O wow. This is great. ... I kept thinking."JUST KISS HIM!" and then that ending. I was captivated by the words....keep writing on this one. its great.....
|“Can you drive me home?”
One shoe back on, fiddling with the other’s buckle, I looked up in surprise to see Marc, standing next to me with an odd expression. “What’s up?” I asked curiously.
“My parents drove off and left me here,” he said. “Would you mind taking me back to my house?”
I stared at him a moment, and started to laugh. It was just like Marco and Evie to drive off and leave their son, my best friend, to fend for himself. I shook my head, and stood up. “Sure.”
“I mean, if it’s a problem, I can ask somebody else. I know it’s out of your way.” Marc’s green eyes looked at me anxiously.
“No, I don’t mind. You know that,” I said, smoothing my skirt. “Give me a second and I’ll go clean out my car’s front seat. Be right back.” Taking my keys in hand, I set my purse on the chair in the hall and stepped out into the dark, muggy night. Once outside, I closed my eyes and let the nonchalance drop away, replaced by a familiar nervous trepidation. Sighing, I walked slowly over to my car, trying to gear up for what would be a long drive home.
Of course, I minded. He just didn’t know that.
It wasn’t a big deal, I reminded myself as I tossed stacks of books into the back seat. It was a ride home, not a problem. No different from any other time I spent with him, which added up to quite a bit of time. It was just unexpected, and it threw me off guard. Normally, when I spent time with Marc, I had time to prepare mentally for it, which made it easier to deal with the inconvenience of being in love with my best friend.
I had gotten used to it. I had been in love with him for about seven months – the majority of our acquaintance. Never mind that when I first met him I didn’t like him; that changed quickly, and I was stuck being hopelessly, completely, impossibly in love with a young man who was the most extraordinarily beautiful person I had ever known.
It wasn’t hard to hide – and I did have to hide it, because as simply and easily as I knew that I was in love with him, I knew clearly that he was not in love with me. I just channeled most of my affection for him into that safe realm of companionship, and kept the rest tucked away under stern lock and key. So stern, in fact, that I was perfectly confident that he had no idea of what I really felt for him.
A good thing, because I valued him as a friend over anyone else. A bad thing, because it made for long, torturous drives home like this one was destined to be, heavy with the knowledge of his presence in the seat next to me, close yet unreachable.
“You ready?” He called to me from across the street as he made his way to my car. I forced a smile as he came nearer. “Go ahead and get in.” I gestured at the front seat. “I left my stuff inside, but I’ll be right back.”
Back in the Patterson’s house, I said my final goodbyes to everyone, gathered up my things, and slipped out the front door. Our study group had just begun to meet there a few weeks before. Every Friday for the past four weeks we had met in their living room, and each time it got more and more comfortable, more like home. That night, though, I just wanted out of there. Clicking my high-heeled way back across the street to my car, I invented strings of creative curse words in my head, all of them prefacing the inevitable: Why do I do things like this to myself?
Thinking fast, I came up with the only possible answer. I was an idiot.
Marc had reclined his seat and was laying back, eyes closed. I shut my door, buckled up and turned the key, praying that tonight would not be one of those nights, as were happening more often, that the motor refused to catch. Fortunately for my pride, it started up immediately, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I glanced over at him as I shifted into drive. “You feeling any better?”
“Yeah, just a little light headed,” he answered, slowly bringing his seat up to normal level.
“I would think so, with a cut that deep. Especially if you hit the bone the way you think you did.”
“I think so.” He peered at his hand in the semi-darkness as we headed down the street. I shook my head in resignation. “Leave it to you to injure yourself when there are absolutely no circumstances that would normally make it likely.”
He laughed. Earlier that evening we had been chatting in the white light of the kitchen. After the meeting I had slipped over to the refrigerator to fill a cup from the water dispenser. As I stood examining the magnets and sipping, I heard the familiar, confident footsteps behind me. I didn’t turn.
Marc liked to think that he surprised me, and I indulged him by acting startled. It made him laugh, to think that he could sneak up on me. I hated to disappoint him, and so never told him that he never had.
I smelled the familiar cool, silvery scent of his cologne over the warmer, salty scent of his skin at the same time I felt his arm slip around my waist. “You okay?”
I smiled at the worry in his voice, and turning, slid into a proper hug. He pulled me in close to his chest, his hand firm but gentle on my back – a concerned hug. Marc had different hugs, motivated by different things. This one told me in its brief five-second lifespan that he had seen me rubbing my neck during the meeting. He pulled back and repeated his question, his clear olive eyes checking me over. “Bad day, Pixie?”
It was his favorite of his nicknames for me, indicative of my short red hair. “All right, I guess. Just tired.”
He nodded, relaxing into his usual cheerful easiness, and began telling me about his day. Such a typical Marc-ism, flowing from one thing to another with light-hearted ease. Before I knew him well, almost a year ago, I would have chalked that up to my impression that he had the emotional depth of an eyedropper. Much later, however, the tall, lithe twenty-two-year-old had proven me wrong, and we were nearly inseparable friends. He stood at the island, his long brown fingers running over the black handles of a set of kitchen knives in a wooden block. Incapable of standing still, as he talked he pulled them out one by one, fingering the blade and comparing lengths. His toys for the moment.
I was watching the bright flashes of the silver blades in Marc’s hands when his mother’s sharp voice from behind me made us both jump. “Marc, qu’est-ce que tu fait?”
I turned to see the formidable five-foot-four Evie in her mustard blazer and brown skirt, squinting through her glasses at her son. She fired off a round of blisteringly fast French, like a volley of machine gun fire. Marc answered back in kind, normal for a family that regularly switched from English to French to Spanish in even the shortest conversations.
The words flew back and forth until Evie shook her head in exasperation at her son and walked away. I turned back to Marc, who was examining his left palm with an expression of mild surprise. “What is it?”
He shook his head, bemused. “I think I stabbed it.”
“Just now?” I leaned over to look at it, dismayed. He wasn’t kidding. Dark crimson blood was welling up and dripping down the side of his hand from the deep, narrow wound. “Does it hurt?”
“You know, I think I hit the bone, but I can’t even really feel it,” he replied.
I dragged him over to the sink, stuck his hand under cold water, and tore off a length of paper towel. The water flowed down over the cut, but every time it seemed to wash away the swell of blood, another took its place. “Marc, this is bad!” I exclaimed. “How did you manage to stab yourself with a bloody kitchen knife?”
“I wasn’t expecting my mom to walk in, and she was so loud, I jumped and forgot it was in my hand. It just went, shooop—“ he simulated a slicing sound.
I turned off the water and pressed the towel over his hand. “Here, keep pressure on that.” He obeyed, and then sat shakily down at the table. “I’m feeling a little dizzy.” Watching him, I was worried that he might need stitches, and annoyed at the sheer idiocy of carelessly playing with a sharp object for no good reason. Worry was holding its own in the struggle, especially because he was admitting to feeling light-headed – rare for any man, let alone Marc – and he was choosing to sit quietly somewhere – practically unheard of for my exuberant, energetic friend.
That was why his parents, not hearing or seeing him for a while, left one at a time thinking that he was with the other.
Which was why he was with me. I drove carefully through the subdivision, trying to hit speed bumps slowly so that he wouldn’t notice my pitifully creaking brakes. It was bad enough taking him anywhere in my deplorably banged-up car – after two wrecks (one my fault, one not) it sported a dented tail end, a bent black hood, a dark green side panel (the car was originally silvery purple) and had three broken door handles, the driver’s side being one of them. Dad had had to rig up a wire with a white hook on the end to serve as a stand-in until I could afford to replace the whole thing.
However, not having expected a passenger, my car was in even worse shape than usual. My windshield was smudged, my carpet needed vacuuming, and my backseat overflowed with schoolbooks and work clothes. I didn’t delude myself for a minute, either, that he didn’t notice all of that. We pulled up to a stoplight, and I pictured in my mind his brand-new truck with its whole exterior and new-car smell. I was thankful for the red glow of the stoplight, and for the darkness. Together they concealed my furiously embarrassed blush.
He didn’t comment on my car, though, or my driving – somewhat out of character, but a nice change. Instead, he reached over and turned up the volume on my radio, which had been playing quietly in the background. “What’s with the classical music?”
“I like it,” I retorted. “It’s a soundtrack. I can change it, though, if you want.” I reached for the radio, but he slapped my hand away in a typical Marc gesture. “Leave it. Where’s it from?”
“Pride and Prejudice.”
“Huh.” He listened in silence a while longer. “I don’t know, Pixie. I feel like you’re trying to seduce me.”
“With the music? For your information, I was listening to this before you tagged along in my car tonight.”
He shrugged. “So how was work? Any other incidents?”
I ignored the second half of his question. “No work, just school.”
“Oh. How’s school, then?”
I laughed. School that day had been amusing. “Crazy. I got asked out three times today by three different boys, but other than that, it’s fine.”
“What? What happened?”
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“I mean, tell me about it. What did they say? Come on, tell me.”
I stared at the road in consternation. “Marc, why do you care about the details? They’re stupid anyway.”
“Because it’s interesting. Tell me.”
“No!” I had expected him to laugh it off as I had. He was catching me off guard, as he did so often. I hated it. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I didn’t tell any of them yes.”
“I didn’t figure, from the way you said it.”
“Yeah, well.” I shrugged. “It was just funny. At least, I found it funny.”
“Well…because,” I hesitated, searching for the words that would explain what I thought without sounding self-pitying. “I just couldn’t figure out why they were asking me out. There are much hotter girls at school. I see them all the time. I felt like telling them that they’d made a terrible mistake.”
Marc gave me a look of deepest exasperation and whacked me on the shoulder. “Pixie, come on. Don’t make me say it.”
We rolled to another stop. I avoided his eyes, checking to see if it was safe to turn. “I’m not going to make you say anything,” I said lightly, pulling into the turn. “If it’s that bad, don’t say it at all.”
“It’s not bad,” he said. “You’re just so crazy. You’re very pretty, you know.”
I made a derisive noise in my throat. It helped me buy some time. I wasn’t delusional enough to think that a compliment from Marc meant anything more than exactly what he said, but it was strange hearing things like that from him. I’d gotten so used to the idea that Marc cared absolutely nothing for me beyond friendship that I’d also convinced myself that he viewed me as one of the guys, or at the least, a girl who in the sexual scheme of things, didn’t count.
“It’s true. And it turns into one lane up here.”
I merged, distracted for a moment, until I heard him continuing. “You are, you know. Manny and I were talking about it just the other day—“
“Marc! What the hell?” I demanded. “Don’t you have better things to talk about?”
He ignored my outburst. “Actually, pretty isn’t good enough. You’re beautiful. You’ve got those huge eyes, they’re very…what’s the word?”
“Seductive,” he decided. “You look at people from under those lashes of yours with this ‘look but don’t touch’ attitude. It’s very sultry.”
I was at a complete loss. Marc rarely gave me any indication that he noticed that I changed clothes from day to day, much less something like this. “Marc, that is so not—“
“Oh, yes it is,” he interrupted. “Maybe you don’t know you’re doing it, but it is. You tilt your head to the side, and your lips part just a little it, and you glance up…It’s very sensual, especially when you put it together with your body language and the way you move.”
We pulled in at the gate of his subdivision. I punched in the code, my lips pressed together in a thin line. “I’m not even going to ask what that means.”
“Aw, Pixie, you’re so cute.” He was maddeningly smug. “Are you embarrassed?”
“A little,” I admitted.
“Because…I don’t know,” I said finally. “I guess it’s just weird hearing stuff like that from you.” Damn, damn, damn. My control was slipping. Normally I wouldn’t ever say something to let him know that I viewed his opinion any differently from anyone else’s. He had just caught me so off guard.
The street in front of his house was dark. I rolled to a stop and put the car in park, but he made no move to get out. After a moment, I switched off the motor, and waited.
He unbuckled his seat belt and shifted in his seat to face me. “Why? You’re a pretty girl. Why wouldn’t I notice?”
“But – oh, I don’t know what I mean.” I bit my lip. I couldn’t explain that it felt like he was battering me with compliments, almost to hurt me. Of course, he wasn’t, because he would have to know that hearing this sort of thing coupled with the knowledge that there was no real romantic feeling behind it would be painful for me. Even if he did know that – which was impossible – he wouldn’t stab at me repeatedly, just to make me squirm. Would he?
The left corner of his mouth turned up slightly in an enigmatic smile. “Well, I do notice. I notice the way you act, the way you do things, the way you talk to people. I think it wouldn’t be too far off to say that you’re a very sexual person.”
It made no sense. In a perfectly platonic friendship that had been going on the better part of a year, how could a switch suddenly be thrown and all the boundaries as I had thought they existed change? We had never really discussed how we saw each other, much less sex. The closest we had come was that one conversation…I thought back to it and began to get nervous.
“Well? Am I wrong?”
I rolled my eyes. “Marc, you know perfectly well that there is no right answer to that question.”
His eyes were dark in the half-light cast by the radio, but they still glinted green. “Maybe, maybe not.” He glanced toward his house. All was still. “Tell me something, Pixie,” he said, turning back to me. “Why do you have such a problem with me telling you that you are attractive?”
“I don’t have a problem.” I fumbled for the right words. “It’s just that I don’t think of myself in those terms, and I don’t ever think other people think of me that way either. It always seems so foreign when they do.”
“You mean, if a guy hits on you.”
“Or like the other night? That thing you told me about?”
My lungs seemed to have turned into marble; they wouldn’t move. I should have known it was coming. “I guess,” I said cautiously. “I don’t know. That was different.”
“It bothered you.” It was a statement.
“Yeah, a little. I told you that.”
“Yeah, and I laughed,” Marc replied. “It was hilarious, that it bothered you so much.”
“All right, look.” His grin was needling me. “I told you this the other night, too. I’m a massage therapist. It’s my job, it’s what I do. I work on men all the time. So it wasn’t the fact that that guy was aroused that bothered me. It happens nine times out of ten, and it usually has absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s just a physical reaction.”
“Or you’re just good at your job.” He winked.
“Shut up, okay? Be serious.” Feeling a little hectic, I leaned forward on the steering wheel, taking comfort in its cool solidity. In this uncharted territory, I needed something to hold on to. “I didn’t care that that guy got an erection. I can deal with that; it’s not anything new. But yes, it bugged me. I thought about it afterward and tried to figure out why. And I finally decided it was because…well, because I was—“
“Aroused?” He interrupted bluntly.
I rolled my eyes. “No, Marc, that was not, actually, what I was going to say.” I took a deep breath. “What I meant was that I was…disconcerted. Because yeah, it’s a physical reaction, whatever. But in this case, it was also because he was attracted to me. This was the first time that I knew it was because…well, because he found me attractive.”
“Did he say anything to you?” Marc asked.
I fell silent a moment, remembering the event at which I’d been booked to work backstage providing massage for the performers and crew. It wasn’t my first time doing something like that. There had just been one guy, a 28 year old with long brown hair and a slow smile. What I had told Marc was true: he had become unavoidably, noticeably aroused during the 90-minute session. Outside of that, he hadn’t said or done anything inappropriate. He didn’t even seem uncomfortable about it. As I had also told Marc, he didn’t creep me out on any level – an important factor in a job where intuition can make all the difference. I knew he got massages often, so he probably was used to his body’s reaction. I knew he wouldn’t try anything, and I was right.
But I hadn’t told Marc about the way he looked at me when we chatted before and after I worked on him. I hadn’t told him about how his fingers curled around my elbow as I massaged his upper arm so that each time I moved, the tips of his fingers stroked my skin. Innocent enough, but I knew, not accidental.
I didn’t tell Marc about how afterward he sat and talked with me, his voice wistful as he asked my name, my age, where I lived. I didn’t tell him about the way his voice had risen hopefully when he asked if I would be with them at their next stop, or about its disappointed drop when I told him I wouldn’t.
In the car, I shrugged, my head tilted back against the seat. “He did ask for my number.”
“And? What did you say?”
“Nothing. I didn’t answer him immediately, and he caught himself, and apologized. Said I was probably right, that it wasn’t a good idea anyway since he’d be on tour for the rest of the year and he didn’t live anywhere near here. So that was that. I didn’t have to give it to him.”
Marc nodded. ”Convenient.”
“I guess.” I sat in the darkness and thought about Julian – that was his name – and how he had hugged me goodbye, right before he left to get on the tour bus. He’d held out his arms shyly – ironic, since I’d seen him undressed. However, odd as it was, I really did like him. He was a nice guy, and I had liked talking to him. I stepped over to him and he folded me up in his arms. I was close enough that I could still feel his arousal but again, oddly, that didn’t bother me. There was honesty in the whole thing that made it all right. He wasn’t apologetic about it – he had liked me. He had wanted me. We both knew it and that was that.
I could feel the air in the car getting steadily warmer the longer we sat there, and I could feel Marc’s eyes on me. Despite the warmth I shivered, thinking of the contrast between a man I barely knew who had had no problem being honest about his attraction to me, and the man next to me, my best friend and the man I loved and couldn’t have, who had never given me any indication of any attraction to me until now.
I closed my eyes. It was too much to think about. “How’s your hand feeling?” I asked listlessly.
“Better, actually.” Marc’s voice was annoyingly normal. We could have been discussing the weather.
“Let me see.” I switched on the overhead light with my right hand, killing the soft, half-lit atmosphere that had been building oppressively in the car. I took his hand and checked the wound. It was pink, but not inflamed. “Looks good. You know, I don’t think you’ll even have a scar after it heals.”
“Probably not.” He laughed. “Well, thanks for the ride home.” He leaned over and hugged me. “I guess I’ll see you later.” He opened the door and stepped out. Then as an afterthought, he leaned his head back in and wiggled his eyebrows at me. “You sexy little Pixie, you.”
“Oh, get out!” I swiped at his cheek and he ducked back, laughing. I glared at him. “You deserve a slap for that one.”
He gave me a challenging look. “Oh, do I?”
“Yes, you do, and you know it.” I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Then do it.” He winked, and swung the door shut.
I sat a moment, shaking my head, trying to figure out exactly what kind of thought process went on in that boy’s head, and whether it could be defined as rational. Unable to find an answer, I sighed and reached for my purse on the passenger’s side floor, in search of my cell phone. My hand closed over nothingness.
I switched the overhead light on, and abruptly switched it right back off. In the darkness I sat, perfectly still, trying to decide if I was irritated, angry, amused, or some combination.
Resigned, I opened the door and stepped out. Turning around, I saw Marc standing behind my car. With his right elbow, he leaned on the tailgate of his truck, parked in the driveway just behind the curb where I sat. His right foot crossed his left at the ankle. His left arm extended toward me. Dangling from his forefinger was my purse, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. I looked at his face. His grin spread from ear to ear, suggestive, arch, and self-satisfied all at once. His eyes sparkled with mischief. It was a pose that would have done Cary Grant proud -- one that spoke eloquently of his perfect awareness of his own charm.
I burst out laughing. Really, it was all I could do, and I was thankful for that. The laughter concealed what seeing him like that did to me. It struck like a blow, the perfectly modeled lines of his body, the flawless poise and self-possession I had always loved about him.
Nevertheless, in that same instant, I knew it was a challenge. This was something more than I was prepared for. “So,” I asked coolly. “What do I have to do to get my purse back?”
He gazed steadily at me, his grin fixed. “Well, you did say you wanted to slap me.”
I held his gaze. “You have no idea how much.”
“Well, then, here is your chance.” He swung my purse. “Come over here and do it.”
My throat constricted. “And if I do, what happens then?”
“Why would you think anything would happen?”
“Because I don’t trust you.” It was true. Right then, at that moment, I didn’t.
“Smart girl, Pixie. Well.” He considered some more, his movements slightly theatrical in their perfect smoothness and timing. We were in a play, him and me, only he had known it for longer than I had. “Tell you what,” he said finally. “By now, you probably want to slap me pretty badly.”
“Oh, I do.”
“Okay, then. You can come over here and get your purse, and slap me in the face like I deserve for teasing you. But if you do…”
“If I do?”
“If you slap me, I’m going to kiss you.”
I didn’t move. Everything seemed to have gone suddenly still. His eyes held my gaze a moment, and something in them was unreadable. His grin widened slightly.
And I realized that he knew.
Oh, he didn’t know that I loved him. Had he known he wouldn’t behave this way – I knew him well enough to be sure of that. But he knew, having sensed it on a level I had never been attuned to notice, that I wanted him. I had spent so much time focusing on concealing my emotions for him that I had not thought that they might seep through in other ways I was not used to dealing with.
Marc had known better than me, he always had. He had seen my sexual side all along, sensed and acknowledged a part of me I hadn’t until recently fully understood.
The whole thing hit me like a sledgehammer on the back of the neck. How could I have been so stupid?
But I hadn’t been stupid really. I just hadn’t known. I hadn’t understood until one night, with a strange guy in a totally unromantic setting, I was for the first time truly confronted with desire and forced to deal with it. It didn’t matter that it had only been his desire, not mine. In fact, it had nothing to do with Julian at all, but about my feelings about being wanted that way – with coming to grips with the idea that someone could want me that way. That from now on, it wouldn’t be something that only happened to other people – it could happen to me anytime, anywhere, with anyone.
As I stared at Marc for what seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably only a few seconds, I knew that were he to kiss me, it would have nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with sex. On some level that had been impossible for me to grasp, he was truly, strongly attracted to me. Maybe he always had been. Because he understood and embraced that part of himself so much better than I had, he had seen it, struggling out of dormancy, in me when I didn’t. And it all came together on a hot Friday night, as he stood in front of me with a rakish grin (that word, I would think of days later as the essence of what he was that night) and my purse, offered to me with the chance to satisfy my indignation, in return for…what?
In return for yielding to him. In return for acknowledging that he was right, that what he had seen was real. In return for letting him push my limits by letting him kiss me to see how it felt, to see how responsively I would kiss him back. To test how much rope I would cede to him in this dangerous tug of war.
He watched me think. “Well?” I did not answer, and he laughed. “What interests me most is that you aren’t saying no.”
I lifted my chin to meet him head on. “It’s not that. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth it.”
I smiled, I hoped enigmatically, and did not answer.
Marc didn’t seem to mind. He laughed again, a slow, intimate sound. “I think you want to.”
I gazed at him. “That’s rather presumptuous of you.”
He held my gaze levelly. “Maybe it is. But I’m right.”
My purse swung back and forth, back and forth, counting seconds. A hypnotic rhythm. “You know, you might not even have to slap me now. You can have your purse back. I might just do it anyway.”
It was still, so still, in the street around us. I could hear voices echoing from houses down the block, but no one stirred outdoors. Even as close as we stood to Marc’s house, I couldn’t hear his parents inside. All I could register in that moment was the look in his eyes, half-covered by swollen lids. He meant it.
I did the only thing I could do. I held his gaze a few seconds longer, counting my heartbeats by the rhythm of my purse. Then, squaring my shoulders, I turned on my heel and got back in my car.
The key was still in the ignition. Back in that hot, dark womb of a vehicle, I turned it, feeling like Marc must have done when he stabbed his hand – knowing he’d done it, but unable to feel it. The overhead light was still on from when I had flipped the switch earlier; absently, I turned it off. A second later, it was back on. Marc had opened the passenger door. He didn’t get in, simply dropped to a crouch on the curb next to the car. A slight, thoughtful smile replaced the devilish grin.
I turned calm eyes on him. “Yes?”
I couldn’t make out the look in his eyes. Admiration? Pity? Amusement? There was no way to know. He just looked at me, that maddening smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Slowly, he tilted his head to the side – an acknowledgement. “A personal victory, Pixie,” he said quietly. “A personal victory. Very good.”
There was no point in pretending I misunderstood. Before, I would have, before I had faced this side of me so unexpectedly. Not now. Looking down, I saw my purse nestled in the passenger seat. I looked back at him. “Yes. It is.”
His smile broadened, and it was his real smile this time, the smile of the friend I knew and loved so well. For the moment, it was over, and we were what we had been before I had driven him home. I couldn’t help smiling back.
“Good for you, Pixie.” He winked at me, and stood to close the door. “Good for you.”
It closed with a gentle click, and the light went out. I sat a moment, feeling the tremors from the idling engine vibrating through me, feeling my breathing falling in time with its rhythms. Then I shifted the car into gear, and drove away.
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