Authors: Sami Lee
“I hope I’ll see you around soon.”
Steve had to stifle the urge to stand up and punch Rob in the nose when he saw the way Pam’s face fell. The jerk was supposed to say he’d call her, that he couldn’t wait to see her again. Instead, he’d given Pam an obvious brush off.
Of course, if Rob
promised to call her, Steve would have wanted to punch him in the face for that too.
This is seriously fucked up, Waller.
A car horn sounded in the street and Rob hurried to grab his shirt and haul it on. “That’s my ride. Waller, I’ll see you at work Tuesday?”
“Yeah. See ya.”
A moment later, Rob was gone. The absolute quiet in the bedroom after he’d departed became unnerving around the thirty-second mark. After almost a minute, Steve couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to say something, had to tell her how he felt even if it blew up in his face. “Pam, can we talk?”
“You mean about Rob?”
“Do you think he left so quickly because we…” she screwed up her nose. “You know, did it without him?”
Rob. Rob was always the one Pam had wanted most. How had he forgotten that? Admitting how he felt now wouldn’t merely blow up in his face. It would make him look like the biggest fool on earth. He tried, but he couldn’t prevent the question from wheezing out of him. “Are you sorry we did that?”
“I…I didn’t mean to make Rob feel left out. That’s all. He said I was loud and then he rushed off. I feel like we hurt his feelings.”
“He said he had an early shift,” Steve said flatly. “And you were loud because you loved it. So don’t tell me you’re sorry we did it now. Dishonesty is not like you.”
Rolling away from her, Steve swung his legs over the side of the bed. He located his own jeans and started dragging them on, the hurt and disappointment morphing into the self-protective shield of anger. He’d known before any of this had happened that Pam preferred Rob. Rob was the one she made the goo-goo eyes at. He was the one she smiled for and lied about her age to. Steve was merely the guy she occasionally beat at pool and told her disastrous dating stories to.
Clearly, he was the only one whose view of who they were, of what they could be, had changed. Pam had been disappointed to see Rob leave, ergo, she wasn’t eager to be alone with Steve. She was concerned about Rob’s feelings and completely unaware of Steve’s.
Which meant, Steve had to assume, that she didn’t share them.
“Steve…what are you doing? Are you leaving?”
“Might as well.”
Pretty silly now that he thought about it. Rob should have waited a few minutes to save himself cab fare. Steve had no idea what he’d been thinking, hanging around in the hopes that he and Pam might talk about what had just happened between them. That they might talk about seeing each other again.
“I guess nobody sticks around for breakfast anymore.”
Now Pam sounded pissed. Steve swiveled so he faced her again. “Was I invited for breakfast?”
“Well, if you were, you’re not now.” She got out of bed and stalked to her wardrobe. She pulled a light cotton robe from inside and wrapped it around herself, tying the sash with a sharp tug. “Have either of you blokes ever heard of letting a girl down gently? It’d be nice if you could at least pretend to be reluctant to leave my bed.”
Steve wouldn’t have to pretend. He wanted nothing more than to tumble back into the sheets with Pam and make love all day. But he couldn’t do that, couldn’t admit how much he wanted her,
her, when he wasn’t the only one Pam wanted. It was too degrading.
It would hurt too much.
“If you give Rob a call, I’m sure he’ll be eager to see you again.” The words scratched at Steve’s throat. “He likes you. If you like him, don’t give up. If he’s what you want Pam, go for it.”
I don’t want Rob.
The inner voice whispered the shocking truth so quietly Pam was almost able to kid herself she hadn’t heard it. Almost. But the reality was there, staring her in the face. While it had been fun last night with Rob, while he’d had a hand in fulfilling every last three-way-related fantasy she’d ever had, he wasn’t the man she’d woken beside this morning. He wasn’t the man she’d wanted so badly even though she should have been physically replete. Rob wasn’t the man she could imagine waking up beside on a regular basis.
That man was standing on the other side of her bed, picking his shirt off the floor and dragging it on. Like he couldn’t wait to leave.
The thought stung. When Rob had left in a hurry, she’d wondered if he was leaving because he’d heard her and Steve going at it and felt like a third wheel. Like she’d told Steve, she felt bad about that. But that didn’t compare to the burn of rejection she experienced now, watching Steve dress and knowing he was about to hightail it out of her house. Watching Rob leave hadn’t made her stomach roil like it did when Steve told her she should date another man.
Because he obviously didn’t want to date her himself. Pam couldn’t believe she’d ever been so stupid as to believe he might. But that last time they were together, just the two of them, it had been more explosive than it had been last night while she’d had Rob pleasuring her as well. Her powerful multiple orgasm must have fried her brain, because for a few moments there, she’d forgotten that Steve didn’t want a relationship. He didn’t have girlfriends—only one-night stands.
And her one night was over.
“Sure.” Her voice was threadbare and she could hardly get the lie out. “I guess I’ll call Rob.”
Steve didn’t look at her as he checked the back pocket of his jeans for his wallet and then collected his car keys from the bedside table. “Good. Great. One thing though—you might want to tell him the truth.”
“You’re not twenty-eight.”
At last he looked at her, and Pam wished he hadn’t. His eyes penetrated hers like twin blue lasers turning a glaring light on what had seemed at the time a harmless fib. Now, Steve’s knowledge of it made her flush with embarrassment “It was just a little white lie. I don’t know why I said that.”
“Because you like him. And you wanted him to like you. But you have to tell him the truth, Pam.” His voice and his gaze gentled when he said her name, in a way that made Pam’s heart clutch. She realized his voice had always softened like that when he spoke directly to her, even when he called her the dreaded Pammy. How had she not noticed that before?
“Because you deserve to be with someone who likes the real you, not someone you have to lie about who you are for.”
Pam’s throat completely closed over. She knew if she tried to speak her voice would falter and Steve would know she was on the verge of tears. Why, oh why did he choose now of all times to start being so eloquent and nice? Why now when he was about to walk out the door? When he was telling her she should date his friend?
Why now when she’d just realized how good the man could make her feel?
“I gotta go. Things to do.”
Still unable to speak, Pam simply nodded. She didn’t look at Steve as he exited the bedroom. He didn’t stop to kiss her goodbye.
When the front door clicked shut, Pam lay on the bed and curled her body around the pillow Steve had used last night. She stared at the wall for a long time, refusing to cry.
Pam was still dry-eyed the following Friday when the fire alarm at Ashton Heights High went off.
False alarms weren’t unheard of at the school—some teenage genius always thought it would get them out of biology—but that never stopped the Fire and Rescue Service sending a truck from Ashton Heights station as a precaution. Pam’s heart performed a sickening flip at the prospect. She had no idea who was on shift, but there was always a slim chance she’d see Steve climbing out of the big red truck.
So what if you do? He’ll be too busy to notice you.
Both calmed and saddened by the thought, Pam followed fire-drill procedure and led her year-nine English students down the corridor, out of the building and onto the soccer field. It was only when she’d done a head count and was satisfied she hadn’t lost a student along the way that she turned and saw smoke was billowing out of the science building.
“Oh my God.” It wasn’t some kid trying to cut out early on Friday. There was actually a fire at the school.
Pam searched around the crowd until she saw Erica’s face. She rushed over to her friend.
“Do you know what happened?” Erica asked.
“I was going to ask you that,” Pam said. “I thought it was some kid setting off the alarm.”
“Me too. I hope everyone is out of there.”
Pam’s stomach pitched at the thought of a student or teacher being trapped in that smoldering building. A moment later, a siren could be heard making its way through traffic. Less than a minute after that, the fire truck pulled into the school car park with its lights flashing. Four men dressed in yellow rubbers and wearing helmets piled out. With all that gear covering their bodies, it was difficult to recognize any of them, but Pam thought she caught a glimpse of blonde hair curling out the back of one of the helmets.
Rob. Did that mean Steve was here? Last Sunday, Rob had told Steve he’d see him Tuesday. Were they on day shifts together all week? Pam stared at the men as they worked. One of them hooked a thick hose from the truck up to the hydrant closest to the science building. He had the same build as Steve. It could be him.
Erica covered Pam’s hand with hers, and it was only then Pam noticed she was holding her friend’s forearm in a death grip. “Sorry.” She forced herself to loosen her hold. “What will they do now?”
Erica said, “They’ll go in and put the fire out.”
They’ll go in there?
Pam had no idea why she was shocked. She knew what a firefighter’s job was. But the thought of Steve going into a burning building made her feel panicky and stressed. She didn’t want anything to happen to Rob or any of the other guys either, but the thought that Steve was about to risk his life was almost too much to bear.
She was such an idiot. He didn’t want anything to do with her. He wasn’t interested. The knowledge didn’t stop her worrying about him.
“It’ll be okay.” Erica put her arm around Pam’s shoulders. “We can only see smoke, not flames, which means the fire isn’t out of control. And the guys are trained to deal with this stuff. They’ll be fine.”
“How can you stand it? Corey and Griff do this all the time.”
“I try not to think about it too much. And Steve does this all the time too, you know.”
“Don’t remind me,” Pam groaned and put her hand to her roiling stomach. The idea of Steve being in danger was so preoccupying it took her a moment to comprehend what Erica had said. Pam frowned at her. “Wait, what made you think I was worried about Steve?”
Erica smiled knowingly. “You’ve had a thing for him for ages, Pam.”
“I have not.”
“Yes, you have. In the way that Elizabeth had a thing for Mr. Darcy even though they argued. Or like Sally couldn’t help being attracted to Harry even when he was being obnoxious.”
“Oh, stop with the comparisons. My life is not a movie.”
Except for last weekend when it was an adult movie.
Heat infused her face. She lowered her voice so the kids standing nearby wouldn’t hear her. “You know I wasn’t just with Steve last week.”
“I know.” Pam had admitted the threesome to Erica but had given no further details. Being a private person herself, Erica hadn’t pushed. “I know Rob’s attractive too. But it’s Steve’s safety you’re obsessing over right now. It’s Steve you have real feelings for.”
There was no point denying it. She’d realized it last week, moments before he’d walked out her door with the clear intention of never returning. She’d been ignoring the knowledge of it ever since, because she knew she really would cry if she faced the fact the one guy she could have something real with had been standing in front of her the whole time and she’d been too stupid to see what a gem he was.
The news that everyone was safely out of the science block traveled to them soon enough, and both women breathed a sigh of relief. Still, the team of firemen remained inside the building for a long while, searching for flare ups. The teachers got the okay to take the students back to the unaffected buildings and Pam did it, all the time thinking
what’s taking so long?
What if there was a flare up and Steve got caught in it?
Erica was right. Pam was obsessing over his safety. She was a total goner.
Having heard what happened—more than one kid had taken a photo of the smoking building and posted it to Facebook—parents began arriving to take their children home early. Pam oversaw their departures from her class, all the while keeping an eye on the fire truck and the men milling around it. Maybe they’d finally finished their search, because there they were, taking off their helmets. Pam saw Rob’s golden hair, she recognized Mitch West and one other guy whose name she couldn’t quite recall.
Why wasn’t Steve out?
Pam couldn’t stand the tension of waiting any longer. She asked the few remaining kids she was supervising to wait in the class next door. Then she stalked across the grounds, heading for the car park.