Authors: Helena Newbury
To my surprise, his eyes were wide open, too, and he wasn’t staring at my ass, or the reflection of my breasts. He was looking right back at me, our gazes locked together as he thrust one last time inside me and groaned in his release.
I would have waited until the coast was clear and snuck down quietly, but Neil brazenly made for the door, still fastening his belt. I hurried down the stairs in front of him so that I could at least make an excuse if anyone saw us. That’s how Natasha caught us: me red-faced and still sliding the strap of my dress up my shoulder, Neil grinning and sated behind me.
“You two are unbelievable!” she told us.
“It’s a billionaire’s house,” I said. “We went looking for the dungeon and then”—I made the mistake of glancing back at Neil, who smirked, and I went weak inside as I remembered—”we got distracted.”
and he doesn’t—oh, forget it.”
“Are you coming back into the city with us?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
It seemed like she and Darrell had sorted things out between them, because she said she’d stay there. I gently suggested to Neil that he come back to my apartment with me, but I wasn’t too surprised when he refused. For all that we’d had a great time at the party, it still felt like things were fragile as hell between us.
Back in the apartment, soaking in the tub, I tried to get my head straight. If I accepted that it was just sex, if I accepted that I was never going to be let fully into his life, I could still have a lot of fun with Neil. He could still be that missing piece, the other half to my needs—needs that I was starting to understand…slowly. Maybe people like me needed to give up control occasionally. But in a cruel twist of fate, the only guy I wanted to give up control to was someone I had absolutely no control over, who backed off every time I tried to pull him closer. If I played by his rules, I could be with him.
But the ache in my heart told me that being with him wasn’t enough.
Nat didn’t come home that night. The next morning, she must have snuck in while I was in the shower because I didn’t even know she was home until, just as I was about to leave, I heard crying coming from her room.
I found her on the bike, legs pumping on autopilot, body soaked with sweat, blood from fresh cuts on her thigh soaking through the dressings. When I pulled her off it, she beat on my back with her fists and sobbed her poor, broken heart out.
It was over—she and Darrell were through. He’d been lying to her the entire time, her dancing inspiring not some sleek car or motorcycle but the maneuvering system for a missile. He was trapped in a dark world of anger and revenge by the murder of his parents and he couldn’t break free.
We just sat there for a while, Nat’s head on my shoulder, while I whispered horrible deaths for Darrell into her ear. When she’d calmed down enough to listen, I persuaded her into the shower. Neither of us could afford to miss too many classes and, more importantly, dancing would leave her no mental room to dwell on Darrell.
Once she was in the bathroom, though, I really let it sink in. I slid down the door until I was sitting in the hallway, my back against the wood, and stewed on what it meant. Darrell and Nat had been the perfect romantic couple—it had happened way too fast, true, and we’d all known it, but there’d been something about the way they’d fallen so hopelessly for each other. It had been beautiful and painful to watch and if even they couldn’t make it work, what hope did the rest of us have? What hope for a fragile relationship like mine?
And that was the thing. My relationship wasn’t even fragile. It wasn’t there at all.
The cold shock of the break up made me see it very clearly. There was no
There never had been. There’d been red-hot passion, sure, and at first I’d kidded myself that I could be one of those people who can have just the sex, with nothing deeper underneath. Then, when I realized I wasn’t, I’d imagined that there was something else going on—that I’d seen something in him, some hint, that he really cared for me, and I’d been trying to coax it out of him ever since. Poor Neil. He’d done nothing wrong—he’d been honest from the start about what we had, and I’d pushed and pushed to make it more.
Well, no more. I wasn’t like Neil. I
need something more than sex, and continuing on with this mismatched relationship wasn’t fair on either of us. It was time to end it.
After the party, I hadn’t wanted to face the long ride back to Boston to crash there—which was weird, because I’d always loved that journey—so I’d crashed at the clubhouse. Recently, it seemed like I was spending all my time in New York, only going back to MIT for classes I really couldn’t miss.
Darrell’s call came when I was working on a bike in the club garage. He asked me to come with him to Virginia to drop off the missile and then ride back. My guts tightened at the thought of driving hundreds of miles with that
in the back of a van, but at least after that we’d be free of it. Maybe, after it was gone, I could try again to extricate Darrell from Carol’s grip and get him working on something
like water purification for Africa. I didn’t hold out a whole lot of hope, but I was going to give it a shot.
I had an old tent I sometimes used—big enough for me to sleep in with my Harley wheeled in next to me, or maybe two guys and two girls, if they all knew each other
well. I tied it to the back of my bike and set off for Darrell’s place. I figured we could invite Natasha and Clarissa along and turn it into a road trip, with the girls riding pillion on the way back and us all camping in the woods. I imagined Clarissa naked in the starlight, long limbs wrapped in the flickering orange glow of a campfire.
As soon as I got there and saw Darrell’s face, though, I knew it was over between him and Nat. I asked if it had been his work that split them up and his silence was all the answer I needed.
“Just….” he shook his head. “No more distractions, from now on.”
I wanted to shake him.
was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Enough!” he almost yelled it at me and it stung. Man, what were Carol and the work turning him into?
As we worked together to get the missile loaded and our bikes strapped down in the back of the hired van, I thought about Clarissa.
Just as I’d told her, almost as soon as I’d met her in the kitchen at Darrell’s, I’d known there was something there. I could sense her submissiveness…but what I hadn’t told her was that even then, I felt something more. A kind of pulling, when I was with her, that only got stronger when I wasn’t. When we had sex and then I upped and left, it killed me…and it was getting harder each time.
I wanted it to be something more. But it couldn’t be. We were about a million miles apart and that was just the side of me she knew. If it turned into more than just sex, eventually she’d want to know my secrets, want to be part of my whole life and not just the side of it I allowed her to see. And then she’d realize what I really was and it would all be over. At least this way, we could still enjoy each other. Keeping it simple—keeping it about sex—was the only option.
And then she called.
“We need to talk,” she said, in that way girls have that means they’re going to do most of the talking, and the outcome of the conversation is decided before you even pick up the phone.
My stomach flipped over. I suddenly realized something and even as it hit me with the force of a semi-truck, it dawned on me that it was already too late. “Wait,” I said.
“I thought I was okay with it,” Clarissa said, and I could hear how cold and emotionless her voice was. I knew her well enough, now, that I could tell when she was trying not to cry. “I thought I was okay with it just being sex, but I’m not.”
“No, shut up. Let me speak. Neil, you’re an asshole—but mainly in a good way. You’re crazy hot. And I know you always told me how this would be—”
“Shut up! You always told me it would be like this; you never promised anything more. And that’s okay. It was me who had it wrong, I let it run on and on when I should have just stopped it and—that was stupid of me.”
“Goddamn it, girl, will you just listen!?”
And I tried to think of what to say. I wanted to say that I really liked her, that I wanted to be with her, that I could feel the beginnings of something that could maybe really work. But then I thought of how it would be in a few months, when she saw me skipping classes and wasting my degree, when she started asking what I was going to do once I got my doctorate. When she wanted to meet my folks, or when she asked again what I did for money.
Splitting now would hurt. If I let her get closer, it would hurt more.
“Well?” Even now, she was just a little snappy and petulant. God, I loved that. I wanted to kiss her so hard in answer.
But instead I said, “I guess I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Silence. Then: “I’m sorry too, Neil.” And she hung up.
Darrell didn’t hear the call, but he must have wondered why I was suddenly silent and glaring. We got everything loaded and then, all of a sudden, he seemed unsure. He sat there tracing the steering wheel with his hands and I could almost see it going through his head—everything he was choosing to throw away, to stick with his work. Everything he’d have to throw away, if he wanted to get her back.
Then he told me to call Big Earl, and I knew there was hope.
No more than an hour later, I was standing in the club compound, watching Darrell and Natasha speed off on his bike. I’d lent her my helmet and jacket, but otherwise she was still in ballet gear. I watched them go and I was suddenly insanely jealous. When you were a handsome millionaire, you got to make these grand, sweeping gestures and save the day. Why couldn’t
speed some girl across town on my bike? And why couldn’t I patch things up with
She’s not your girlfriend. She never was.
I suddenly kicked my bike, hard enough that my boot left a dent in the polished chrome. Why did it feel so shitty? I was doing the right thing, keeping her away from the darker parts of my life. I was protecting her.
Or…was I just protecting myself?
I looked down the length of the compound to where the Aston Martin lay in a crumpled, gleaming cube. Buried within it—irretrievable and irreplaceable—Darrell’s life’s work.
That was the thing about making a grand, sweeping gesture. You had to be prepared to make a sacrifice.
I stared at my bike for a long time. And then I rode to Fenbrook.
I pushed my way out through the main doors and then stopped so suddenly that an actor crashed into the back of me. Right at the bottom of the steps, breaking about a million parking laws, Neil’s Harley was parked on the sidewalk. Fenbrook students were spilling down the steps and breaking into two paths around it while he stared impassively at the doors, just waiting. Knowing him, he’d been waiting there for hours.
“You could have called,” I said. My eyes were wet. “I would have come down.”
“Didn’t want to chance it,” he said. “Thought maybe you wouldn’t answer. Wanted to talk face to face.”
I walked halfway down the steps and stood there, arms folded. If he could ignore the flood of students around us, so could I. “You got me,” I said bravely. “So go on.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
He took a deep breath. “You know how I took you to the fairground, and I said that’s all this would ever be—how that’s all I could offer?” He swung a leg off his bike and stood up.
My heart felt like it was being crushed smaller and smaller by icy fingers, twisted into a hard little knot. “Yes?” I asked, my voice catching.
He climbed the steps towards me. “I think…it should be more than that.” He sighed and looked at his boots. There was a weird scuff mark across one of them. “What I’m tryin’ to say is…I really really like you. And so…do you wanna, like…” He closed his eyes and then opened them again, so that I was looking straight into those big blue eyes, “…go on a date, or something?”
I sniffed. “You’re not wearing a helmet.”
“Yeah. I can be stupid, sometimes.”
And then I was launching myself off the step and whacking into his chest, laying kisses on his neck as his warmth soaked into me. I wound my arms and legs around him, clinging to him. “Don’t ever do that to me again,” I whispered.