said last time, Ally.”

“It really isn’t at all like you think it is.” Rafe closed his eyes. He knew this was a bad idea. He knew it. A sudden urge to say ‘I told you so’ come up, but he squashed it quickly. “Jamal… You’ve got the wrong idea.”

“No, no, you know what? Just get away from my lady and stay away. I think you have got the wrong idea. You’re over here trying to steal my girl, and you just can’t seem to take the hint that she doesn’t want you. She loves me and only me! It’s my bed she’s in, I’m the one she chose over her family.”

“Jamal,” Alison hissed. “Don’t do that. Just stop it.”

“Don’t protect your angel, Ally. Of course, I still don’t know what kind of an angel you think he is. The man is all over you! Don’t you see the way he looks at you? He’d probably kill to have you in his bed and we all know it! He wants you, Ally! He’s trying to steal you from me-”

“You make it sound like she’s a VCR,” Rafe mumbled, straightening. “I’m not all over her. Please keep in mind that she is a person and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t “steal” her anymore than you can own her. But you have a point, Alison shouldn’t be trying to protect me. I’ve told her as much.”

“Yeah? Well then stop trying to guilt her into being with you, man! You have been after her since day one! Just stay away from my girl!”

“Jamal,” Alison demanded again. “Stop it. I called Rafe, ok? I went and I looked for him. I was upset, and he made me feel better. He isn’t trying to steal me from you, he’s been pushing me toward you since we met up in the park. Give it a rest would you? He’s been keeping his distance from me, and I have been the one searching him out. If I need a friend, he’s there for me.”

“Oh, yeah I bet he’s there for you! He’s jumping at every opportunity to make you think I’m the bad guy in this! He is after you, Ally! When are you going to open you eyes and see it?”

“I’m not after her!” Rafe called, shaking his head when neither seemed to hear him. “I’m not after her. I can’t be after her. That would be against the rules. No, no instead I’m pushing her toward her boyfriend, who happens to be acting like a jealous jerk. But hey! Who am I to pass judgment?”

“He’s not jumping at anything! I had to practically beg him to see me today! And even then I wasn’t completely sure he’d show up. He’s been trying to keep the distance, because he seems to think it would help me and you! He’s looking out for me, Jamal. So I met him in the park and he listened to me! Then I had to drag him up here long enough for me to put these things away.”

“Oh, so this is all your idea?” Jamal shot back, anger flashing in his eyes. “You want to be with him? Then why do you still come home to me at the end of the day, Alison? Huh? Why!”

He was blocked. They were blocking the only way he had out of the kitchen. The door seemed miles away. Not that he really needed a door, but then, Jamal might get kind of suspicious if he just disappeared into thin air. Not that he had any doubt that the guy would like that. “She doesn’t want to be with me,” Rafe muttered. Leaning back against the counter again in defeat.

“Or maybe,” Jamal continued. “This has all been a lie. Maybe that wasn’t a goodbye kiss, maybe it was ‘hi, how you doing’. Maybe you’ve been going behind my back with your angel all this time!”

“Why does he keep calling me your angel?”

“I have not been going around behind your back! But I can see how much you trust me. Thanks a lot for the vote, Jamal, I’m touched. You actually think that I would cheat on you?” Alison demanded, her voice starting to shake. “You slept with Valerie! You lied to me again and again…”

“And you told me he was leaving! You kissed him in our living room, Ally! Maybe the one I don’t trust is him.”

Alison glared at him. “Rafe has been nothing but sweet to me. Something you haven’t been in a long time! He listens to me, and he talks to me, and he is my friend. I happened to need a friend and he was willing to be there for me when no one else was. So what, Jamal? I’m not cheating on you, I’m not sleeping with him!”

“You kissed him!”

“Technically,” Rafe sighed. “I kissed her. But I’ve been ordered not to bring that up again. Should I go and let you two talk alone?” Again neither showed any sign of hearing him. “Alright, then, I guess that’s a no.”

“One kiss! You’d think I had a night of wild tongue whipped sex with him!”

Rafe raised his eyebrows and bit his tongue himself from responding. That would definitely be a thought he shouldn’t dwell on for very long at all.

“Maybe because you want him, Ally! Maybe because you aren’t staying away from him even after I asked you to! Maybe I’m making a big deal about it because it’s obvious you wouldn’t have minded one bit if I had left town that night and given you more time to yourselves! Tell me something, Ally, would you have stopped? Would you have broken the kiss if I didn’t show up?”

“Yes! Yes, I would have! If he didn’t first! It was just a goodbye kiss, Jamal.”

“If it was a goodbye kiss, then why is he still here?”

Rafe threw his hands up in the air. “Am I here?”

“I told you! I went looking for him! I want to see him, and I want to spend time with him before he has to leave. He is my friend! It’s no different than you spending time with Livvie! And a lot more innocent than most of the time you spend with Valerie!”

“God, are we back to you being jealous of her?”

“No,” Rafe muttered to himself. “We’re back to you being jealous of her spending time with me. Same page we’ve been on since I met her in the park. You treat her badly, she wants to talk, I know how to listen, you’ve forgotten. It’s simply really. Except the part where I have to do the right thing and get you two all happy together again, that isn’t simple at all. No, in fact it’s pretty hard considering I hate to push her toward someone that thinks of her as a piece property. But you do what you have to in order to get the job done.”

“No, we’re not going there, Jamal. Because you are the one that is jealous of Rafe! I let you spend all the time you want with the mother of your child, I let it slide that you lied to me, I just ignored the fact that you slept with her. I even let her live in my home. Now is it really such a crime to have a friend that will listen to me talk about this and anything else I may be feeling since you won’t?”

“I listen to you all the time!”

“You never listen to me anymore, Jamal! All you do is brush off my feelings like they don’t matter. You put her ahead of me. You listen to her, you help her, you comfort her and care about her! But you don’t do that for me, Jamal! I’m the one alone in this, except for Rafe who doesn’t even come around me anymore because he doesn’t want to ruin what I have with you.”

“What do we have, Alison? A relationship that’s beyond repair?”

Rafe whistled loudly, causing them both to look at him, finally. “Now that I have your attention,” he smiled. “I’m not after Alison, I happen to enjoy her company and wasn’t aware that you had rules about her so much as speaking to another guy. I’ll try to keep that in mind for the future.”

“Yeah, you better,” Jamal growled.

Rafe went on as if he didn’t even speak. “Now, obviously you two need to talk alone. So I’ll just go if you would be so kind as to move?” Jamal stepped back and he walked past him, grabbing his coat on his way to the door. “Alison, remember what I said! And you can always call me if you need me, ok?”

“Ok,” she whispered, nodding. “Thank you.”

“Just doing my job.”

Jamal watched her carefully as she stared at the closed door. “I don’t mean to push you aside for Valerie. We’re just going through a lot right now with Hope…”

“I know,” she whispered, finally turned her head to look at him again. “But you do, and it hurts. And Rafe can make it stop hurting for a little while.”

“Right, your angel.”

“Yeah, my angel,” she smiled, knowing she shouldn’t from the hateful tone of his voice when he said it. “Rafe is really sweet to me, he can make me feel better about almost anything. You don’t even try to do that anymore, Jamal. It’s like I’m not important enough for you to care about anymore, and I understand that you are just trying to do the right thing for your child. You know that I support you no matter what you decide on that or on anything else. But I don’t feel like you support me at all anymore.”

“Baby, you know I support you on anything and everything. I love you.”

Tears filled her eyes, and she walked past him to where Rafe, her angel, had been standing only moments before. “I know. I know that, but I don’t feel it. I love you too.” Alison picked up the jar of syrup again, turning it in her hand as if inspecting the label.

Then it hit him. It had enough force behind it to knock him back a step, and he stared at the woman he loved in shock, tears suddenly stinging his eyes. The realization had knocked the air out of him, stealing his composure and tact. Anger filtered through with the hurt, and an unbelievable amount of loss. “You’re in love with him,” he whispered.

Her eyes flew to his quickly, and the only sounds in the world were a breaking glass and the echo of his words.

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