Authors: Helena Newbury
I flushed, right down to my toes. Could that be true? Was I sending out something—some signal I hadn’t been aware of, that guys could pick up on? Just him, or all guys?
I went on the attack. “You say I’m lying to myself, but you’re not exactly Mr. Open and Honest, are you? What’s an MIT post-doc doing hiding out in a biker club anyway?”
“Who says I’m hidin’?”
I looked him right in the eye. “Me.”
I saw the flicker of surprise cross his face again—and with it, just a hint of approval.
“It’s nothin’ I want to explain,” he said eventually.
“I don’t like secrets.”
He put his hands out, palms facing me. “That’s why I only ever wanted this to be casual. That’s what I’m offerin’. That’s all it’s ever goin’ to be. You don’t want that? Go find yourself a guy in a suit.”
He was laying down the rules and daring me to accept them…or walk away. That was the real reason he’d brought me out here—this was our one big chance to talk and, after this, it would go back to monosyllabic responses, whispers in ears and more of those orders.
I wasn’t sure I could live with that, with a relationship purely based on sex. But I wasn’t sure I could live without it, either.
The real question was:
Why did it have to be this way—sex, and nothing deeper? Why didn’t he want anything more from me? I’d come here looking for answers, and he was just as mysterious as before.
“Is it me?” I asked.
I gave him a hard stare. “I didn’t say I wasn’t. But is that why you don’t want anything more? Do you like my….” I could barely bring myself to say it. “My body but not
He sighed. “Clarissa Forsberg-West, not everythin’ in this whole damn world is about you.” And it didn’t feel like he was trying to spare my feelings. So what, then, was the problem? If I kept pushing, I knew I’d lose him completely.
“Fine,” I said quietly. Then again, maybe more for my own benefit, “Fine. It’ll be just sex.”
He shook his head softly. “See, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s not
I didn’t understand what he meant, then. But I would come to.
He dropped me back at the biker club and I picked up Bartholomew. I sat there in the driver’s seat, saying goodbye to him through the window and feeling utterly confused. Was I now in a relationship? Because if I was, it was so radically different to any relationship I’d had before that it didn’t seem to deserve the same name.
And then, just as I was at my most lost, he leaned through the open window and kissed me. Not one of the urgent, hungry kisses he’d given me before—this was slow and tender, much gentler than I’d have thought him capable of. And right at the end of it, something fluttered through my body, butterflies made of hot, crackling silver. It wasn’t sexual; it was something much deeper.
When he broke the kiss, I sat there stunned, my eyes closed. It felt as if I’d break the spell if I opened them and I wanted to memorize the feeling, to chase those butterflies down into the dark caverns so I could catch one last glimpse of them.
I’d thought I was confused before. Now I was completely at a loss.
“I gotta go out of town,” he told me in that heavy, bass rumble. “Be back a week next Tuesday. Okay?”
I nodded. And mentally counted the days.
He straightened up and ran his hand along Bartholomew’s shining roof as I drove away, giving his trunk a noisy pat as we passed, as if slapping my ass. I felt myself jerk in my seat and heard him laugh.
It was Thursday. Nat and I were both moping around the apartment while our men were away—well,
was moping. Obviously
mope. I mean, I was spending a lot of time slobbing around in sweatpants and both ice cream and the orange Skittle-flavored vodka had made an appearance, but I’d only joined in out of solidarity. It would be crazy to miss someone who’s just a casual sex partner.
I sat there staring at his Facebook page. He’d finally accepted my friend request, but it looked like he barely bothered to update his timeline. There were gaps of weeks and sometimes months between posts.
Since we’d said goodbye at the biker club, there’d been no word. Not an email, not a text, not a phone call—I didn’t even know where he was, other than “out of town.” At least Nat had had a couple of text messages from Darrell. I felt a pang of jealousy, which was ridiculous. I mean, she was in a proper relationship. Maybe—
she was falling in love too fast, but at least it
love. Neil and me, that was…almost like a business transaction.
I felt my eyes go wide at that thought.
like a business transaction. Bad analogy! But there were no emotions involved. It was just sex—two people with needs coming together to have fun.
I sat back on my bed and hugged my knees to my chest.
really didn’t describe it. Nothing about the relationship felt light-hearted or frivolous. It felt powerful and very, very serious.
I’d never experienced anything like it. I’d never known sex to be such a powerful draw, to control me utterly. And it
just sex, right? That was what I was feeling? It couldn’t be
because I barely knew the guy. Yet it didn’t feel like simple lust, either—it felt deeper and darker and more…
part of me,
in some way. People talk about finding a soulmate, when they talk about love. I’d never experienced that…and this couldn’t be that, could it? Not when it was so based in sex? And yet it felt like that—like the two of us were made for each other.
I groaned, put my hands over my eyes and fell back on the bed.
Nat shuffled past my doorway. I didn’t have to open my eyes—one of the nice things about just the two of us sharing an apartment (even if she does take
too long in the shower) is always knowing who it is you can hear around the place. “Hear from Darrell yet?” I asked.
When she answered, her voice was brittle with pain. “No. Not yet. I might just hang out in my room for a while.”
I liked Darrell, but right then I wanted to throttle the guy. He didn’t know how fragile she was—the last thing she needed was to have her heart played with. This sort of thing was exactly what I’d worried about happening when I saw her falling for him so hard. I knew that
hang out in my room
was code for
punish myself on the exercise bike.
Soon, I’d hear the pedals start to whir and then, maybe, some loud music to cover the sound of her crying. It broke my heart, but it was better than her cutting herself and there was nothing I could do to stop her—I’d learned that clutching her too close would only freak her out more. I’d accepted—once I’d got over the guilt and recriminations that it had been going on right under my nose—that all I could do was be there for support. When she’d gone, I got up and closed my bedroom door to give her some extra privacy, then returned to mope. Okay, okay, I
A few minutes later, I heard her cell phone ring and then her voice. The walls of our apartment are pretty thin—something I’d have to remember if Neil came over again—so I deliberately tuned out her words because I don’t want to pry. I could hear her joyous tone, though.
He’d made her day—her week—just by calling.
Okay, maybe he isn’t all bad.
It worried me to see her so caught up in a guy, so quickly, that he had that kind of power over her…but Neil had the same hold over me and in a much darker way. I was unhealthily fascinated in him. He was like a drug that your parents warn you about, and you nod solemnly and say you’ll never mess with alcohol or weed or coke or whatever. But there’s this deep longing inside you to experience what you’re missing, even though you know it’s bad for you. I wondered if Neil would be bad for me. I knew he wasn’t
for me, by any rational measure. I’d never wanted something that’s so wrong, so much.
Through the wall, a noise that caught my attention: the ringtone for an incoming Skype call. Nat answered almost instantly, as if she’d been expecting it. Darrell must have asked her to switch from phone to Skype. But why would they….
I heard classical music start—presumably to mask all the pants and moans. I tried very hard not to listen, but smirked when I heard the rustle of clothing coming off.
I put my sweatpants and top back on and padded through to the kitchen to give them more privacy. Good thing Darrell was only away for a week. God, it would suck to be in a long distance relationship.
Then it hit me that I didn’t actually know where Neil lived. That was exactly the kind of small talk we hadn’t done, the sort of thing that seems stupid and meaningless…until you don’t do it. He had to live in New York, right? He was Darrell’s buddy. Yeah, of course he did.
I made coffee. I can’t think without coffee. Then I stood there leaning against the kitchen counter, trying to figure it all out.
It had all happened so fast. I don’t have casual sex. I don’t mean,
I don’t do one-night stands.
I don’t, but that’s not my point. My point is: I don’t have casual sex; I have
very, very planned
sex. I know, long before the guy does, if he’s going to get my panties off, and if he is then I know well before the date starts that
this is going to be the night,
and I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen. First date: kiss. Second date: a little more. Third date: sex—
Anything kinky—definitely not within the first few months.
And yet with Neil, I’d somehow skipped straight to kinky, strip-off-in-the-living-room-at-his-command sex, all within the first few days—and it was clear to me that when I saw him again, that side of things was going to get stronger.
Thanks to my mom, kinky sex didn’t seem shocking. Me being into it—
was shocking. I’d never seen myself as anything other than the leader, the one in control. With Nat and Jasmine and Karen, I’m the sensible one—the organizer. With my boyfriends, too, I’d always been the one to lead things. It’s not that I ran around chasing men, but...just because the man’s doing the approaching, doesn’t mean he’s in control. Even if the guy had the illusion it was him who was making the choice, I’d usually seen him coming a mile away and already decided what sort of response he was going to get. I was the one doing the choosing.
With Neil, I felt
Giving up control to someone else didn’t seem like me at all but I couldn’t deny how I felt when Neil was close to me. It was almost ridiculous. I was razor sharp and efficient in my dancing, in my dress, in my make-up, in the snarky put-downs I used on other men. But as soon as Neil used
, I melted into a big pile of hot goo.
I squirmed and sipped some more coffee. It wasn’t just the relationship. What if he’d exposed something inside me that, now uncovered, could never be hidden again?
Nat wandered in. She was in a robe—and naked beneath, I assumed.
“Coffee?” I asked. Then, because I couldn’t resist, I nodded at her robe. “I didn’t hear you in the shower.”
“Oh! Um…I didn’t have one.” She clutched the robe closed tighter around her throat.
Then I saw that she was wearing pointe shoes. “Nat, are you in
I frowned. “Did you just put on your ballet gear for Darrell on Skype?”
I clapped a hand over my mouth. “I knew it! He has a ballet fetish!”
“No!” she said urgently. “No, nothing like that!”
“What did he get you to do?” I bit my lip, half shocked and half delighted. “Did he have you play with yourself while you were en pointe?”
Her eyes widened. “
It wasn’t a sex thing! I just danced for him!”
I looked doubtful. “In your room? The one that was only about eight feet square
you put an exercise bike in the middle?”
“We…managed,” she said weakly. “It was just dancing! I swear!”
I smirked. “Uh-huh.”
We took the coffee through to the living room and sat there watching TV while I teased her about what I assumed must have been some ballet-themed strip show for Darrell. But the irony was, it was
who’d already had sex with a guy I barely knew and had now agreed to some sort of casual sex relationship with him. I was the one with the real secret and there was no way I could tell anyone—not even my best friend. How could I explain to Nat what was going on when I didn’t even understand it myself?